One Can Merit the World to Come in an Instant
Commenting on the verse that states, “the Children of Israel walked on the dry land amid the sea” (Ex 15:19), the author of Noam Elimelech writes, “Just as the Children of Israel did at the Red Sea, the great Tzaddikim managed to perceive the unlimited greatness of the Eternal, even as if they found themselves on dry land in the middle of the Red Sea.”
One may ask a few questions on this passage:
1. How can one imagine that, on one the hand, the Children of Israel had reached such a spiritual level that they saw the Divine Presence, could even point out G-d, and had Divine inspiration enough to sing the Shirah with Moses, yet on the other hand were forced to purify themselves of the forty-nine levels of impurity once they left the sea (Zohar, Yitro 39a)?
2. Why did they have the merit to see the Celestial Chariot when they passed through the Red Sea, while at the same time they were still stuck in their impurity and continued to worship idols? The Children of Israel should have normally purified and sanctified themselves first, having the privilege to see the Shechinah only after receiving the Torah.
It is because our Sages teach that one can merit the world to come in an instant (Avodah Zarah 10b, 17a). Incidentally, one can also lose it in an instant. They could therefore not linger for a second longer, and well before reaching the threshold of the fiftieth gate of impurity, they reached elevated spiritual levels. “For they were driven from Egypt for they could not delay, .#& [and also] provisions they could not make for themselves” (Ex 12:39). The word .#& has the same numerical value (49) as )/ (forty-nine levels of impurity). Yet in their impurity, they nevertheless did offer the Passover sacrifice, and did circumcise themselves, mixing in this way (as we have seen) the blood of the Brit with that of the Passover sacrifice.
Even though they knew that they were not meritorious, they believed in G-d Who promised to strike all the firstborn of Egypt in the middle of the night (Ex 12:29). If they sprinkled blood on the lintel of their doors, He would pass above them and spare them (v.13).
The behavior of the Children of Israel is thus unique in the annals of history. What other people managed to believe in G-d and offer Him sacrifices while wandering in the desert, in an uncultivated land, far from G-d and devoid of the Torah to guide them?
It was the survivors of the plague of darkness that repented and merited the world to come in a few moments. When the Eternal saw that they devoted themselves completely to Him, even thought they were still impure, He blessed them with shefa (abundance), with light and holiness, and enabled them to reach great spiritual heights in allowing them to witness the miracle at the Red Sea. It was because He looked into their hearts and knew that they aimed only to obey Him.
The Children of Israel nevertheless had to rectify all their sins in the desert. Imbued with holiness when then passed through the Red Sea, they knew exactly how to get rid of their impurity, and how to get closer to the Holy One, blessed be He.
But those who didn’t improve their behavior showed that, in fact, they refused to get closer to G-d and to leave Egypt. Therefore they died in the plague of darkness because they wanted to “help” the forces of evil that function in the night (Zohar II:164b). It was thus the darkness that punished them (cf. Shabbat 105b). The Eternal also revealed Himself as much to those that didn’t believe in Him, as to those that recognized Him without even having received the Torah or witnessed the miracle at the Red Sea. They could therefore rectify all their bad traits and merit the world to come in an instant.