Whenever Elazar ben Dordaya would hear about a particularly beautiful harlot, he’d saddle his donkey, grab his chequebook, and go pay her a courtesy call.
The man spent his whole life completely and utterly sunk in the pursuit of his bodily lusts and pleasures, and God and his soul was completely out of the picture.
Until one day, when word reached him about the most beautiful harlot in the world, who took a whole purse for her hire.
Elazar ben Dordaya grabbed his bags of gold, jumped in his red-donkey-convertible, and zoomed off to go and grab his ‘experience of a lifetime’. While he was there, the woman puffed out a breath of air and told him: “Just like this puff of air will never go back to where it came from, so Elazar ben Dordaya will also never be able to make teshuva.”
Coming from the top harlot of the world, this statement really made an impact on Elazar ben Dordaya, and struck him like a bolt of lightning (read the story below, for more of the details.) In the end, Elazar ben Dordaya was so heart-broken when he finally realised just how badly he’d acted his whole life, and just how ‘animalistic’ he’d been, and just how much he’d shoved God out of the picture, that his heart broke from regret, and he died on the spot.
Then, a voice came out of Heaven that proclaimed that Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya had just earned his share in the world to come, i.e., his repentance had been accepted, and he was going to have a nice ‘after life’ after all.
I’ve been getting some questions about ‘who is going to make it’, when Moshiach shows up, and the whole ‘End of Days’ balagan in the world really kicks off. As I was pondering what to answer - of if I even could attempt to answer it! - Hashem kept bringing me back to the story of Elazar ben Dordaya, and I think there’s some very interesting points we can pull out of here that might help us to try to answer the question of ‘who’s going to make it’.
If you go to THIS article over on aish.com, you’ll find a whole big discussion about the different types of teshuva, or repentance, that’s required for the different types of sin. I highly recommend you take a look if you’re not so familiar with this topic, as otherwise what I’m about to write may not make so much sense to you.
In a nutshell, while teshuva ‘works’ in quite a gentle way for most sins, there are some sins that are so bad, that a person will die immediately after they make sincere teshuva for being involved in them.
Top of that list of sins is idol worship, or avoda zara. Idol worship, i.e. worshiping anything, something other than Hashem, the Creator of the world, is such a serious sin, that the only way a person can repent for it and still get some world to come (i.e. eternal after life) is via their death.
In case that sounds harsh, we should remember that this world is just the temporary ‘testing ground’ of a person’s soul. Many of the most evil people actually live very good lives ‘down here’, because God is paying them out for any of the kindnesses or good deeds they still did in their temporary lifetimes. Once they die, they are going to get zero, nada, nothing of an eternal world to come.
So, it’s like this: people who are worshiping ‘idols’ – like the true believers of the church, or the true believers following after Mohammed, or any other man-made, idolatrous religion – unless they make some sincere repentance, they aren’t going to get any ‘world to come’, however 'nice' they may be otherwise.
The catch is that once they make that sincere repentance – they’re going to die, as a result, in this temporary world, but will end up in eternal Gan Eden, which is still actually a very good deal, spiritually-speaking.
Elsewhere, the Gemara also makes it clear that atheists are in the same boat as idol worshipers, however ‘good’ they may otherwise be. And the story of Elazar ben Dordaya also teaches us that anyone who is ‘addicted’ to immorality is also considered to be in the same boat as idol worshipers, in terms of how they can make teshuva.
So now, let’s see if we can boil all this down into some solid principles that may start to help us answer the whole question of ‘who will make it’.
REWARD AND PUNISHMENT IS A FACT
So many of us take God and His commandments sooo lightly, in 2017. I think we’ve kind of conflated the awesome Creator of the world with some twisted notions of Santa, the kindly old man who just doles out presents and asks us if we’ve been a good little girl without actually being interested in the answer.
God is serious. Believing in God is a serious business.
God gave the Jews 613 commandments, and He gave the non-Jews seven commandments to keep (see the infographic). Every command we keep, we’ll be eternally rewarded for. And every time we transgress, we either need to make sincere teshuva for it, or pay the price.
When comet ‘Nibiru’ / Kochav Yaacov / the two stars from the Kimah constellation finally show up to usher in the time of Moshiach, the world is going to plunge into chaos and hysteria – even if nothing too drastic actually occurs, in terms of mountains moving around, seas flooding the mainland, and burning naptha falling from the skies…
Fear is a great motivator for making teshuva, which is why there’s the famous saying that ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole’.
When push comes to shove, I reckon a lot of the atheists / idol-worshipers / completely immoral people walking around will probably make sincere teshuva in their hearts, and return to God. If they do that, they probably won’t continue to be around to tell anyone what happened, but they’ll still get their world to come – which is the main point, and main good!
But, some people are SO wicked, and SO corrupt and horrible, that God will fix things that they won’t get the chance to make teshuva, even at that late stage of things. And those people will disappear from both worlds.
Now, anyone who is doing their best to put God in the picture, and to keep whatever commandments apply to them, as Jews or as non-Jews, and who isn’t actively engaged in ‘idol worship’ like believing yoshki is divine, chas ve’ halila – they’ve got a good chance of ‘making it’ even in this world, and will definitely get the world to come.
That’s not to say God expects us to be perfect, because He doesn’t. He just wants us to take some time every day to own up to the things we’ve tripped up in, or aren’t doing very well at, and to make sincere teshuva and move on.
And as we noted above, teshuva works very ‘gently’ for almost all sins, other than the ones being discussed in this post.
So, to sum things up:
- If a person continues to be a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, idol-worshiper or immorality addict – they won’t make it here, or in the next world, either.
- If they make sincere teshuva at the last minute, it’ll probably kill them in this world – but they’ll get the world to come.
- If a person is doing their best to have a relationship with God, and to keep His commandments, and to make regular teshuva – their chances of ‘making it’ in this world are very big, and their chances of getting the world to come are guaranteed.
May we all merit to make teshuva the ‘sweet way’, and to take God seriously even before the whopping big comet shows up. Amen.
And does not one die on renouncing sins other [than idolatry]? Surely it has been taught: It was said of R. Eleazar b. Dordaya that he did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her. Once, he heard that there was a certain prostitute in one of the towns by the sea who accepted a purse of coins for her hire. He took a purse of coins and crossed seven rivers for her sake.
As he was with her, she blew forth breath and said: 'As this blown breath will not return to its place, so will Eleazar b. Dordaya never be received in repentance.'
He thereupon went, sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: 'O, ye hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me!' They replied: 'How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, "For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed!" So he exclaimed: 'Heaven and earth, plead for mercy for me!' They, too, replied: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, "For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment."
He then exclaimed: 'Sun and moon, plead for mercy for me!' But they also replied: 'How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, "Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed." He exclaimed: Ye stars and constellations plead ye for mercy for me!' Said they: 'How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, "And all the hosts of heaven shall moulder away."
Said he: The matter then depends upon me alone! He placed his head between his knees, he wept aloud until his soul departed. Then a bat-kol was heard proclaiming: 'Rabbi Eleazar b. Dordaya is destined for the life of the world to come!'(2)
Now, here was a case of a sin [other than idolatry] and yet he did die! - In that case, too, since he was so much addicted to immorality it is as [if he had been guilty of] idolatry. Rabbi [on hearing of it] wept and said: One may acquire eternal life after many years, another in one hour! Rabbi also said:
Not only are penitents accepted, they are even called 'Rabbi'!
[Avoda Zara 17a]