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Avodah Zarah, 4


QUESTION: Reish Lakish (end of 3b) states that "in the World to Come, there will be no Gehinom. Rather, Hashem will remove the sun from its sheath, and the wicked will be scorched by it, and the righteous will be healed by it as it says (Malachi 3:19), 'A sun will come which will burn like a furnace; all the wicked and all the evildoers will be like straw, and the sun will incinerate them.... But a sun of kindness will shine for those who fear Me, with healing in its rays.' Moreover, the righteous will derive pleasure from the sun, as it says (ibid.), '... and you will become sated, as fattened calves entering their pen to feed.'"

According to this account, the righteous will not need to be sheltered from the burning sun on the final day of judgment. On the contrary, the warmth of that day's sun will be beneficial to them rather than harmful. This, however, seems to contradict Reish Lakish's own description of the events to take place in the future as it appears in the Midrash, where he says that in the World to Come, "at that time Hashem will make a Sukah (a shading shelter) for the righteous to protect them from the sun, as it says (Tehilim 27:5), 'He will conceal me in His Sukah on the day of evil; He will hide me in the seclusion of His tent'" (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor #653). Reish Lakish implies that the sun *will* be harmful to the Tzadikim, and thus they will need Hashem to shelter them from it!

How can we reconcile these two contradictory statements of Reish Lakish? Why will the righteous both benefit from the sun, yet require shelter from it?

ANSWER: To answer this question, we must first understand why it is that the *sun* was chosen to be the agent through which Hashem will administer punishment for the wicked and reward for the righteous. What is meant by the sun's "sheath," and why is it normally encased in this sheath? What is represented by the Sukah that Hashem will construct for the righteous?

The Gemara (Sotah 10a) tells us that the word "Shemesh" ("protector," as Rashi there explains) can be used as an appellation for Hashem, as it says, "Hashem is a Shemesh and a shield" (Tehilim 84:12). The common usage of the word "Shemesh," however, is the word for "sun." Why should the sun be referred to with the same word that denotes its Creator?

The verse states, "The heavens proclaim the glory of Hashem... He made a tent in [the heavens] for the sun. The sun appears like a groom coming out of his bridal canopy; it rejoices like an athlete running his course. It emerges from one edge of the sky and it goes around to the other; no one can escape its heat" (Tehilim 19:2-7). In what way do "the heavens proclaim the glory of Hashem?" The verse explains that it is through the sun's great might that Hashem's power is demonstrated. This colossal nuclear furnace, radiating more energy every second than mankind has consumed in history, is the source of all life on earth. Holding in tow the entire solar system through its gravitational pull, the sun's light, heat, and "wind" of ionized particles affect planets and other bodies billions of miles away. The sun, our only directly observable star, is the greatest public demonstration of the awesome might and glory of Hashem.

In fact, it was this very display of power that brought ancient civilizations to worship the sun. We, however, know that the sun itself can do nothing to change its predetermined, natural course. It persistently "emerges from one edge of the sky and it goes around to the other." Instead of worshipping it, we marvel at the great Power Who endows the sun with such tremendous might.

This is why the word "Shemesh," which is used to describe Hashem, was borrowed as a name for the sun, Hashem's great emissary in this world. An emissary is entitled to go by the name of his dispatcher.

In this world, however, the "sun" -- the demonstration of Hashem's glory to man that the sun represents -- is "sheathed." It is still possible to make the mistake of thinking that the sun operates on its own, or that the sun acts according to natural principles that developed spontaneously and randomly. The "brilliance" of the sun is thus covered in this world.

In the World to Come, however, Hashem will take the sun out of its "sheath." As the Gemara (Berachos 17a) says, "In the world to come there will be no eating or drinking; rather, the righteous will sit and delight in the radiance of Hashem's presence." Experiencing closeness to Hashem will be in place of physical pleasure for the righteous. They will be able to perceive Hashem in a way that is not possible in this world. Hence, the sun will be "taken out of its sheath." This is the reward for those who have sought throughout their lives to better know Hashem and His ways. Hashem will reveal His glory to each of the righteous in the World to Come in accordance with the amount of effort they invested in knowing and understanding Him during their lives in this world.

The wicked, on the other hand, will endure disgrace at that time. It will be made abundantly clear just how much they distanced themselves from the source of eternal life during their lives in this world. On the final day of judgment, their disgrace will be revealed to all, and any existence that they merit will be granted to them only through the righteous men whom they despised during their lives. The revelation of Hashem's presence in the World to Come will "burn" them, due to the their distance from Him.

The reward of the righteous is granted based on an evaluation of how close they were to their Creator during their lives. It therefore stands to reason that even among the righteous, every person's experience in the World to Come will be different. Some will be closer to Hashem than others in certain aspects, while others will be closer in other aspects. The righteous will therefore both "derive pleasure from the sun (the revelation of the Divine Presence)" for their accomplishments, and "be burned by the sun" for their failings. Since they are righteous, however, and they at least worked towards "knowing Hashem," He will make them a Sukah to protect them from being scorched for their failings. Thus, Reish Lakish's two statements actually complement each other. The righteous will both be rewarded by the sun, and yet they will need protection from it.


QUESTION: The Gemara says that Hashem's anger lasts for an extremely short moment in time (at longest, the length of time needed to pronounce two syllables). Bil'am wanted to curse the Jewish people during that inauspicious moment of Hashem's wrath. What curse could Bil'am possibly utter in such a short amount of time?


(a) TOSFOS (DH Rega k'Meimra), in the name of Rebbi Eliyahu, says that as long as Bil'am's curse would begin during the time of Hashem's anger, the rest of the curse would also be effective.

(b) Tosfos here and in Berachos (DH she'Ilmalei) gives another answer. Bil'am could have said the word, "Kalem" -- "Destroy them!" in that short amount of time. Tosfos adds that according to this explanation, Hashem not only "reversed the curse" (Devarim 23:6) in the figurative sense, but he literally reversed it. Instead of saying "Kalem" ("destroy them"), Bil'am said, "Melech" (Bamidbar 23:21). (The Hebrew letters of "Kalem," when reversed, spell "Melech".)

This explains a Gemara in Horiyos (10b). The Gemara there teaches that a person should engage himself in studying and fulfilling the Torah even if his motives are insincere, for he will eventually develop a sincere motivation. The Gemara demonstrates the value of even the insincere service of Hashem by the fact that as a result of the 42 sacrifices that Balak offered to Hashem, he merited to have Ruth among his descendants. Rashi explains that the significance of this statement is that David ha'Melech, Ruth's great-grandson, descended from Balak.

This may be the deeper meaning behind Tosfos' statement here that Bil'am's curse of "Kalem" was reversed and became a blessing, "Melech." The very sacrifices which Bil'am had advised Balak to bring in the hope that they would lead to Moav's victory over the Jewish people (represented by the word "Kalem") achieved the opposite result. They led to the birth of David ha'Melech who would later lead the Jewish people in the defeat of their enemies, including Moav! (M. Kornfeld)

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