Even Though

The Mishna in Avos (Chapter 3, Mishna 11) teaches us that certain transgressions are so heinous (see below for a more detailed listing) that one who violates them (and fails to repent) does not have a portion in the world to come (even after suffering and death).  The Mishna inserts a qualifier into this statement teaching us that “even though he possesses Torah study and good deeds (Mitzvos and Chesed) he has no portion in the world to come.”

I found myself asking what is the implication of the ‘even though?’  What would I have thought had the Mishna not inserted this qualifier?  The first thought was that the Mishna wants us to know that there are no trade-offs with Heaven.  However, regarding this idea the Torah writes explicitly (Devarim 10:17) that Hashem does not take bribes.  And the commentaries point out that this means any bribe which might have currency in Heaven, such as charity or good deeds.  And so we are back to asking what was the ‘even though of our Mishna?

I would like to suggest that this ‘even though’ (and possibly other usages of ‘even though’ in the Mishna) have the implication of dealing with an unanswerable question.  In this case, we have a conflict of fundamental beliefs.  On the one hand we are taught to have perfect faith that Hashem rewards those who uphold His will (as well as the reverse).  We are further taught that the place for our reward is the world to come (for all except those who would truly rather have the material world than the infinite spiritual world).  Thus, if the only place for reward is the world to come, and this person has studied Torah and performed acts of charity and Chesed, then how could it be that he will not have a portion in the world to come?!  What will come of the awaited reward that we assert with such certainty is the lot of one who upholds His will?!

The answer is contained in the words ‘even though.’  The Mishna is asserting that we must reckon with a conundrum, a mystery that only the Creator can answer.  One who violates one of the prohibitions listed will not have a portion in the world to come, and as for the seeming contradiction between this assertion and the assertion that Hashem repays perfectly for every right and wrong, we are left with an ‘even though.’  The matter of reward, so to speak, is left to Heaven.  We are left with the unequivocal assertion that the person has no share in the world to come.  We don’t have to answer for the eternal mathematics.  Some things can be left with an ‘even though.’

As an afterthought, perhaps the underlying reason for the loss of eternity is that one who is not sensitized to the items in the list is so removed from the purpose of creation (sanctity of that which is consecrated to Hashem – both consecrated objects and consecrated time, the unique bond of the covenant (bris) between the Jews and Hashem, the deference that is due to a human being, and to the truths of the Torah) that his agenda makes him unable to enjoy eternal proximity with Hashem.  He and Hashem have taken different paths and at a certain point the conclusion must be made that the two paths will never join.  As to what happens with his Torah and Mitzvos, we leave that to heaven.

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