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
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.