Two Windows to the Future

Concluding1 his description of the Era of the Redemption in Hilchos Melachim, the Rambam writes:2

In that Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.

This passage appears to echo a principle stated by the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah:3

The Torah has promised us that if we observe its [commandments] with joy... [G‑d] will remove all the obstacles that prevent us from such observance, such as illness, war, hunger, and the like. Similarly, He will grant us all [types of] good things to reinforce our observance of the that we will not spend our entire lifetime occupied in [securing] our bodily needs, but rather, will sit unburdened, and [thus have the opportunity to] grow wise through scholarship and to perform mitzvos.

The Rambam’s intent in this passage of Hilchos Teshuvah is to explain the divine scales of reward and punishment. When a person observes the Torah and its mitzvos, G‑d brings about circumstances that will provide him with material benefits so that he, in turn, will be able to expand and upgrade his observance. In the Era of the Redemption, therefore, when we will observe the Torah and its mitzvos in a consummate manner, we will be granted divine blessings in abundance.

Differences Between the Above Two Sources

Although in conception the two passages cited above are complementary, close analysis discovers several differences between the wording used in each: (a) When the Rambam describes in Hilchos Teshuvah how G‑d will remove various impediments to our observance of the Torah, illness is listed as the first — and thus, the primary — hindrance, while in Hilchos Melachim it is not mentioned. (b) In Hilchos Melachim the Rambam writes that the world will be free of “envy and competition,” while in Hilchos Teshuvah this subject is absent. (c) In Hilchos Melachim the Rambam mentions “delights”, which he does not do in Hilchos Teshuvah.

In this connection, it is noteworthy that the use of a poetic phrase in Hilchos Melachim (“all the delights will be as freely available as dust”) is not at all in character for the Rambam in the straightforward halachic context of Mishneh Torah.

Halachah — The Medium by which the World is Refined

The above difficulties can be resolved by focusing on the Rambam’s intent in composing the Mishneh Torah, and also on the fact that he chose to conclude the text with Hilchos Melachim, and in particular, with the coming of the Mashiach.

As he writes in his Introduction, the Rambam conceived of the Mishneh Torah as a work of Halachah, Torah law. What is the intent of Halachah? — To refine the world at large so that it will exist in harmony with G‑d’s will. There have been times during which this intent has been put into practice by Jewish kings. In the most complete sense, it will be realized in the Era of the Redemption, when the observance of all the mitzvos associated with the Beis HaMikdash will be restored and our people will devote all their energies to this goal.4 Similarly, the effect of the mitzvos in the world at large will be complete. There will be no pressures or disturbances hindering the observance of the Torah. Furthermore, “Knowledge, wisdom, and truth will be abundant,”5 and an all-pervading atmosphere of perfection will encompass every element of existence.

This is the state described at the conclusion of Hilchos Melachim.6 In contrast, the passage from Hilchos Teshuvah originally cited describes a state in which the Jewish people’s observance and the effects of this observance on the world at large have not attained the perfection of the Era of the Redemption.

Perfect Observance will bring Perfect Health

On this basis, we can begin to resolve the difficulties raised above. Firstly, there is no need to state that there will be no illness in the Era of the Redemption; this is self-evident.

In Hilchos Deos,7 where the Rambam outlines a course of conduct designed to bring a person physical health, he promises:8 “I guarantee that anyone who conducts himself in the ways which I have prescribed will never fall ill.” In the Era of the Redemption, as part of the complete observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, people will follow these rules of health, so that illness will be unknown.

Since Hilchos Teshuvah, in contrast, describes a less perfect state, there is the possibility that a person will be motivated by his desires and fail to conduct himself according to the rules of health. Concerning such a state, therefore, it needs to be stated that G‑d will “remove...illness” in order to enable a man to fully observe the Torah.

Erasing Envy

In Hilchos Melachim,9 the Rambam explains that there is a relationship of cause and effect between the removal of the obstacles and the generous flow of divine beneficence: “There will be neither famine (lit., ‘hunger’) nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance.”

For this relationship to be effective, not only must a man receive divine blessings, but he must also be conscious of them. Otherwise, he may fall prey to “envy and competition.” Furthermore, his envy might cause him to feel — albeit in an allegorical sense — “hunger”, a craving desire for his colleague’s possessions which might ultimately lead to conflict.

For this reason, the Rambam emphasizes that in the Era of the Redemption, “good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be...freely available.” The “good things” and the “delights” will be consciously appreciated by their recipients — for otherwise, these terms would be inappropriate. And because of the manifold nature of these blessings, “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition.”

Possessing Delights Without Being Possessed by Them

Being involved in material delights in the Era of the Redemption is, however, somewhat problematic. At a time when humanity and the world at large will be refined and elevated to a state of perfection, it is difficult to conceive that a man would choose to invest his time in physical delights, matters that the Rambam describes10 as “meaningless nonsense.”

The Rambam resolves this difficulty by stating that the delights will be “as freely available as dust.” Although they will be accessible to man — and he will partake of them for the sake of his health and physical welfare — he will consider them like “dust”, i.e., as being utterly worthless.11 Though we will live in an era of material prosperity, our attention will not be focused on it. Rather, “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

Imperfection in the Present Era

In Hilchos Teshuvah, in contrast, the Rambam does not mention “delights”. Since Hilchos Teshuvah describes a state in which man and the world at large are still in need of refinement, an individual may not have cultivated himself to the degree that he considers superfluous luxuries to be “as dust.” On the contrary, there is the possibility that were he granted them, his involvement in physical pleasures would even hamper his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. Therefore, although the Rambam emphasizes that a person will receive abundant divine blessings as a reward for past observance and as an encouragement for observance in the future, these blessings will not necessarily include “delights”.

Moreover, since the delights will not be possessed by everyone, the possibility remains for “envy and competition,” which could lead in turn to “famine and war.” Nevertheless, the Rambam assures us, although these undesirable traits will exist in the world at large, G‑d will prevent them from affecting those individuals who devote themselves to the observance of the Torah.

Perfection in the Study of the Torah

As a result of the rich multitude of divine blessings in the Era of the Redemption, “the occupation of the entire world12 will be solely to know G‑d.” This implies two concepts:

(a) Because “good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be...freely available,” a man will not have to work for his livelihood. In the present era, in contrast, as the Rambam writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah:13

Anyone who decides that he should engage in the study of Torah without working and be supported by charity desecrates the Name of G‑d.... It is most meritorious for a person to derive his livelihood from his own labor.

Although it is proper to “minimize one’s business activity,”14 the nature of our environment is such that we are all required to devote a certain amount of time to earning a livelihood. In the Era of the Redemption, in contrast, this will not be necessary and we will be able to direct all of our energies to the study of the Torah.

(b) More particularly, our energies will be directed to “the knowledge of G‑d.” At present, our study of the Torah has many different objectives, most obvious among them, a knowledge of how to perform the mitzvos. In the Era of the Redemption our study of the Torah will have a single goal,15 the knowledge of G‑d.16

In that Era we will still observe the mitzvos; indeed, it is then that our observance will attain perfection, as mentioned above. Nevertheless, since nothing will disturb our Torah study, we will be able to learn how to observe the mitzvos perfectly in a relatively short time. Thereafter, our attention will be devoted to the deeper dimensions of Torah study.

An Outpouring of Divine Knowledge

As the Rambam continues:17

The Jews will therefore be great sages and know the hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the [full]18 extent of mortal potential; as it is written,19 “For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”

By quoting this prooftext,20 the Rambam highlights the manner in which the knowledge of G‑d will permeate the world and the thought processes of every individual person. To understand the simile: The vast variety of creatures that live on the dry land are readily discernible as separate entities. A vast multitude of creatures likewise inhabit the ocean. Nevertheless, when looking at the ocean, what we see is the ocean as a whole and not the particular entities which it contains.21 Similarly, although in the Era of the Redemption the world will continue to exist, individual creatures will lose consciousness of their separate identity and will be suffused with the knowledge of G‑d.

However, this state of being will not negate the world’s existence. On the contrary, it will affirm the true existence of the world, for22 “All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and whatever is between them came into existence solely from the truth of His Being.”

Aspiring to a Knowledge of G‑d

In Tanya23 it is explained that the future revelations of the Era of the Redemption are dependent on our divine service in the present time of exile. Since reward and punishment are structured according to the principle of24 “measure for measure,” our efforts to bring about the future revelation of a universal knowledge of G‑d should resemble, albeit in microcosm, the state to be attained in that Era. Thus, to the fullest extent possible at present, our energies must be directed towards gaining a knowledge of G‑d. And this endeavor will hasten the advent of the Era when that knowledge will permeate the entire world.

May this goal be realized in the immediate future.