One’s Portion in the World to Come is REAL Estate
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph states:
רָבִינָא אָמַר בִּדְעוּלָּא פְּלִיגִי דְּאָמַר עוּלָּא דְּבַר תּוֹרָה בַּעַל חוֹב בְּזִיבּוּרִית שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בַּחוּץ תַּעֲמוֹד וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה נֹשֶׁה בוֹ יוֹצִא אֵלֶיךָ אֶת הַעֲבוֹט הַחוּצָה מָה דַּרְכּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם לְהוֹצִא לַחוּץ פָּחוּת שֶׁבַּכֵּלִים וּמָה טַעַם אָמְרוּ בַּעַל חוֹב בְּבֵינוֹנִית כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא תִּנְעוֹל דֶּלֶת בִּפְנֵי לֹוִין.
Ravina said: Another resolution to the contradiction between the baraitot is that the baraitot disagree with regard to the opinion of Ulla, as Ulla says: By Torah law, a creditor collects from inferior-quality land, as it is stated: “You shall stand outside, and the man you have a claim against will bring his collateral out to you” (Deuteronomy 24:11). One can infer: What item would a person typically choose to bring out for use as collateral and potential payment? Certainly it is the most inferior of his utensils. The verse thereby indicates that a creditor collects from inferior-quality land. But if so, for what reason did the Sages say that a creditor collects from intermediate-quality land? They instituted this ordinance so as not to lock the door in the face of potential borrowers, as, if creditors were limited to collecting from inferior-quality land, they would be hesitant to offer loans in the first place.
Sefer Daf Al Daf quotes the following question from the Kehillas Yitschok (Ki Tetze, Yekara Deoraysa):
The Gemara Kiddushin (39b) paradoxically states:
כֹּל שֶׁזְּכִיּוֹתָיו מְרוּבִּין מֵעֲוֹנוֹתָיו – מְרִיעִין לוֹ, וְדוֹמֶה כְּמִי שֶׁשָּׂרַף כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ וְלֹא שִׁיֵּיר מִמֶּנָּה אֲפִילּו אוֹת אַחַת. וְכֹל שֶׁעֲוֹנוֹתָיו מְרוּבִּין מִזְּכִיּוֹתָיו – מְטִיבִין לוֹ, וְדוֹמֶה כְּמִי שֶׁקִּיֵּים כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ וְלֹא חִיסֵּר אוֹת אַחַת מִמֶּנָּה!
Anyone whose merits are greater than his sins is punished with suffering like one who burned the entire Torah without leaving even one letter remaining of it. Conversely, anyone whose sins are greater than his merits has goodness bestowed upon him in this world, and he appears like one who has fulfilled the entire Torah without lacking the fulfillment of even one letter of it.
Why the opposite reaction? Why does the sinner get such good treatment and the person who is mostly good suffers such harsh penalties? Rashi explains:
Anyone whose merits are greater than his sins is punished with suffering in order to cleanse his sins in this world and enable him to merit full reward for his mitzvot in the World-to-Come. And due to this, his punishment appears to observers like one who burned the entire Torah without leaving even one letter remaining of it. Conversely, anyone whose sins are greater than his merits has goodness bestowed upon him in this world in order to “use up all his reward in this world.
Kehillas Yitschok asks, isn’t such behavior seemingly petty and vengeful? It is one thing for God to enable the good person to cleanse his sins in this world via suffering, but why “deprive” the sinner of the same “opportunity”? The answer is that when one sins, he becomes indebted to God and owes Him payment. We have learned in our Gemara that the original Biblical law only requires the debtor to pay from his least quality fields. Thus, to the righteous person, his “real estate” in the World to Come is literally his REAL estate. Since this is his most desired property, God collects payment from him in the material world, since this is his lower quality asset base. However, for the person who is not righteous, he values the material world and possessions as his high-quality asset, and devalues the spiritual rewards in the world to come. Therefore, God extracts payment from, what is subjectively to him, inferior quality real estate.
While this is a clever derash, it still has to make sense and be fair metaphysically. I believe that this is metaphorically expressing the idea that to some extent, we create the kind of relationship we want with God and the world. God respects human autonomy and self-determination so strongly that the way in which one desires to orient oneself manifest the terms of his punishment or success accordingly.
Whom Do We Venerate? The Mitzvah or the One Who Performs It?
Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the principle of Hiddur Mitzvah. There is an additional requirement beyond fulfillment of a mitzvah; that is to honor a mitzvah by somehow beautifying it.
Rabbi Zeira said that for the embellishment of the performance of a mitzvah, one should spend up to one-third more than the cost.
There is an apparent dispute between Rashi and Tosafos regarding the interpretation of “⅓ more.” According to Rashi, one should spend ⅓ more on the purchase price of the standard object to obtain a higher quality version of the same mitzvah object. Rashi provides examples such as purchasing a higher quality Sefer Torah, Tzitzis, Talis, and Lulav. In contrast, Tosafos suggests that one should increase the quality by a third more. For instance, if the minimum size of an esrog is that of a walnut, one should spend whatever it takes to acquire an esrog that is a third bigger. Presumably, Tosafos implies that whatever the standard quality is, one should invest the money to achieve a standard that is ⅓ better. This could apply to various situations, such as renovating a shul. According to Rashi, there is an obligation to spend ⅓ more to buy nicer materials, while according to Tosafos, one should spend whatever it takes to raise the quality by a third. Sometimes Rashi’s approach could be more expensive, while at other times, Tosafos’ approach might cost more.
The underlying basis for the dispute between Rashi and Tosafos is not entirely clear, but it can be understood in the context of the “what.” According to Rashi, the mitzvah is to honor the mitzvah through action and personal sacrifice to beautify it. The obligation is essentially infinite, but the Torah limited it to a third extra in price for practicality, as it might be impractical to spend more than that. In contrast, according to Tosafos, the focus is on achieving a threshold of honor that is a third higher in quality. The limit of a third is not so much about practicality but more about fulfilling an enhancement. This distinction is critical because the third represents a financial limit for Rashi but is part of the definition of the enhancement itself for Tosafos.
I believe the dispute stems from how the proof text is understood. The Gemara Shabbos 133b states:
דְּתַנְיָא: ״זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ״, הִתְנָאֵה לְפָנָיו בְּמִצְוֹת: עֲשֵׂה לְפָנָיו סוּכָּה נָאָה, וְלוּלָב נָאֶה, וְשׁוֹפָר נָאֶה, צִיצִית נָאָה, סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה נָאֶה, וְכָתוּב בּוֹ לִשְׁמוֹ בִּדְיוֹ נָאֶה, בְּקוּלְמוֹס נָאֶה, בְּלַבְלָר אוּמָּן, וְכוֹרְכוֹ בְּשִׁירָאִין נָאִין.
What is the source for the requirement of: “This is my God and I will glorify Him”? As it was taught in a baraisa with regard to the verse: “This is my God and I will glorify Him [anveihu], the Lord of my father and I will raise Him up.” The Sages interpreted anveihu homiletically as linguistically related to noi, beauty, and interpreted the verse: Beautify yourself before Him in mitzvot. Even if one fulfills the mitzva by performing it simply, it is nonetheless proper to perform the mitzva as beautifully as possible. Make before Him a beautiful sukka, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar, beautiful ritual fringes, beautiful parchment for a Torah scroll, and write in it in His name in beautiful ink, with a beautiful quill by an expert scribe, and wrap the scroll in beautiful silk fabric.
Clearly the simple reading is in accordance with Tosafos, that the focus is to beautify the mitzvah. There is no mention of cost (although practically it is set at ⅓). However, let us examine Rashi’s explanation on the verse in Shemos (15:2):
וְאַנְוֵהוּ לְשׁוֹן נוֹי, אֲסַפֵּר נוֹיוֹ וְשִׁבְחוֹ לְבָאֵי עוֹלָם, כְּגוֹן “מַה דּוֹדֵךְ מִדּוֹד וְגוֹ’ דּוֹדִי צַח וְאָדוֹם” (שיר השירים ה’), וְכָל הָעִנְיָן:
ואנוהו is that it has the sense of נוי, “beauty”, and the meaning is: I will relate His splendour and praiseworthiness to the inhabitants of the world.
Even more revealing is Rashi in Yoma (70a)
להראות חזותו לרבים – להראות נויו של ספר תורה ותפארת בעליה שטרח להתנאות במצוה שנאמר זה אלי ואנוהו התנאה לפניו במצות לולב נאה ספר תורה נאה בקלף נאה בדיו נאה בלבלר אומן ומערב יום הכפורים הביאום שם:
To show its beauty to the public – to display the splendor of the Torah scroll and the excellence of its owners, as one should strive to beautify the performance of a mitzvah, as it is written, ‘This is my God, and I will glorify Him.’ He adorned himself before Him with the mitzvah of the Lulav, [just as] a Torah scroll is beautiful with a fine script, beautiful ink, skilled penmanship, and on the eve of Yom Kippur, they brought it there
We see from Rashi that there is an emphasis on the effort placed by the owner of the object, and in seeing how much effort is put in, this shows honor for the mitzvah. This helps us understand why Rashi sets the standard in a third more of the price, as it is about the sacrifice the owner is making as much as it is about beautifying the mitzvah itself. This also helps explain a Rashi in Pesachim (99b, “Lo Yochal”) that says it is a fulfillment of Hiddur Mitzvah to eat Matzah with appetite and gusto. This is not about having tasty or crispy matzah, or certain chumros in the kashrus, although all that could also be Hiddur mitzvah. Instead, Rashi is focussing on the demonstration of attachment and personal devotion to the mitzvah, which can incidentally be fulfilled by beautifying the mitzvah but also in other forms, and principally in a form that demonstrates devotion and sacrifice.
Rashi seems to hold that the mitzvah itself is less an object of veneration than the attitude toward the object. It is almost as if to say that Mitzvos are only the medium, but the person’s attitude and mindset is the main concern. This is reminiscent of the following Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 44:1):
וְכִי מָה אִיכְפַּת לֵיהּ לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹחֵט מִן הַצַּוָּאר אוֹ מִי שֶׁשּׁוֹחֵט מִן הָעֹרֶף, הֱוֵי לֹא נִתְּנוּ הַמִּצְווֹת אֶלָּא לְצָרֵף בָּהֶם אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת.
Why should the Holy One blessed be He care whether one slaughters an animal from the throat or he slaughters it from the nape? Thus we learn that the mitzvot were given only to refine the creations with them.
Or, in other words, what is more important, the act of the mitzvah or the attitude and intentions GENERATED by the mitzvah? This might be related to how one interprets the question and responses pondered in Kiddushin (40b): תַּלְמוּד גָּדוֹל אוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה גָּדוֹל Is study greater or is action greater?
Take a Pit Stop Before You Get Back into the Race
Our Gemara discusses how to interpret the following verse in (Shemos 21:33-34):
וְכִֽי־יִפְתַּ֨ח אִ֜ישׁ בּ֗וֹר א֠וֹ כִּֽי־יִכְרֶ֥ה אִ֛ישׁ בֹּ֖ר וְלֹ֣א יְכַסֶּ֑נוּ וְנָֽפַל־שָׁ֥מָּה שּׁ֖וֹר א֥ו חֲמֽוֹר׃
If a man uncovers a pit, or if a man digs a pit, and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it:
בַּ֤עַל הַבּוֹר֙ יְשַׁלֵּ֔ם כֶּ֖סֶף יָשִׁ֣יב לִבְעָלָ֑יו וְהַמֵּ֖ת יִֽהְיֶה־לּֽוֹ׃
The owner of the pit must pay. He must compensate its owner with money, and the dead [animal] remains his [its original owner’s] possession.
Be’er Mayim Chaim (Bamidbar 5:7) interprets this verse allegorically and ties it into Reuven’s sin and repentance. The pit literally represents the pitfalls of sin, just as a person falls into a pit, they also fall into sin. Just as the pit is a hazard that remains in the landscape for others to stumble upon repeatedly until it is remedied, a person, when repenting, must correct the moral weakness and failing that led to the sin.
Bereishis (37:29) tells us that Reuven returned to the “pit,” hoping to rescue Yosef but discovered that the brothers had already sold him. He cries out:
וַיָּ֤שָׁב רְאוּבֵן֙ אֶל־הַבּ֔וֹר וְהִנֵּ֥ה אֵין־יוֹסֵ֖ף בַּבּ֑וֹר וַיִּקְרַ֖ע אֶת־בְּגָדָֽיו׃
Reuven returned to the pit, but behold, Yosef was not in the pit. He [then] tore his clothes [in grief].
The Midrash (Yalkut Trey Asar 516):
וישב ראובן אל הבור רבי ברכיה אומר אמר לו הקב”ה אתה פתחת בתשובה תחילה חייך שבן בנך בא ופותח בתשובה תחילה שנאמר (הושע י”ד, ב’) שובה ישראל
Reuven returned to the pit, and Rabbi Berechia said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “You began with repentance first, by your life, your son’s son shall come and begin with repentance first,” as it is said (Hosea 14:2), “Return, O Israel.”
Be’er Mayim Chaim asks, how is Reuven’s repentance meritorious or even unique? First, the Midrashim record Adam as also repenting, and secondly, repentance is one of the 613 mitzvos. What made Reuven’s repentance so special?
Be’er Mayim Chaim answers that Reuven had started fasting, mourning, and repenting for having interfered with his father’s conjugal rights (see Tosafos Bava Kama 92a, “Mi,” and Rashi on this verse.) However, his repentance was only complete when “He returned to the pit,” which is when he saw the flaw in his character. The same arrogance and competitiveness that led him to overstep his bounds in relation to his father and mother’s business was also the source of his jealousy of Yosef. So, imagine this: Reuven is wrapped up in prayer and self-flagellation. He returns and then finds out an even bigger catastrophe occurred. After he took all the actions of repentance, he merited the insight that allowed him to see why and how he sinned. He got hit in the face with the very same trap and pitfall.
When we seek to repent and change our ways, we must make efforts to uncover our original blind spot and defect; otherwise, history will repeat itself.