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The last Mishnah in Maseches Makkos states that God wanted to benefit Israel so He gave them many mitzvos.

ר' חנניה בן עקשיה אומר רצה הקב"ה לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להן תורה ומצות שנ' ה' חפץ למען צדקו יגדיל תורה ויאדיר

Rambam, in his commentary to that Mishnah, explains this to mean that because there are so many mitzvos it is nigh impossible for someone to never fulfill at at least one properly, and by fulfilling even one mitzvah properly one attains Olam Haba. He also references something he explained elsewhere.

מיסודות האמונה בתורה שאם קיים האדם מצוה משלש עשרה ושש מאות מצות כראוי וכהוגן ולא שתף עמה מטרה ממטרות העולם הזה כלל אלא עשאה לשמה מאהבה כמו שבארתי לך הרי הוא זוכה בה לחיי העולם הבא לכן אמר ר' חנניה כי מחמת רבוי המצות אי אפשר שלא יעשה האדם אחת בכל ימי חייו בשלימות ויזכה להשארות הנפש באותו המעשה

R. Kafih in the footnotes cites the Mishnah in Kiddushin (1:10) as the "elsewhere" that Rambam was referring to. That Mishnah states that anyone who does one mitzvah will get rewarded, will get long life, and will inherit the land.

כל העושה מצוה אחת מטיבין לו ומאריכין את ימיו ונוחל את הארץ וכל שאינו עושה מצוה אחת אין מטיבין לו ואין מאריכין את ימיו ואינו נוחל את הארץ

Rambam there explains "doing one mitzvah" as doing an additional mitzvah that tips the balance of merits vs sins, and he explains the reward as occurring in Olam Haba. This implies that by merely doing one mitzvah one would not gain reward in Olam Haba if his sins still outnumber his merits.

רצה באמרו כל העושה מצוה אחת שיעשנה יתירה על זכיותיו שהם כנגד עונותיו כדי שיהיו זכיותיו מרובין על עונותיו במצוה זו ואמרו כל שאינו עושה מצוה אחת כלומר שעונותיו מרובין מזכיותיו ולא עשה מצוה אחת כדי שיהו שקולים אלא נשאר עונותיו מרובין מזכיותיו ואמרו מטיבין לו ומאריכין את ימיו בעולם הבא וענין נוחל את הארץ ארץ החיים כלומר העולם הבא ונבאר את זה בפרק העשירי דסנהדרין

Furthermore, in his introduction to Perek Cheilek (Sanhedrin Chapter 10) Rambam explains that one can only attain Olam Haba if he upholds the 13 principles of faith delineated there.

וכאשר יהיו קיימים לאדם כל היסודות הללו ואמונתו בהם אמתית הרי הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל וחובה לאהבו ולחמול עליו וכל מה שצוה ה' אותנו זה על זה מן האהבה והאחבה ואפילו עשה מה שיכול להיות מן העבירות מחמת תאבתו והתגברות יצרו הרע הרי הוא נענש לפי גודל מריו ויש לו חלק והוא מפושעי ישראל וכאשר יפקפק אדם ביסוד מאלו היסודות הרי זה יצא מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר ונקרא מין ואפיקורוס וקוצץ בנטיעות וחובה לשנותו ולהשמידו ועליו הוא אומר הלא משנאיך ה' אשנא וכו

In sum, we have three differing statements in Rambam's Commentary to Mishnayos on how to attain* Olam Haba:

  1. Do any one mitzvah properly (Commentary to Makkos).
  2. Do an additional mitzvah that leaves one with more merits than sins (Commentary to Kiddushin).
  3. Uphold the 13 principles of faith (Commentary to Sanhedrin).

How are these three statements to be reconciled?

*This might not be so precise because the first and third statements seem to be discussing how to attain Olam Haba in the first place, while the second statement seems to be referring to increasing one's reward once he already has Olam Haba.

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    Note that afaik in MT and rambams later writings, he never mentions the idea from PHM Makkot. – mevaqesh Dec 23 '17 at 23:53
  • My personal approach to commentators, incl Rambam, Rashi etc, is that none of the is trying to present a holistic overview on any single topic, they follow the topic they comment, leave their concise comments and go on, and are not trying to reconcile all of their other commentaries. However, Rambam's Mishne Torah is a bit different, as he did try to be consistent. – Al Berko Dec 24 '17 at 1:05
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    @Al Berko In Makkos he refers to it as one of the foundations of belief in the Torah. In Sanhedrin he is giving a list of foundations of the religion. These do not seem like just whimsical passing comments. – Alex Dec 24 '17 at 1:09
  • I know, but remember, it is still a commentary. He did not systematize it in a special, well structured book, he just comments on the spot. In addition, Rambam's writings span tens of years. When I read my own Chidushim 20-30 years back, I don't know what I was thinking back then. Many commentators ON Rambam note that, that many inconsistencies and contradiction even in Mishe Tora are explained by relating to "early Rambam" and "late Rambam". – Al Berko Dec 24 '17 at 1:21
  • The main contradiction is between two comments in the same work, only one tractate apart. At the end of the Commentary he writes that he composed it between the ages of 23 and 30, an entire span of only 7-8 years. Also, based on R. Kafih's footnote in Makkos, the comment in Makkos must have been written after the comment in Kiddushin and in the comment in Kiddushin he mentions that he will discuss Olam Haba in the tenth perek of Sanhedrin, perhaps implying that he already had the basic idea at that time. – Alex Dec 24 '17 at 2:03
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Answer #2 - please read the answer #1 first, and then this one, and please provide feedback on any/all of these answers.

The second approach is what I assume R. Kafih is trying to get at, although I have a bit of an issue with it, as I will describe later on. According to this approach, PHM Sanhedrin is a given that everyone gets Olam Habah, unless they are listed as an exclusion there. PHM Makkos and PHM Kiddushin are discussing the same thing, which is the "longer" version of Olam Habah, once they pass Sanhedrin. Rav Chananya Ben Akashya is saying how amazing it is that we can all get "long" Olam Habah by just doing one Mitzva (obviously predicated on the fact that you have a Chelek in Olam Habah, because this is talking about "Olam Habah Level 2".)

The obvious issue with this is that PHM Makkos and PHM Kiddushin give 2 separate explanations of what "doing one Mitzvah" is. PHM Makkos seems to say that doing one Mitzvah alone gets you this Olam Habah, whereas PHM Kiddushin seems to say that you need that one Mitzvah that will bring you to a larger number of Mitzvos relative to your Aveiros. There are a few answers that could be suggested:

  • Rambam is still saying that it is very easy to do one more Mitzvah than you require in order to overcome your Aveiros. This is a bit of a hard read in to PHM Makkos, but you can argue that it is as realistic as Rambam's read of the Mishna in Kiddushin, where he does the exact same thing, especially if he is sending you there from PHM Makkos.
  • Rambam understands R' Chanania Ben Akashya as another interpretation of Mishna in Kiddushin, and he understands the Mishna in Kiddushin differently (based on whatever other Gemaros/indications), and he does not "Pasken" like R' Chanania ben Akashya.
  • Or, we can read PHM Makkos (again, very hard to read) that this is when he has done no aveiros, or that he has done Teshuva for everything else, (which is essentially the first answer)
  • One last possible answer is that Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 3:4 states clearly that PHM Kiddushin is not a numbers game, but a quantity vs. quality game. This would allow us to read PHM Makkos as saying that if you do a Mitzvah in such a perfect manner, it (almost) always will outweigh your Aveiros, and this is easy to do.

This approach requires that we understand Rambam to mean that only R' Chananya Ben Akashya thinks that it is impossible for a person not to do one Mitzvah properly, but for us nowadays, not everyone will be able to accomplish this.

Again, none of these is perfect by any means, some are stronger in some ways, some are stronger in other ways. Please chat about them, and let me know what you think!

  • This answer seems to only address the difference between Makkos and Kiddushin, but I think the ikkar contradiction is between Makkos and Sanhedrin. – Alex Dec 31 '17 at 5:01
  • @Alex I'll clarify with an edit - Done now. The maalah of this answer is that its ok to say that PHM Sanhedrin is a prereq to PHM Makkos because PHM Makkos is a new level of Olam Habah. This was not possible in my other answer – רבות מחשבות Dec 31 '17 at 5:17
  • Now, I think that this trivializes the point of Makkos. If we're discussing someone who is already in Olam Haba, what's the big deal that doing one mitzvah gets you something additional? Of course mitzvos get you something. And doing 10 mitzvos will get you even more. My understanding of Makkos is that it IS a big deal because it gets you from nothing to something, and it is a virtual guarantee. – Alex Dec 31 '17 at 5:39
  • @Alex this answer would go against your current understanding of Makkos (your current understanding was the first answer...). I don't know exactly which "level" of OH this would lead to, but there are different suggestions about this, such as Olam Haba forever, or Olam Haba without 12 months of Gehinom first, not simply "another few minutes" etc. I have seen all of these floating around as ideas. – רבות מחשבות Dec 31 '17 at 5:51
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There are a couple of possible solutions to this question (none that are obvious or completely without question), so I will try to post them over the next few days. Please provide as much detailed feedback as possible to each one to let me know what you think of it.

Approach number 1 is the shortest/simplest (although not necessarily the best). Very simply, we can understand that the PHM in Makkos is meant as an Agada that is simply another version of PHM Sanhedrin, which is that each person gets a bit of Olam Haba. This is motivated by Rambam's comment in Makkos that it is impossible to not fulfill at least one Mitzvah (כי מחמת רבוי המצות אי אפשר שלא יעשה האדם אחת בכל ימי חייו בשלימות ויזכה להשארות הנפש באותו המעשה), and as a result, everyone gets Olam Habah. The PHM Kiddushin is for some longer period in Olam Haba, as Rambam says directly there (ואמרו מטיבין לו ומאריכין את ימיו בעולם הבא).

There are a number of questions that one can ask on this understanding, some which are easily answered, some which aren't. I would love to chat with all of you in the comments or chat!

  • If you distinguish Kiddushin from Makkos in that Makkos is talking about additional benefit once you are in Olam Haba then you have to grant that Makkos and Sanhedrin are both talking about getting in in the first place (which it seems like this answer is granting). The problem is, though, that while both Sanhedrin and Makkos seem to say that everyone gets in, Sanhedrin has a whole list of exceptions. – Alex Dec 31 '17 at 2:05
  • Not exceptions. People who lose their (already achieved) Olam Habah. – רבות מחשבות Dec 31 '17 at 2:07
  • Or in the Rambam's words, they will not be considered part of "Yisrael", (and thus not qualify for the Ribui Torah Umitzvos). וכאשר יהיו קיימים לאדם כל היסודות הללו ואמונתו בהם אמתית הרי הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל. R' Chananya ben Akashya will not apply to non-Jews. – רבות מחשבות Dec 31 '17 at 2:09
  • I 'm not sure that quite fits with Rambam's overall conception of the survival of the soul being dependent on reaching a certain level of intellectual perfection. The exceptions listed in Chelek are not "punishments" that knock you out of Olam Haba. It's simply that if you are lacking those things you have not reached the level of intellectual perfection for your soul to live on. As per the moshol given by R. J. David Bleich in "With Perfect Faith", if pre-calculus is a prerequisite to calculus, and someone wants to take calculus without having taken pre-calculus, we are not punishing > cont. – Alex Dec 31 '17 at 2:12
  • < cont. him by not letting him take calculus; he simply has not reached the threshold to get into the class. – Alex Dec 31 '17 at 2:12

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