Thus, souls experience three distinct “eras” all told. The first encompasses the “time” they’re lodged within the Infinite’s intentions for creation and when they already have the tsurah they’ll assume when the final rectification comes about.
What we have here is an esoteric laying out of all of reality — from the very beginning, when all there was, was God; to the very end, when all there will be, will be God; through life as we know it now, when all there is, is God and the appearance of not-God. All of that is expressed variously in the Jewish tradition by statements that: “Their conclusion is embedded in their beginning, and their beginning in their conclusion (Sefer Yetzirah 1:7), “The final achievement was in the original thought” (Lecha Dodi), “Before the world was created, He and His Name were (already) one” (Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezer, Ch. 3), “What will be seen in the end is what was already there at the beginning” (Klach Pitchei Chochma, 49), and “(we’ll eventually) reach the point we had started from” (Ibid.).
The first era, we’re told here, encompasses the timeless-time the souls were lodged within the Infinite, and when they already have their final tsurah.
The second era encompasses the six thousand years (“of creation”, i.e., of life as we know it), in the course of which the souls are separated by (passing through) the two previously cited systems (i.e., the four worlds of holy-A.B.Y.A. and their counterpart, the four worlds of defiled-A.B.Y.A [see 10:2]) into a body and a soul. It’s when the observance of Torah and mitzvot has been granted them so they might convert their ratzon l’kabel to a ratzon l’hashpia and grant satisfaction to their Maker rather than to themselves.
The second era, our own, is the one in which everything needs to be done and will be given the means to. It is life as we know it: bifurcated in every way but flush with the great and consummate communal row homeward toward the broad and sweeping, epochal and selfless admixture of the already-mixed.
But only souls can be rectified in the course of that era, not bodies. For (in order for the body to be rectified), it would need to undo its ratzon l’kabel, which is the (essence of the) “body”, and to set in its place a ratzon l’hashpia, which is the soul’s tsurah of willingness (to bestow).
We’re taught that soul and body will both be rewarded in the end, but not before, since body and soul are now cleft apart. For as things stand now, the soul is rewarded after death, but the body merely decomposes. The body will be rewarded however in the course of the third era, when the ratzon l’hashpia is restored, and everyone and everything’s original and true willingness-to-only-give-out will be restored.
In fact, even the souls of the righteous won’t be able to rejoice in the Garden of Eden after their death (in the course of the second era) until their body would have decomposed into dust.
That’s to say that even if one rectified his being in his lifetime and became truly righteous, he still and all won’t be able to bask in God’s light in the Afterlife in the course of this second era until his body will have decomposed in the ground. Nonetheless the point is that too will be reversed in the third era.
The third (and final) era will encompass the rectification of all souls (and it will come about) after the resurrection of the dead, when even bodies will be fully rectified. For the ratzon l’kabel for our own sake, which is the body’s tsurah, will be overturned (by then), and a tsurah of pure bestowance will come upon it, when it will deserve (and experience) all the good, pleasure, and delight contained in the (original) intentions for the universe. And we’ll merit (experiencing) a surpassingly strong (degree of) attachment (onto God’s presence) as a consequence of our essential affinity with the Creator.
But that won’t come about from their ratzon l’kabel but rather because of their (having fostered the) willingness to grant satisfaction to their Creator. And God will derive pleasure from their having received that from Him.
This is a loaded statement. What it’s saying first is that the third era will only come about when the very thing that the souls had always sought — all the good, pleasure, and delight of attaching itself onto God’s presence — will have been achieved. And secondly, that that can only be achieved selflessly, with God’s wishes in mind alone.
Nonetheless the truth is that the third era will come about in any event, we’re taught; since it was always part of God’s intentions for the universe (see 13:2).
So the point is that the souls are to achieve all that goodness on their own by following through on God’s mitzvot, and that “God will derive pleasure from their having received it from Him” in recompense for that in the end.
For brevity’s sake I’ll simply refer to the “first era”, “second era”, and “third era” from now on (when I discuss this phenomenon). Remember this well.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.
You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).