The next word on our list is בא [BA] which means ‘come’. This word appears in many contexts. I will use the opportunity to talk about the עולם הבא – ‘the World to Come’. This is the phrase that is used by the Rabbis to talk about ‘eschatology’ – the study of the end of days.
There is no direct mention of the עולם הבא in the Torah. However, pondering the future is a basic human instinct and a natural response to the mystery of life. There are many different visions of the ‘world to come’ in the writings of the prophets. Some of these are well known. The prophet Isaiah dreams of a time when the ‘Wolf will dwell [in peace] with the Lamb’. Or, more famously, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare.” (Isaiah 2:4) Daniel talks about the resurrection of the dead. In fact, there are many competing visions of what the end of days will look like; the Messiah will come, Israel will return to its land, the Sanhedrin will be re-established and the nations of the world will be judged, there will be a great battle between Gog and Megog in Megiddo. These beliefs all have biblical roots.
There have been times in history when people have been carried away by their belief in the world to come. They sold their belongings, packed their suitcases and did everything in anticipation that Messiah was just around the corner. The idea of the Messiah can be both inspirational and appealing. It can also be dangerous, because it can lead people to do things that a rational person wouldn’t consider. Why worry about details when the end of days is just around the corner? Maimonides famously said: ‘Cursed be those who try to calculate the end of days’. He also dismissed many of the more fantastical visions of what will happen in those days. He wrote that the only difference between the end of days and our own time is that in the future the Jews will live in their land in peace. Otherwise, we have no idea about how the ‘world to come’ will come about or what the meaning of the Messiah is. Therefore, we should not waste our time thinking about it too much. [Mishna Torah, Laws of Kings, Chapter 12]
For me, the belief in the עולם הבא and the days of the Messiah is evidence of the tremendous optimism of the Jewish tradition. Like Maimonides, I have no idea of what those days will look like. However, I have a very strong belief that in the world of tomorrow will be better than today. I have a strong belief that ultimately good and right will prevail. This is a belief that motivates me in my life keeps me working towards that tomorrow. I guess that thinking about what is to come isn’t such a waste of time after all!
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
My Hebrew Word thanks the World Zionist Organisation and Masorti Olami for their support of this Project.