Parsha Halacha – Parshat Chukat-Balak (Chukat in Israel)
Who Will Rise?
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The Torah portion of (Chukat) Balak contains a prophecy about the Messianic era which Bilaam prophesied (Numbers 24:17): אֶרְאֶנוּ וְלֹא עַתָּה אֲשׁוּרֶנוּ וְלֹא קָרוֹב דָרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקֹב וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל וּמָחַץ פַּאֲתֵי מוֹאָב וְקַרְקַר כָּל בְּנֵי שֵׁת “I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Yaakov, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moav and uproot all the sons of Seth.”
Some of the commentaries (Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni) say that the verse is referring to King David. Others (see their names below) say that it is referring to Moshiach. Here is how they explain it:
- A Star
Moshiach is called a star because just as a star transverses the entire sky, so, too, Moshiach will rule over the entire world (Ramban).
- A Star and a Staff
The Vilna Gaon says that the star is referring to Moshiach ben Yosef. (Since a star remains fixed in its orbit, it represents a lesser power) while the staff is referring to Moshiach ben David who will be like a shooting star that resembles a staff. (The fact that the shooting star moves in the sky symbolizes Mosiach ben David’s ability to rule over a greater kingdom.)
The Ohr HaChaim, on the other hand, says that the star is referring to Mosiach ben David while the staff (which has lesser strength than a star) is referring to Moshiach ben Yosef. The phrase, “A staff will arise from Israel” alludes to the fact that if we merit, we can save Moshiach ben Yosef from being killed during his battles.
- Crush the Princes of Moav
In the future era, the wicked people among most of the nations will be wiped out by G-d Himself whereas the nations of Edom and Moav will be decisively defeated by the Jewish people as righteous vengeance for their long standing enmity to B’nei Yisroel (Seforno).
- Sooner or Later
The Ohr HaChaim says that the above verse alludes to the two possible types of Messianic arrivals and eras that we may experience. If we are deserving, Moshiach will come before his allotted time and in miraculous ways. If we are not so deserving, he will come in a more natural way and in his allotted time. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) refers to these two possibilities as “zachu” (if they merit) and “lo zachu” (if they do not merit).
Thus, “I see him but not now” is referring to “zachu,” an arrival which is not now but nor is it distant. If Moshiach comes in this manner, it will be miraculous like a (shooting) “star” that appears suddenly in the sky. This will happen if everyone, even the lower-level kind of Jews referred to as “Yaakov,” merit this redemption. “I behold it, but not soon” is referring to the “lo zachu” scenario, in which case it will not be soon (not soon after Bilaam’s time). In this case, Moshiach will be like a natural “ruler” with a staff. This will happen if the only people who deserve the redemption are the higher-level Jews who are called “Yisrael.”
- All of Mankind
The verse indicates that Moshiach will rule over, but not destroy, all of mankind. The word וְקַרְקַר can be translated to mean undermine (see Rashi) rather than destroy. This is supported by several verses in the Tanach which talk about the nations of the world being present in the Messianic era (Ohr HaChaim). An example of this is found in Pesachim 68a.
Dying at the Young Age of 100
In the Talmud, Ulla raises the following contradiction: In one verse (Isaiah 25:8), it is written, “He will destroy death forever, and the L-rd G-d will wipe away tears from off all faces.” Yet another verse (Isaiah 65:20) says, “The youngest shall die a hundred years old,” implying that people will live long lives, but death will not be totally eradicated.
Ulla answers: This is not difficult: Here in the first verse, it is referring to Jews, who will not die at all, while there, in the second verse, it is referring to gentiles, who will live exceedingly long lives but eventually die. The Talmud asks: What are gentiles doing in the future world? The Gemara answers: As it is written (Isaiah 61:5), “And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vineyard workers.”
After the Messianic era there will be another era, that of the Resurrection.
Here are several sources in the written Torah that speak about the Resurrection:
- Isaiah 26:19 יִֽחְיוּ מֵתֶיךָ נְבֵלָתִי יְקוּמוּן הָקִיצוּ וְרַנְּנוּ שֹׁכְנֵי עָפָר כִּי טַל אוֹרֹת טלֶּךָ׃ “Oh, let Your dead revive! Let the corpses arise! Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust!— For Your dew is like the dew on fresh growth.”
- Daniel 12:2 וְרַבִּים מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת עָפָר יָקִיצוּ אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפוֹת לְדִרְאוֹן עוֹלָם. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.”
- Daniel 12:13 ואתה לך [לקץ] ותנוח ותעמוד לגורלך לקץ הימין “But go you your way until the end be; and you shall rest, and arise to your lot at the end of days.”
In addition, there are many allusions to the resurrection in the Five Books of Moshe. Some of these can be found here.
Every Last Jew
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said publicly, “Every single Jew, no matter who he is, even a completely wicked person (rasha gamur), G-d forbid, has hope throughout his life (that he may repent). And in the end, whether willingly or by Divine coercion, whether during his lifetime or after his passing, he will be elevated from the gates of impurity into which he has sunk. He will go through various processes of purification and refinement until he, too, will become united and cleave to his source, the infinite light of G-d.”
Someone sent the Rebbe a letter questioning this statement as there are various Torah sources which seem to indicate that not everyone will be resurrected and thus “united with the infinite light of Hashem.”
The Rebbe responded by citing several sources that prove that all souls will be rectified. He also reconciled this with the sources that seem to indicate otherwise. The Hebrew text of the letter can be found here. The rest of this article is a brief digest of the letter:
An Eternal Soul Must be Rectified
The basis to say that every Jew will be included in the resurrection can be found in the Kabbalistic book Emek HaMelech by Rabbi Naftali Hertz Bachrach, a student of Mahar”i Srug who was a student of the Arizal. He writes (in the end of chapter 3 of Sha’ar Tikunei Teshuvah) as follows:
“[One may ask] why should I work so hard with wicked people [to get them to do Teshuvah] who anger G-d at every moment? There are two answers to this question: The first is that even a totally wicked person has sparks of holiness in him since we are all a ‘branch of G-d’s planting.’ We have a part of G-d within us that is eternal… The second reason is that we are ‘the work of G-d in which He takes pride,’ and G-d’s handiwork is everlasting and can never cease to exist.”
The idea that every Jewish soul will be rectified is expressed in the following verse from Shmuel II (14:14) “וחשב מחשבות לבלתי ידח ממנו נדח – And He (G-d) devises means so that he (the soul) who is banished be not cast away from Him.” The Alter Rebbe (in Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:3) explains this to mean that “Even a wicked person will do teshuvah either in this reincarnation or in the next reincarnation as the verse says, ‘No one will be cast away from Him.’”
The Pleasant Smell
The Talmud (Eiruvin 21b) says that even the completely wicked will give off a pleasant smell in the future.
Along the same lines, the Talmud (ibid 19a) says that even the wicked sinners of Israel are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate. And that even if they are sentenced to suffer in Gehinnom, Avraham Avinu will extricate them. The only exception mentioned is a Jewish man who had relations with a gentile woman. Even in such a case, Tosfot explains (D.H. Chutz on Bava Metzia 58b) that he will be elevated from Gehinnom after 12 months of suffering.
How Are They Rectified?
How is the soul of a sinner cleansed so that he can merit to receive a portion in the World to Come (i.e., the era of the resurrection)?
There are several ways this can happen:
- Teshuvah. As long as a person is alive, he can do Teshuvah and thus rectify the spiritual blemishes accumulated on his soul as the Rambam says (Laws of Teshuvah, end of Chapter 3), “If… a person repents from his wicked deeds and dies as a Baal-Teshuvah, he will merit the world to come, for nothing can stand in the way of Teshuvah. Even if he denies G-d’s existence throughout his life and repents in his final moments, he merits a portion in the world to come.”
- Having a righteous descendant. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 104a) says that a righteous child can bring merit to a parent. A righteous child with his good deeds can even elevate a wicked parent into the World to Come.
- Prayer and Good Deeds Performed in the Merit of the Deceased. We see from various places in the Talmud and Midrash that people have the power to elevate the soul of a departed person through prayer. This elevation can be so profound that even one who was originally banned from entering the Garden of Eden can be allowed to enter. For example:
- In Chagigah 15b we see that Rabbi Yochanan’s prayers enabled Elisha ben Avuyah (known as Acher) to enter Gan Eden.
- Some say that it was King David’s prayers which elevated his son Avshalom from the seventh level of Gehinnom and brought him into Gan Eden. (See Tosfot D.H. De’atyei on Sotah 10b.)
- The Sifri (end of Parshat Shoftim, number 210) says that the prayer of the elders at the Egla Arufa ceremony (in this ceremony a calf was decapitated near where a murdered person was found in between cities) would atone for the generation that left Egypt.
The common custom is to give tzedaka in the merit of people who have passed on in order to elevate their souls. (See O.C. 621:6.)
- Disgrace after Death. A wicked person can be redeemed and elevated to the World to Come by punishments received in his lifetime and even after their death. Thus the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 47a) that it is a good sign for a deceased person if he is embarrassed after his death (by a dishonorable burial or the like).
As mentioned above, there are several sources that seem to indicate that some souls may be lost forever.
The Mishnah in (Sanhedrin 90a) says, “All of the Jewish people have a share in the World-to-Come… (Sometimes the World-to-Come refers to Gan Eden – where the souls go to after death, and sometimes to the era of the Resurrection. In this case it is clear from the Talmud there that it is referring to the era of the Resurrection.) And these are the people who have no share in the World-to-Come: One who says there is no resurrection of the dead derived from the Torah (i.e., it will not take place as the Torah doesn’t say it explicitly), one who says the Torah did not originate from Heaven, and an apikores (who treats with contempt Torah scholars and the Torah that they teach). Three kings and four commoners have no share in the World-to-Come…”
How can this be reconciled with the above-mentioned concept that every Jewish soul is eternal and must be (and will be) rectified?
The Rebbe explains that a person who sins in one of the ways mentioned in the Mishnah and does not do Teshuvah and is not elevated by his children or by prayers or tzedaka done on his behalf and is not disgraced after death, will not have his body resurrected in the coming era. (Disgrace after death is not referring to purposefully disgracing a wicked deceased person. Rather if it happens that he is disgraced.) Instead, his soul will be present as it will be reincarnated in another body and will be resurrected as the soul of that body. This is expressed by Rabbi Chaim Vital who wrote (Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Hakdama 11), “If the spark of an individual soul sinned by doing a sin about which it says that ‘their bodies are destroyed’ and thus cannot take part in the resurrection, that body is finished, but the spark (of the soul) will be reincarnated in another body which will then rise up in the era of Techiyat HaMeitim (resurrection of the dead). That body will include all aspects of the sparks of the soul that were part of the first body.
The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17a) says, “The heretics, the informers, the apostates, those who denied the Torah, those who denied the resurrection of the dead, those who separated from the ways of the Jewish community and refused to share in their suffering, those who cast their fear over the land of the living, and those who sinned and caused the masses to sin… will descend to Gehinnom and be judged there for generations and generations… Gehinnom will terminate, but they still will not terminate…”
Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Pano (1548 – 1620) explains (Asara Mamarot Mamar Chikur Din 5:1) that this latter statement (about Gehinnom terminating but they will not terminate) means that these souls will experience suffering for as long as it is possible to suffer, i.e., for as long as there are evil forces in the world. But when these evil forces cease to exist in the era of the Resurrection and Gehinnom will shut down, then these souls will be rectified and will rejoin the Jewish community.
The Talmud (ibid) says, “The rebellious Jews who have sinned with their bodies… descend to Gehinnom and are judged there for twelve months. After twelve months, their bodies are consumed, their souls are burned, and a wind scatters them (their ashes) under the soles of the feet of the righteous.”
The Ramban (Sha’ar HaGemul) explains this to mean that these souls lose their form similar to something which burns and turns into ash. They then receive a new form and remain under the feet of the righteous, i.e., on a lower level than the pleasure experienced by the righteous.
May we soon experience the coming of Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shlom Umevorach!