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I have read that Olam HaBa is an idyllic state in which the world will exist after the Moshiach arrives. Is this correct?

But I've also read that Olam HaBa is only for the righteous of all nations, who will be resurrected to live in an idyllic Earth. So all humans die before Moshiach comes?

The confusion here is further compounded by some Jewish commentary that later still (or alternatively), the righteous humans will enter Gan Eden... the others Gehonim. How does this work out?

I'm assuming that Gan Eden is the Jewish equivalent of paradise found in various other religions. Do I as a Gentile have to do certain things to get there?

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Sorry I don't have time to put together all the sources involved, but in general the basic confusion will come from the fact that there are two general views on the nature of Jewish eschatology, and you can read someone saying something about it and not quite know which model they are working with.

One is generally attributed to the Rambam. Call it the philosophical model. The other is generally attributed the Ramban, call it the mystical model.

Following in chronological order:

In both models, after someone passes away, their soul has the potential to go to a World of Souls. In the mystical model this is "Gan Eden", and in either one this is one potential meaning of Olam HaBa. The primary focus of it, in both models, is that the soul has an increased understanding and awareness of G-d, which is a great reward (compare to the pleasure in discovering a new idea or truly understanding something you were struggling with, but many times more). Gehennom is a place where souls are purified from negative effects of sin and other aspects of the world in order to be able to have that experience.

In both models, there is a messianic era. How "natural" this era will be is somewhat a point of divergence. The main focus of this era is the total unencumbered proper observance of G-d's commandments. This is not generally called "Olam HaBa" except when the term is being used as a vague generality.

In both models, there is a Resurrection of the Dead. This is the other potential meaning of Olam HaBa and it is a time of living in this physical world, but in a more miraculous state. It is the understanding of the purpose of this world where the models diverge.

The philosophical model views this world (call it World of Resurrection) as a "temporary" stage where those who are there further prepare themselves for the true end - the World of Souls. Under this model, the Rambam suggest Gan Eden is actually a physical place of great comfort in the messianic era, although he seems tentative about it. Does everyone die in order to be resurrected? Not necessarily.

In the mystical model, however, the ultimate end is the World of Resurrection. The World of Souls is preparatory to it. Certainly according to the Zohar, everyone needs to die and be resurrected for the proper experience of that state.

To the degree that there are no Halachic implications to either of the models, there is no determination in Judaism that one is correct and the other isn't. We will get to find out ;-).

Non-Jews have a portion in the Olam HaBa (meaning the final one) by following the Nochaide Laws.

Now in all the above you can find plenty of discussion and divergence in detail, but hopefully this will give a guide to help orient someone in the discussion.

  • If I end up in Gehennom... will it be painful? According to the religion I was brought up in hell is basically an eternal torture chamber. Well, eternal with exceptions. – A.Concerned.Lurker Dec 4 '14 at 19:11
  • @A.Concerned.Lurker, The nature of Gehennom is a rather involved topic with lots of divergence. But I think a fair summation would be that it is very painful (one hour is more painful than all of Job's suffering) but is not eternal, only what is necessary to cleans a person to be able to receive their reward properly, limited to no more than 12 months and generally 11 months or less (perhaps with exceptions). If someone is really really bad, ultimately their soul just ceases to exist ("lost like an animal"). – Yishai Dec 5 '14 at 15:21
  • @A.Concerned.Lurker, see more here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4467/… – Yishai Dec 5 '14 at 15:21
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There is a lot to untangle in your question, but to answer just one point:

So all humans die before Moshiach comes?

According to the Zohar (Mishpatim 108b. Also in Midrash Ne'elam Parshas Vayeirah 113-114), yes - well almost. It isn't before Moshiach comes, but before the time of resurrection, everyone alive will die, and those deserving resurrection will be immediately resurrected. This will be done so that the "impurity" implanted in humanity by the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the interaction with the snake, which is "built in" to the human body, can be removed through the decomposition of that body and the rebuilding of it in purity.

  • What was wrong with this answer? All I did was quoted a Zohar, which directly addressed the question. – Y     e     z Dec 1 '14 at 20:00
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here is a quote on the nature of olam haba from the classic work chovos halevavos (gate 4 ch.4)

Another reason (olam haba is not mentioned in the torah) is that the purpose of reward in Olam Haba is essentially clinging to G-d, and drawing near to His supernal light, as written "your righteousness will go before you, the glory of G-d will gather you in" (Yeshaya 58:8), and "the wise will shine like the radiance of the firmament" (Daniel 12:3), and also, "To bring back his soul from the pit (i.e. Gehinom see below Tov Halevanon), to be enlightened with the light of the living" (Iyov 33:30). And no one can reach there except he who the Creator finds favor in, and the favor of the Creator is the root of the reward, as written "his anger is but a moment, in His favor is life" (Tehilim 30:6). And there are hints in parsha bechukosai that pleasing the Al-mighty [is the greatest reward], this is what is written "My soul will not abhor you" (Vayikra 26:11), and "I will turn to you and be unto you a G-d and you will be unto Me a people" (ibid, 26:9).

(Tov Halevanon commentary on the above: "the purpose of reward" - The intent of this answer is that the spiritual reward is only clinging with G-d, and we will attain this when we minimize tending towards the bodily desires and purify our souls by fulfilling His commandments, yisborach. And then, our souls will be fitting and capable of clinging to the spirituality of G-d. And then G-d, in His kindness, will "conceal us in the shadow of His hand" (Yeshaya 49:2), even though we are not deserving of this reward from [the merit] of our deeds, but rather by "His kindness which prevailed over us" (Tehilim 117:2). But when a man turns towards the physical desires in rebelling against the Divine wisdom, then his soul is stuck in the darkness of the physical, and it is impossible in any way to draw close to Him, yisborach, except by its cleansing itself from its tuma (spiritual impurity), in purifying itself from its physicality in Gehinom, as known to the sages. And according to this, reward and punishment in the Olam Haba is not according to judgment and justice, like the reward and punishment in this world. Rather, they follow (1) a kind of nature (i.e. purity from the bad effects of physicality) and (2) also a desire of G-d for those who fulfill His will, both of these two things simultaneously. This is the difference between this answer and the previous one "a man does not become worthy of the reward of Olam Haba due to his good deeds alone... but rather it is a kindness...". Understand this.)

having said this, to find favor with Gd, each person needs to do what God wants of him. As a gentile, God wants first and foremost that you keep the 7 commandments of bnei noach

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