We sat around the kitchen table, sipping tea, noshing and chatting. We even broke out a bottle of wine to make a l’chaim. We’d gathered to celebrate Marsha’s birthday, learn Torah and hang out a bit.

But as we read and discussed a talk of the Rebbe, the mellow tone changed. It was still amiable, but getting a bit heated. Voices rose. Faces got flushed.

The point of contention?

The Rebbe was explaining the differenceWe won’t be whisked off to paradise between “exile,” golah, and “redemption,” geulah. The Hebrew words are spelled the same, except that geulah has an aleph added. The Rebbe stated that the alef stands for alufo shel olam, the “Master of the World.” When Moshiach comes, we won’t be whisked off to a magic paradise. According to Maimonides, it will be our known physical world, but transformed. The alef, the G‑dliness, that is embedded but now hidden will be revealed.1

When that amazing time known as geulah finally comes, gazing at my coffee mug, as I’m doing now, will be different. I’ll see more than the cute birthday message emblazoned on it; I will see the G‑dly energy that forms it. I will experience what great stuff happens when I say a blessing on a cup of joe (and use its energy to stimulate my brain to write).2

Nothing will be lost, the Rebbe continued. Everything and everyone will be redeemed. We will leave “with our youth and our elders, with our sons and our daughters,”3 with all our positive activities and achievements. What will be nullified is our current exile state of concealment of the world’s true inner being.4

We read these words, taking turns and adding little comments and questions. Suddenly, Sara thrust her paper down. “I don’t know,” she exclaimed. “When I was a kid, there was this popular song with the refrain, ‘No Jew will be left behind.’ But is that true? We say right in our prayers, ‘Let there be no hope for informers, and may all the heretics and all the wicked instantly perish.’5 There are bad people that don’t deserve to be redeemed. Won’t they be left behind? There are levels. We’re responsible for our actions and earn a reward commensurate with them. There’s no free ride!” She was emphatic, her righteous passion and sense of justice ignited.

“But there’s a famous verse we say right in the beginning of Pirkei Avot,” Chana retorted. “Every Jew has a portion of the world to come. And all Your people are righteous!’”6

Yeah,” interjected Sue. “You know that saying, ‘every Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds.’ ”7

“But, wait, there’s bad people, too,” Sherri retorted. “Bad Jews. Some have hurt so many people. So many charitable organizations can’t help people because of their actions. Are they gonna be redeemed, too—the same as the good people working so hard on themselves? The Torah is full of clear definitions of good and bad. It’s not one big feel-good sweetness and light-fluff party!”

The debate swirled with compelling arguments back and forth. The complex and important questions remained unresolved. We enjoyed diving into the issue, but were left with an unsettled feeling; excitement and tension lingering. All the women there led mitzvah-centered lives and would continue to do so, starting the next day with their Friday preparations for Shabbat. Did the philosophical musing really make a difference?

Yes and no. The underpinnings of our lifeIs life a meritocracy? approach may not surface that often in the day to day, but they color our attitudes towards ourselves and others.

Is life a big school where we’re graded and rewarded or punished? A meritocracy? Would some make the grade and others flunk their tests?

Is there really a pintele—an indestructible point of goodness, of wholeness and connection—inside every person, regardless of their sometimes weighty sins and errors?

Will no Jew truly be left behind? After all, only a small percentage of the Jewish people left Egypt. Most were entrenched in the lifestyle of depraved society and did not respond to the call of redemption.

And today, is it possible that even that guy—that difficult, annoying, problematic so and so—is deserving as well?



On Friday afternoon, a young woman came over to study Pirkei Avot. I scoured my bookshelf for In the Paths of Our Fathers, which contains some of the Rebbe’s teachings on these timeless words of piety.

I opened to the first page, exploring the verse we recite before starting each chapter—the one mentioned above.

“All Israel has a share in the world to come, as it is stated; ‘And Your people are all righteous. They shall inherit the land forever. They are the branch of my planing, the work of My hands, in which to take pride.’ ”

Then I started to read the explanations.

Boom! Resolution! Clarity!

There are different stages, the Rebbe explained. There’s Gan Eden, the afterlife, a spiritual realm where “a person’s position is a direct result of his conduct in this world; one who has not refined himself will not be found worthy of a portion in the afterlife.”8 What we reach depends on our efforts. We will reap what we sow.

But, the Rebbe continued, in the era of the redemption—the era of harmony and increasing light and goodness—when that time finally comes, every Jew will receive a portion.

Why?

Because each of our souls are “the branch ofWe will reap what we sow My planting, the work of My hands.” Even those of us who don’t make the grade, who flounder or worse, are actively destructive, have a fundamental core of G‑dliness. At the time of Redemption, this will be revealed.

You know that feeling when you finally pull up in the driveway after a long trip, and can put your feet up on the couch, kick back and relax in the way you only can at home? In the same way (so to say), G‑d will be at home. The deepest, truest dimension of the material world is that it is actually G‑d’s intimate creative expression where He’s at home. And the deepest, truest dimension of our souls is that they are G‑d’s intimate creative expression. This deepest part of each of us will be permanently revealed.

Even the soul of that no-goodnik.

(And maybe, if I can see him that way and help him see himself that way, then he might take steps in that direction and perhaps even act a bit more like his true core: a G‑dly expression!)

Being a chronic people-pleaser and peacemaker, I was delighted to find this solution to our spat. I quickly got on WhatsApp and let all the party’s participants know.

“Guess what girls? Everyone’s right! There are levels and rewards in Gan Eden. And there is an unbreakable core that will be revealed at the Redemption.

And yeah, we’ll all be there.

Bring it on!