Steven Saks

Do all Jews Have a Share in the World to Come? Va’era 5784

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) proclaims that “all of Israel has a share in the world to come.” Clearly, the rabbis were attempting to encourage Jews to remain loyal despite the fact that subjection and exile at the hands of the Romans made being Jewish difficult. However, immediately after declaring that remaining a part of the Jewish people serves as a form of umbrella protection, guaranteeing one the heavenly bliss of the world to come, the Mishnah suggests that some Jews have no share in the world to come. 

While superficially there appears to be a contradiction, upon examination, we see there is not. The Jews who forfeited their heavenly place according to the Mishnah, have one thing in common – they separated themselves from the community of Israel. For example, the ten spies who discouraged the Israelites from entering Canaan, are referred to  as an “edah ra’ah, an evil community.” By subverting the will of God, which was to have the Israelites enter Canaan, these ten men separated themselves from the community of Israel, thus forfeiting their membership in the community and the privileges membership provides, namely a portion of the world to come. Likewise, Korach and his fellow rebels separated themselves from the community by challenging the divinely ordained leadership of Moses and Aaron. God commanded Moses to warn the people to separate themselves from “ha-edah hazot, this community,” that is the community of Korach. Just as the spies separated themselves from the community and became their own community apart from Israel, through their subversion of God’s will, so too did Korach and his band of rebels. Likewise, these rebels were denied their heavenly allotment. The point the Mishnah is making is that if one takes actions to separate himself from the community of Israel, one loses the umbrella protection being a member of the community provides. That is, a share in the world to come. 

I sincerely hope that Senator Bernie Sanders takes heed of the Mishna’s message. Sanders, a frequent critic of Israel, introduced a resolution that may soon come to a vote in the Senate which, as  AIPAC  (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) puts it, “Falsely implies that Israel is committing gross violations of human rights in its effort to defend itself from Hamas’ barbaric terrorist attack. His goal is to ultimately terminate aid to Israel.  The resolution requires the State Department to issue a report on alleged Israeli human rights violations. If the State Department fails to issue the report within 30 days, all U.S. security assistance to Israel would be cut.” Though Sanders presents himself as a champion of those victimized, in this case he is not only blaming the victim, but also threatening to remove crucial funding the victim needs to defend itself from terror. It is widely acknowledged that Israel goes to extraordinary measures to avoid collateral damage. After the 2014 war with Hamas, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking military officer in the United States, stated “I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.”  The Pentagon even sent a team over to learn from the Israelis as to how to limit collateral damage. 

The fact that Israel still does go to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage (which places the soldiers in greater danger) has not stopped the senator from joining the ranks of those who give lip service to Israel’s right to defend itself, but yet, criticize the Jewish state for any and every defensive action it takes, while down playing or ignoring real human rights violations. Holding Israel to this double standard is antisemitic as it seeks to preclude the one Jewish state in the world from taking the requisite action it needs to ensure its survival. The fact that the senator is Jewish, provides cover against charges of antisemitism for those who wish to make similar  fallacious claims. A case and point are the International Court of Justice hearings initiated by South Africa against Israel on charges of “genocide” against Palestinians during the ongoing war in Gaza.

Though Sanders’ hostility to the Jewish state is disappointing, it is not surprising if one recalls the response he gave in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. When asked in a debate if he had any reservations about standing in the way of Hillary Clinton making history by becoming the first female president, Sanders failed to mention that he too, would make history by becoming the nation’s first Jewish president. Instead, Sanders chose to describe himself as “the son of Polish immigrants.” This, despite the fact that the Jews of Sanders’ parents’ generation, who lived in Poland, considered themselves and were considered not to be “Polish”, but Jews who lived in Poland. As we know, the history of the treatment of the Jews of Poland is a dark one. 

Sanders’ attempts to downplay his Jewish identity, along with specious charges against a Jewish state which finds itself under fire, leads one to believe that he is separating himself from the Jewish people which, as we have seen according to the Mishnah, is a bad idea. While it is not my place to determine whether or not Sanders will have a share in the world to come, I would urge him to pay close attention to the Exodus story which we are now reading. Those who oppress Israel in the end are humiliated and ruined. Those among Israel who choose to separate themselves from their community, cannot benefit from the protection that members of the community do.  Rashi, citing Midrashim, teaches that many among the Israelites died during the plague of darkness, because they had become so ensconced in Egypt’s immoral culture that they no longer desired to leave. In other words, they sealed their fate by separating themselves from their community to join Egypt’s. Conversely, those who endeavored on behalf of communal unity, help to redeem Israel. Miriam, Aaron and Moses helped to bring about salvation by working cooperatively, instead of lapsing into the sibling rivalry which had plagued the patriarchal families of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.         

Based on this, we see that in the long run, betting against the Jewish people is not a winning bet. Just ask ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Adolf Eichman and the countries which have spent much of the last century attempting to destroy Israel.

Let’s conclude with the hope that Sanders takes note of Hillel’s famous dictum from Pirkei Avot, “Don’t separate yourself from the Community.” If Jews, who lived through the upheaval of the destruction of the Temple and exile, could continue to identify as Jewish and support their community, the senator from Vermont, who has the advantage of living in a Philo-semitic nation should be able to do no less.  And at very least, even if Sanders prefers to continue to downplay his Jewish identity, he should at least have the decency to refrain from making fallacious accusations against Israel. These accusations have fueled the upsurge in antisemitism endangering Jews who proudly identify as members of the Jewish people.   

Am Yisrael Chai 

About the Author
Rabbi of Sons of Israel, Woodmere NY. Vice President of Morasha Rabbinical Fellowship (affiliated with the Union for Traditional Judaism). Served as president of the Rabbinical Association of Delaware.
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