Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In these weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, it is customary to study Pirkei Avot, and this Shabbat, the first of the cycle, is when we learn the first chapter. Before each chapter, we recite the mishna that gives its name to the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin, as well as one of Rambam’s most famous essays: “All of Israel has a share of the world to come” (Sanhedrin 10:1).

In his commentary on Pirkei Avot, called Ruach Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, student of the Vilna Gaon, notes that we build our world with ideas and deeds. He references the mishna from the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot (4:2) that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the reward for an aveira is an aveira. He says the unspoken premise is that the mitzvot a person does go forward into the next world and build a suitable abode for him there, but the aveirot, G-d forbid, dig a pit to separate him from G-d and from holiness. For this reason, the mishna says he has a share le’olam haba, of the world to come, and not ba’olam haba, in the world to come. Because we aren’t to understand simply that something is ready and waiting for us with no effort required of us. Rather, through our actions, we build the world to come for ourselves.


R’ Chaim juxtaposes this with the mechanism whereby the evil inclination propagates its influence through the world. Because mitzvot beget mitzvot and aveirot beget other aveirot. And because the evil inclination dangles into our world like a serpent with its head above and it corrupts and deceives people so they will fall into error and move further from the light and the knowledge of Hashem. But the evil inclination gets little satisfaction from the corruption of those who are already corrupt, so it tricks the good and the righteous into violating their own principles so they will begin to walk down the path of aveira following aveira.

But all of this ultimately flows from Hashem. Hashem created Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden, and He placed them there with the serpent so they could resist its charms. Only in that moment and in that place Adam and Chava failed. However, we are their descendants and we have been given the Torah so that we can gain the victory over the enemy that bested them. Yet the enemy is that much more difficult to defeat because it is ourselves. When we overcome temptation, when we remain true to our principles and to the Torah of Hashem, then we take away a little bit of the power of evil that keeps us in our worldly prison.

At the same time, by doing mitzvot every day, we rebuild the Garden of Eden so that, in our own merit, one day we can all return there. Our tradition teaches that the Garden of Eden is available for the righteous to return to after they leave this world, but we also anticipate a change in our present state of affairs whereby in the merit of the accumulated mitzvot of all of Israel, the Garden of Eden will become our reality here and now and always.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].