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A Portion in the World to Come – Introduction to Pirkei Avot

All of Israel have a portion in the World to Come, as it is stated, “And Your people are all righteous. They shall inherit the land forever. They are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”

It is customary to preface the learning of Pirkei Avot with this mishnah, which is from the tractate of Sanhedrin.[1] Although this is seemingly only a custom, “a custom of Israel is considered Torah,” therefore, we take customs very seriously. A number of reasons have been given for the custom of prefacing Pirkei Avot with this particular mishnah,[2]  Let us explore this topic.

The concept of “the World to Come,” or Olam Haba as it is called in Hebrew, appears primarily in the Oral Torah but is not explicitly mentioned in the Written Torah. Ultimately, our goal is to connect our present reality, or “This World” (Olam Hazeh) to the World to Come. In many ways, Pirkei Avot is the gateway to the study of the Mishnah—the foundation of the Oral Torah. It is most appropriate, as we shall explain, to place this mishnah describing the World to Come as a gateway to Pirkei Avot—the gateway to the Oral Torah.

The holy Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) explains that the World to Come is a connotation for the sefirah of understanding. In our service of God, engaging the sefirah of understanding is done through contemplation,[3] or hitbonenut, as it is called in Hebrew. About this contemplation, King David said, “Know the God of your father and serve Him.”[4] This means to deeply contemplate on God’s greatness and focus on God with strength and courage of the heart and mind.”[5]

We may think that the service of contemplation is not relevant to everyone. After all, not everyone is inclined to think deeply and contemplate God and the Torah. But the truth is that “All of Israel have a share in the World to Come”—meaning that every Jew has an inner connection to the sefirah of understanding (the World to Come) and to contemplation. The Alter Rebbe explains this further in the Tanya. He says,

And this strength and this trait—to deeply consider God and to bind one’s consciousness with God—exists in every soul from the House of Israel, as it suckles from the soul of Moses our teacher, may he rest in peace.

Everyone is a tzaddik, thanks to the Divine soul in them. This is what is known as the point of the tzaddik in every Jew. This is the meaning of the words, “And Your people are all tzadikkim.” They all have the point of a tzaddik in them. But this point may be concealed and needs to be revealed and illuminated. To accomplish this, the soul needs to suckle from the soul of Moses. How is this done?

Moses is considered the attribute of knowledge of the entire Congregation of Israel. In every generation, there are sparks from Moses’ soul. Every Jew has a concealed spark of the soul of Moses, or, in the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov, every Jew has a spark of Mashiach in them. The sages in each particular generation possess revealed, large sparks from the soul of Moses. The sages are thus, the “eyes of the congregation” who have the tools and talent to teach the knowledge of God to the people. In order to awaken this spark of Moses in himself, a person must invest his efforts in contemplation (“expending efforts with the spirit and expending efforts with the flesh”) and be strongly connected to and have faith in the true tzaddikim. (He must also believe in the point of the tzaddik within himself, “And Your people are all tzadikkim”).

When a person connects his heart and soul to the true tzaddikim, the spark of being a tzaddik inside him is awakened and is empowered to illuminate in a revealed manner.[6]

Feeling like a Portion

There is a Chassidic teaching that explains another mishnah, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot,”[7] as follows: He who is happy is one who is happy that he is only “a lot,” meaning a portion (of the whole). We can apply this understanding to our mishnah, “All of Israel have a portion [or “a lot”] in the World to Come.” Meaning that a person’s lot in the World to Come is his happiness with the fact that he is only a portion—that he is incomplete.

Let’s look at the expression “a portion in the World to Come” (חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא). The phrase’s complete value is 7 times 46, which divides neatly into the first word, “a portion” (חֵלֶק) whose value is 3 times 46 and the final two words, “in the World to Come” (לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא) whose value is 4 times 46. Likewise, the value of the first and last letters in all three words (חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא) is 4 times 46 and the value of the remaining letters (חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא) is 3 times 46! The common multiplicand, 46, is the value of “Levi”, the tribe described as particularly related to the sefirah of understanding and the World to Come.


[1]. Sanhedrin 10:1.

[2]. See Derech Chaim and Pirkei Moshe.

[3]. At times the Hebrew word, hitbonenut, is translated as “meditation.” Because meditation has been associated with practices originating in the Far East, this presents a certain problem. We therefore stress that whenever hitbonenut is translated as “meditation,” the meaning is one of deep intellectual contemplation.

[4]. 1 Chronicles 28:9.

[5]. Tanya c. 42.

[6]. And the numerical allusion to this is that “spark” (נִצוֹץ) equals “the heart of a tzaddik” (לֵב צַדִּיק).

[7]. Avot 4:1.

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