`125 Two Boats and a Share in the World to Come
Chananya Weissman
August 17, 2021

A certain Roman emperor hated the Jews. He asked the important men of the kingdom what should be done with a wart that pained the kingdom. They replied that the wart should be cut off – just what the emperor wanted to hear. (Such dehumanizing rhetoric is once again fashionable among world leaders and their media shills against those who don't bow to their tyranny.)

One of his officers, Ketia bar Shalom, argued against trying to kill all the Jews, both on spiritual and practical grounds. The emperor acknowledged that Ketia had spoken well. However, anyone who bested the emperor was to be thrown into a furnace.

As Ketia was being led to his execution, he severed his own foreskin to join the Jewish covenant. As they threw him into the fire he declared that all his property should go to Rabbi Akiva (who was ultimately murdered by the Roman authorities as well). A voice from Heaven declared that Ketia was destined for life in the world to come.

When Rebbi heard about this, he cried and said “There is one who acquires his world in one moment, and there is one who acquires his world over many years.” (See Avoda Zara 10B for the complete story.)

It was said about Elazar ben Durdaya that he visited every prostitute in the world. He heard about one in a distant land and crossed seven rivers with a purse full of money to meet her. During the act she mocked him and said he would never be able to repent.

This shook him to the core. He sat between two mountains, prayed and cried until his soul left his body. A voice from Heaven declared that Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya was destined for life in the world to come.

When Rebbi heard about this, he cried and said “There is one who acquires his world in one moment, and there is one who acquires his world over many years.” (See Avoda Zara 17A.)

The Romans decreed that anyone who taught Torah would be put to death. Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon defiantly taught Torah in public before large crowds. The Romans arrested him, wrapped his body with his Torah scroll, surrounded him with bundles of branches, covered his heart with wet sponges to prolong his agony, and set the branches aflame.

Rabbi Chanina's students urged him to open his mouth so the flames would enter and end his suffering. He refused: “Better that the One who gave the soul should take it; he should not kill himself.”

The executioner could not contain himself. “Rabbi, if I increase the fire and remove the sponges, will you bring me to life in the next world?”

Rabbi Chanina guaranteed this. The executioner increased the fire, removed the sponges, then jumped into the flames as well.

A voice from Heaven declared that Rabbi Chanina and the executioner were destined for life in the world to come.

When Rebbi heard about this, he cried and said “There is one who acquires his world in one moment, and there is one who acquires his world over many years.” (See Avoda Zara 18A.)

Three people whose lives were spiritually worthless earned a share of everlasting life with a single heroic act. They sacrificed material comfort, positions of authority, and their very lives to earn a share of eternity.

Today the world can be compared to two boats. These boats used to be tethered together, and from a distance it was difficult to tell on which boat one stood. Recently the cord was cut, and the boats slowly drifted in opposite directions.

At first it was easy for a passenger to step from one boat to the other. After some time he needed to jump. The boats continued to drift away from one another. One who wanted to change his trajectory would need to jump into the water and swim after the other boat. If he was a decent swimmer this wouldn't be too difficult or dangerous, but it would be unpleasant and carry some risk.

After more time, someone on one boat could only see the other boat if he strained. If he wanted to switch boats he would need to swim a great distance. It was no longer certain that he would make it; the current might sweep him away.

Perhaps the greatest challenge would be swallowing his pride at this late time. He could have switched boats so much earlier, without any exertion. Now he would not only have to suffer and endanger himself, he would have to admit that he had put himself in this situation and made a terrible mistake. Most people would bury such thoughts and continue on the boat they previously chose, even if it were drifting to its doom.

Even in the very last moments there would be a final opportunity for someone to get off the boat. By this time the other boat would be at a seemingly insurmountable distance. He would have to find a life raft, or swim with every ounce of strength, to even have a chance. Furthermore, the others on his boat would be enraged at anyone attempting to leave the boat at this late time. They would try to kill anyone who even floated the idea. He would have to take them by complete surprise and try to swim out of sight before they could kill him.

His chances of reaching the other boat alive were very slim. But if he knew that he was on the wrong boat, it was worth a try. The material comforts of staying on the doomed boat, with its murderous passengers and trajectory toward doom, were of fleeting worth. Even if he didn't make it to the other boat, he would salvage his legacy in death.

In the past it was difficult to tell where most people stood. It was easy to hop back and forth between boats, without deciding either way or even thinking about it much. One rarely had to make a difficult choice, and it was easy to change course if one regretted it.

The rope has been cut and the boats have drifted apart. They will never again be intertwined. One boat will reach a happy destination and the other will be destroyed. There isn't enough room in the ocean for both of them.

The distinction between good and evil, truth and falsehood, God and idolatry has become as wide as the gulf between these two boats. Everyone has been forced to choose a boat, whether they wanted to or not, and changing boats comes with increasing danger as time goes by. Abandoning the good boat for temporary comfort will end in doom. Abandoning the evil boat will incur the wrath of its murderous hordes.

Many rabbis and others in positions of influence have chosen the evil boat. They received luxurious accommodations in exchange for keeping the regular passengers on the boat and bringing others aboard. As the boats have drifted apart, these leaders have become more insistent, more venomous, more menacing toward anyone who contemplates leaving the evil boat. Even as the nature of the two boats becomes increasingly clear, they loudly proclaim that the evil boat is good, and that their authority alone makes it so. Their words must be obeyed, even by nature itself!

I address the following words specifically to these rabbis and people with influence. You have chosen very poorly. You have exchanged your share in the world to come for money, power, honor, access, and material comforts. These fleeting pleasures will soon be taken from you, or you will be taken from them.

You will be fortunate if you are judged in this world and receive part of your punishment here. The money you leave over will be enjoyed by others, your position will be given to someone else, and your name will be remembered in disgrace unless it is mercifully forgotten.

Your body will return to the ground from where it came. Your soul will stand before a court that sees everything, knows everything, and records everything. The judges cannot be fooled or bribed. You will not be able to deny anything you did, assign the blame to anyone else, or escape on a technicality. You will sign your own verdict, accepting its fairness, and you will be punished in full measure for every ounce of suffering you inflicted on others.

Since you are such great Torah scholars, you know that all of this is true. You can quote all the sources to this effect. All that remains is the honesty to internalize them and realize that they apply to you.

You know that you have corrupted yourselves and sold your souls. You know that you have been misleading those who trusted you and followed you, drawing those who seek Hashem away from Him. You know that many of these people are going to become terribly sick and die because of you – it's already begun. You know that many pregnant women have lost their babies because of you, and many young people will never have children because of you.

You know that you have turned your shul into a cesspool of hatred between brothers and neighbors. You know that you have caused families to break apart. You know that you have caused children to be traumatized. You know that you have supported tyrannical, anti-scientific edicts in your institutions that physically and psychologically abuse children on a daily basis.

You are torturers and murderers. All the things you have called other people are what you are. Yet you are so much worse.

You might not know it, but your boat has already hit an iceberg. Your end of the boat is currently high in the air – about as high as it can be! You think you are on top of the world, but this is the very sign of your imminent destruction. There is no place for you to go but down, and you will be going down to the lowest of depths.

You have one final chance to jump off your doomed boat and try to swim to salvation. In practical terms this means one thing: you must come clean, spill all the beans, blow every whistle in your possession, and beg for forgiveness like Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya. He slept with every prostitute and you became one, taking money for every sordid act (or did you come to enjoy it so much that you performed some acts for free?).

Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya earned the rabbinic title, which takes most of us years, in a single moment of extraordinary repentance. He is now your rabbi. He is your role model. Your repentance is most unlikely as well, but he has shown you the way.

Most likely you will pay for this repentance with your life. Ketia bar Shalom knew quite well that arguing against the emperor's plan to kill the Jews would cost him his life. He wasn't even Jewish – perhaps you aren't really Jewish either – but he made the ultimate sacrifice, and earned an instant share in the world to come. He is also your role model.

The Roman executioner made an even more remarkable sacrifice. He gave up his position of power and his very life simply to spare Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon a few moments of suffering. He could have easily rationalized looking the other way; what was done was done, and if he didn't follow the orders someone else would. But he recognized the truth, took an incredible leap from one boat to the next, and earned a share in the world to come.

If you come clean, spill the beans, and blow the whistles, you will probably not live long. Your fellow crew members have no bones about assassinating people, especially those who stand in their way. If they even suspect that you will turn on them, or even if they simply feel you know too much, they will come for you. You will have an unfortunate accident, or die of “covid”, or join the ranks of unlikely “suicides”. They might come for your family as well, just to send a message to others. They are bad, bad people.

But you know all this. You know it better than I do.

You can help blow the doors off their whole operation. You can help awaken the masses who still refuse to believe the truth. You can save lives, and partially redeem yourself for all the lives you have harmed.

Who knows, maybe Hashem will help you survive in this world as well. Maybe you will be able to flee, go incognito, and keep a low profile until Hashem saves us. The people on the good boat will accept you, despite all the harm you caused, and help you. If we cannot save you, we will have pity on your family. Even if we can do nothing, we will remember you with honor, and you will have a place with us in the world to come.

Whatever you have in this world right now is meaningless. One way or another, you will soon have to stand before God and give a detailed reckoning for everything you have done. It won't go well. Jump ship now, and earn true life in a single moment, while you still can.