Question: How do we know there is an olam haba – a world to come?
Answer: The Ra’avad takes issue with the Rambam’s statement that the world in the future will not be different – that the natural order will continue and the world won’t return to utter emptiness. He states: “It seems that our master is in denial of the words of our sages.”
The Ra’avad is referring to the following passage in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97): “R. Kattina said: Six thousand years the world shall exist, and one [thousand] it shall be desolate, as [Isaiah 2:11] states: ‘[Einei gavhut Odom shafel v’sach rum Anashim] v’nisgov Hashem l’vado bayom ha’hu – [Mankind’s haughty eyes will be brought low and man’s arrogance will be humbled,] and Hashem alone will be exalted on that day.’
“Abaye said: It will be desolate two [thousand years] as [Hosea 6:2] states: ‘yechayeinu mi’yomayim bayom hashlishi y’kimeinu v’nichyeh l’fonov – He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up and we shall live before him.’
“It has been taught in accord with R. Kattina: Just as the seventh year is one year of release, so too 1,000 out of 7,000 years of the world shall be fallow, as [Psalms 92:1] states: ‘Mizmor shir l’yom ha’Shabbat – A psalm and a song for the Sabbath day’ – meaning, the day that is altogether Sabbath – and [Psalms 90:4] states: ‘ki elef shanim b’einecha k’yom etmol ki ya’avor v’ashmurah ba’laylah – for even a thousand years in Your eyes are but a day gone by, and like a watch in the night.'”
Tanna D’vei Eliyahu states: The world is to exist 6,000 years. In the first 2,000, there was desolation; the next 2,000, the Torah flourished; and the next 2,000 is the Messianic era, but because of our many iniquities all these years have been lost.
Rashi explains that “desolate” refers to the world before there was any practice of Torah. Two thousand years passed from Adam’s creation to Abraham going out to proselytize and converting souls in Haran.
The Gemara adds: “The prophet Elijah appeared to Rav Judah, the brother of R’ Salla the Pious, and said: ‘The world shall exist no less than 85 jubilees [4,250 years] and the last jubilee the son of David will come.’ He asked: ‘At the beginning or at the end?’ Elijah responded: ‘I do not know.’ Rav Judah asked further: ‘Will this period be completed or not?’ Again his response was: ‘I do not know.’ Rav Ashi explained: ‘This is what he said: Before that [period], do not expect him; afterwards await him.’”
The Gemara continues with the following incident. “R. Hanan b. Tahlifa sent word to R. Joseph: I once met a man who possessed a scroll written in Hebrew in Assyrian characters [Ktav Ashurit]. I said to him: ‘How has this come into your hands?’ He replied, ‘I hired myself out as a mercenary in the Roman army, and I found it in the Roman archives. In it is stated that 4,231 years after the creation, the world will be orphaned. What follows – some will be spent in the war of the Taninim, the great sea monsters, and some in the war of Gog and Magog, and the remaining [years] will be the Messianic era, while the Holy One, Blessed Is He, will renew his world only after 7,000 years.’ R. Abba b. Raba differed and said: ‘The statement was after 5,000 years.'”
We see clearly – as per the Ra’avad’s criticism of the Rambam – that the Gemara speaks of a period of desolation and then renewal, their disagreement only being the number of years that will have to pass for these events to occur.
The Kesef Mishneh defends the Rambam by noting that his comments refer to Olam Habah, the Hereafter following the death of all the living; he argues that the Rambam does not dispute the tradition that G-d will destroy His world after 6,000 years.
Rashi says the Gemara’s statement regarding the war of the taninim – great sea monsters – refers to a war of actual fish. The Maharsha (Sanhedrin 97b) finds this explanation difficult and says it is an allegoric reference to wars of the gentile nations. Following those will be the war of Gog and Magog and then the advent of the Messiah.
Some argue that the wars of the nations and that of Gog and Magog have already occurred, pointing to the two world wars, the horrors of the Holocaust, the many wars across the globe that seem to constantly flare up, and especially the wars fought in Israel these past 70 years that have cost so many precious lives.
(To be continued)