I’ve never quite understood why “in this world” we follow the rulings of Hillel (generally more lenient) while “in the next world” we’ll follow the rulings of Shamai (generally more strict). Likewise, we’re taught that “in this world” the dominant force is Chesed/Ahava, love and forgiveness, while “in the next” it will be Gevurah/Din, strength and strict judgement. This always seemed counterintuitive to me. Our current modality, “this world”, is flawed and filled with injustice–shouldn’t we demand justice here and now? The “next” is described as our eternal reward. Shouldn’t we have an easier, more love-filled mode of existence as a reward?
We also learn that God originally tried to create the universe using strict Din, judgement, but found that it couldn’t survive. After many failed attempts (and how can God fail? This is for another lesson), worlds created and shattered, He finally “figured out” that He needed to mix in a good measure of Chesed. But, we’re told, in Olam HaBa, in the next world, the “world that comes”, we’ll go back to the original plan and eternally exist with strict justice, with Din.
It almost makes us hope we’ll never reach that state we’ve longed for, Geula/Redemption, Mashiach/Messiah, Olam HaBa/the world to come.
The reason our present modality requires a strong element of Chesed, which allows for forgiveness, is because we are far from perfect. We make mistakes all the time. If we, and our badly messed-up world, were held to a strict accounting, this too would likely become one of the worlds unable to endure. It would, like the previous attempts (why would we think that the previous attempts to create a world were instantaneous? Maybe, like our world, the “experiment” lasted thousands of spiritual, billion of physical years, only to eventually crash and burn as we seem so frequently on the brink of.) return to nothingness, Tohu v’Vohu, utter chaos and non-existence.
This allows a pretty good understanding why, in our present state, we need Hillel’s leniency. Perhaps one way of looking at it’s mechanism is to see it as a “peak-delimiter”, a permanent (for the time being) control that doesn’t allow the “volume control” of justice, of full consequences for our actions, to go above, say, “5” (out of “10”). Any stronger consequences, even though they would be deserved and “fair”, and it’s “game over”.
The “next world”, however, is the state of affairs once we’ve perfected our actions in this world, fully redeemed this world, corrected/repaired it (תיקון עולם, Tikkun Olam). In that modality, all of our decisions and actions will be positive. We won’t have any need to soften the consequences, but rather we’ll want to full consequences of our only-good actions. Rather than gluing our “volume control” at “5”, we’ll want it at “11”! Strict, unmoderated justice. Consequences obeying a more “laws of physics” model than one of do-overs, second chances and small potches on the tuchus, as it were. It’s not that we’ll be “able to handle it”, as if, somehow, perfecting ourselves makes us some kind of macho narcissist, but we’ll desire it because it will only be more and more and more reward.
Today’s challenge, as it’s been throughout human history, is how to we finally move ourselves to that eternal phase. More on that in future articles.