Question: How do we know that there is an olam haba – a world to come?
Answer: The Rambam (end of Hilchot Melachim 12 based on Sanhedrin 91b) offers the following view of the time to come: “Let it not come upon your heart to think that, in the days of Messiah, anything in this world will cease from its normal order or that there will be anything new in creation. Rather, the world will proceed in its normal manner.
“As to that which is stated by Isaiah [11:6], ‘V’gar ze’ev im keves v’namer im g’di yirbatz [v’eigel u’kfir u’m’rie yachdav v’na’ar koton noheig bam] – The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid [and a calf, a lion whelp, and a young calf will walk together, and a young child will lead them],’ these are only allegories and parables.
“The meaning of this is that Israel will dwell securely with the wicked idolaters, who are compared to [ferocious beasts like] the wolf and leopard, as the verse [Jeremiah 5:6] states: ‘[Al kein hikom Aryeh mi’ya’ar] ze’ev aravot yishd’deim namer shokeid al areihem [kol ha’yotzei me’heina yitaref ki rabu pisheihem otzmu meshuboteihem] – Therefore the lion of the forest struck them,] the wolf of the deserts vanquishes them; the leopard stalks their cities [whosoever leaves will be torn apart, for their sins are abundant and their waywardness is intense].’
“Thus, [the wicked nations] will all return to the true belief and [as a result] their blood will not be shed nor will they be destroyed. Rather, they will eat of that which is permitted gently with Israel. This is as it states [Isaiah 11:7]: ‘[U’phara vs’dov tir’enah yachdov yirb’tzu yaldeihen] v’aryeh ka’bakar yochal teven – [A cow and a bear will graze and their young will lie down together] and a lion like cattle will eat hay.’
“Similarly, all similar references to the matter of Messiah are allegories. But in the days of the king, the Messiah, it will be known to all what the parable is referring to and what is being implied.”
The Ra’avad (op cit.) objects to the Rambam’s assertion that there will be no change in nature and that any scriptural references that infer the opposite are merely allegorical. He notes that Hashem specifically declares in Parshat Bechukotai: “[V’natati shalom ba’aretz u’shchavtem v’ein machrid] v’hishbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz [v’cherev lo ta’avor b’artz’chem – I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you;] I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, [and a sword will not cross your land]” (Leviticus 26:6).
We would be hard-pressed to claim that Hashem’s promise is allegorical. And this promise concerns those who follow in Hashem’s ways in the land of Israel before the arrival of the Messiah. It’s even more likely that the course of events will change after the Messiah’s arrival.
The Migdal Oz (op cit), in responding to the Ra’avad’s objection, notes that if one wishes to argue with the Rambam, it would be best to cite the following verse, which very well describes the Messianic era: “[V’shapahat bein ha’goyim v’hochiach l’amim rabim v’kit’tu charvotam l’itim v’chnitoteihem l’mazmeirot] lo yisa goy el goy cherev v’lo yilmedu od milchama – [He will judge among the nations and settle the arguments of many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.] Nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare” (Isaiah 2:4).
He asks why there is need for any further verses and allegories, and argues that all these are suppositions and one cannot question them. The Rambam himself notes that we are unsure about these matters and that they are unclear and will remain so until the king, the Messiah, comes.
The Radvaz (op cit), also noting the Ra’avad’s objection, seems to offer a compromise. He suggests that when Rambam states “olam k’minhago – that the world will proceed in its normal manner,” he means lands outside Israel. Inside Israel, though, there will, indeed be a change in the natural order. He bases this thesis on Isaiah 11:9: “Lo yareihu v’lo yashchitu b’chol har kadshi ki mol’oh ha’aretz de’ah et Hashem ka’mayim la’yam m’chasim – They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain for the earth will be as filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the seabed.”
According to the Radak (on Isaiah 11:9): “har kadshi – my sacred mountain” is a reference to all of Eretz Israel. It’s called “mountain” because the land of Israel is considered higher than all other lands.
Thus, the Rambam’s statement might refer only to the nations of the world; it is their world that might not see a dramatic change in nature. They too, though, will experience a world at peace.
(To be continued)