All Israel Has a Share
May 25, 2010
Since Gaonic times, Jews have had the custom of studying the Mishna of Pirkei Avos, also known as Ethics of the Fathers, during the long Shabbos afternoons between Pesach and Shavuos. Many others continue to study it throughout the summer months until Rosh Hashanah. It is interesting to note that each of the six chapters of Avos begins with the statement: “All Israel has a share in the World to Come.” This is an important message that each Jew need understand and internalize. Let’s probe its meaning a little more deeply.
What are the ramifications of saying that every Jew has a share in the World to Come? According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), every Jew that hasn’t “utterly divorced” themselves from the “lofty spiritual and ethical destiny” of Judaism will get a portion in the World to Come. However, one’s portion will vary according to one’s merit.
Growing up in a predominantly Christian country, this came as a surprise to me. It often seems that the singular focus of many religions is to attain the goal of Heaven. Here, an authoritative Jewish text tells us that just by being born Jewish (and for men, undergoing a circumcision) we have a parking space reserved for us in the next world – whatever that means. I’m not going to get into the Jewish view of the afterlife. Rather, I want to explore what we as Jews should do with this information.
First we must recognize that while we are guaranteed a portion in the World to Come, the size (anthropomorphically speaking) of that portion depends on our actions in this world. I think an easy way to look at it is to compare this world to the stock market. In the beginning, Hashem created Wall Street…and it was eh, let’s not get into it. Every path one may go down in life can be viewed as a stock in which one may invest. Hashem brings us onto the trading floor amidst all the confusion of people yelling at us to buy or sell. We go through life with people trying to pull us this way and that way, but ultimately each of us invests in something.
However, not to accuse the Almighty of unethical business practices (G-d forbid!), in a Divine act of spiritual insider trading, Hashem offered all of the nations of the world to invest in Torah with the guarantee that its shares would pay off in large returns.To potential investors he promised eternal life – Not bad! Remarkably, the Jews, known for their keen business savvy, were the only ones to take Hashem up on this offer of a lifetime (no pun intended). Perhaps this is why Jews have often been accused of controlling the world’s finances.
Now that we know the returns on our investments are guaranteed, all that is left to be done is to invest as much as we can in Torah. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about it is we don’t even have to wait until the World to Come to see a pay-off on our investments. Mind you, our returns will be modest, but they will be steady. Torah is kind of a Blue Chip—the more we invest, the greater our share in Torah in this world and the next. There are many suited, shiny haired, smooth talkers who constantly ask us to invest in other things – things that may give us a quicker and lucrative return on our investments. “Come on!” they urge. “Being Jewish is great and all, but why do all of these mitzvos?” All we have to do is laugh at them. We know our ability to experience the rewards of Torah is limited only by how much we wish to invest.
When compared to financial matters, this is an easy concept to understand. Spiritual rewards are much harder to grasp than material, but are infinitely greater. We experience a sample taste of them in this world, but in the next we get to eternally savor their sweetness. We never have to worry about them dipping in value. Our shares in Torah only appreciate. Other stocks have to be sold quickly before they crash painfully into the ground leaving us with nothing. By contrast, the gains on our shares in Torah are eternal.
Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.