A few years ago, a Jewish individual put his portion of Olam Ha’ba, the World to Come, up for auction on eBay. The bidding started in the morning at 99 cents and had jumped to $100,000 by the afternoon. (Before the bidding ended, eBay removed the item due to rules that objects sold on eBay must be “tangible.”) The seller claimed that his spot in the World to Come is secure because he has not and will not commit any sins that would cause him to forfeit his portion. Of course, the very act of selling Olam Ha’ba may be a reason for its forfeiture, but more on that later.
Is there any validity to a sale of one’s portion in Olam Ha’ba?
The Gemara states that a kohen may not trade his edible share in a korban for a different kohen’s edible share in a minchah offering. The Tosfos Yeshanim comments that although trading is forbidden, the kohen may nevertheless sell his share in a particular sacrifice. This is true despite the fact that eating a portion of a korban is a mitzvah. Though it is not advisable to sell one’s opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah, he may do so, according to the Tosfos Yeshanim. However, the Shiltei Gibborim says that one may not sell the reward one earned from doing a mitzvah.
The Gemara says in Sotah 21a: What do we learn from “Boz yavuzu lo” (they will scorn him)? Ula says that this verse does not refer to Shimon who was known as the brother of Azaryah, because his brother supported him. Nor does the verse refer to Rebbe Yochanan, who was supported by the nasi. Rather, it refers to Hillel and Shevna. Hillel and Shevna were brothers; Hillel engaged in Torah, Shevna in business. After they were both successful in their pursuits, Shevna suggested to his brother: “Let us be partners, and split our profits. You can have half of my estate and you give me half of your reward for studying Torah.” Whereupon, a voice emanated from Heaven: “If a man would give all his wealth for love (Torah learning), they will scorn him.”
The Gemara seems to be suggesting that Shevna be scorned for attempting to share in Hillel’s reward for Torah study. Yet, the Gemara implies that Azaryah and the nasi justly deserve a portion of Shimon and Rebbe Yochanan’s Torah study, respectively. What is the difference?
The Meiri explains that Azaryah enabled his brother to dedicate himself to Torah study. Shimon did not have to worry about earning a living. He knew that his family’s finances were taken care of. Likewise, Rebbe Yochanan was able to fully submerge himself in the pursuit of Torah without the need to worry about life’s necessities. The nasi facilitated this. Hillel, on the other hand, studied Torah in abject poverty. He earned a meager living. On top of this, half of his daily wages went to pay the entrance fee to the beis midrash. The day he couldn’t even afford the entrance fee, he risked his life by attempting to listen to the Torah discourses from the skylight of the beis midrash in the midst of a snowstorm. Yet, Hillel persevered and became a great scholar. Shevna assumed that he could come at this late stage, after Hillel suffered such terrible living conditions, and simply write a check and acquire half of Hillel’s hard-earned reward. The Gemara says that for even assuming such a deal was possible, Shevna deserves scorn.
The Tashbetz differs from the above explanation. He explains that the determinant is simply a matter of timing. Even if Hillel did not suffer from abject poverty, Shevna could not have purchased his reward. The only way to share in the reward of Torah is to enable someone to learn Torah in the first place. Through their support, the nasi and Azaryah enabled uninterrupted Torah learning. If the nasi and Azaryah would have come after the fact and offered Shimon and Rebbe Yochanan money for some of their reward, that deal would be invalid.
The Rema rules in accordance with this last explanation. A scholar can only take money to enable him to learn. He cannot take money for what he has already learned. One cannot sell a portion in Olam Ha’ba that he has already earned. The sale on eBay would be invalid.
There is a famous story about the Vilna Gaon. One year, there was a severe shortage of esrogim in Eastern Europe. A search committee was dispatched to scour Europe on a quest for an esrog for the Vilna Gaon. Finally, in one town they found success. A man had an exquisite esrog and was willing to part with it for a price. “I will sell it to you on one condition” the man said. “The reward in Olam Ha’ba that the Vilna Gaon earns in performing this mitzvah must go to me.” They returned to Vilna, barely in time for Sukkos, and marched straight to the home of the Vilna Gaon. The Gaon was ecstatic to see the esrog, but they were trembling. They nervously said “Forgive us, Rebbe. In order to acquire this esrog, we were forced to agree on your behalf that you would give this man all of the Olam Ha’ba that you earn doing this mitzvah.”
The Vilna Gaon joyously responded, “That’s perfectly acceptable! All my life I never had a chance to fulfill a mitzvah and receive no reward, and now I have such a chance! I now have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of esrog purely out of love!”
Was the Vilna Gaon able to give away his olam ha’ba earned from the mitzvah of esrog? Initially, one might assume that the deal presents no issue with the Gemara in Sotah. After all, the Tashbetz explained that it is a matter of timing. The man with the esrog enabled the Vilna Gaon to perform the mitzvah. This is analogous to Azaryah and the nasi enabling a scholar to learn Torah. However, from HaRav Shlomo Kluger we see otherwise.
Rav Shlomo Kluger says that the Heavenly proclamation that decreed that one cannot sell his olam ha’ba needs no explanation. Nevertheless, he writes that the explanation is quite simple. The reward in the World to Come for people who learn Torah and perform mitzvos is not analogous to workers who earn their wages. In truth, Hashem does not owe us wages for performing mitzvos. Suppose Reuven, a magnanimous philanthropist, had pity on poor Shimon and bought him a really extravagant gift: a new house. Shimon was overjoyed at the lavish gift. Reuven, though, needed help putting up a mezuzah in his own home and asked Shimon for assistance. Shimon went to his benefactor’s home to put up the mezuzah. Do you think Shimon would give Reuven a bill for his services? Reuven just gave Shimon a house!
Hashem provides a person with a house and a mezuzah. Can we expect reward for merely putting the mezuzah up? Yet Hashem magnanimously gives us reward. Rav Shlomo Kluger explains that reward for mitzvos is a gift that Hashem gives us. We are the recipients of so much of Hashem’s chesed that we have no right to demand wages for following any of the mitzvos. Still, Hashem chooses to reward us as a gift. Since the reward is only a gift, it can’t be sold. Can the recipient of a gift tell the giver, “I demand you give the gift to this other person?” Surely not. The gift belongs to the giver and he alone can decide to whom it will be delivered. So, too, reward in Olam Ha’ba is a gift and can’t be sold.
Hence, according to this explanation, if someone enables someone to do a mitzvah, Hashem decrees that he will give both parties reward as a gift. Can one individual make a deal that the other individual gets the entire reward? Seemingly not. We cannot make deals that “obligate” Hashem how He should distribute reward. If so, Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked, “How could the Gra promise all his reward to another individual? Can we make the same deal if necessary?” Rav Chaim responded, “We don’t decide halachah based on a story.”
Rabbeinu Yerucham based on the above writes that one cannot sell reward that he has already “earned” for learning Torah. Yet, if he attempts to sell his reward, even though the sale will be void, it is logical that he loses his reward. If he disgraces Hashem’s reward to the degree that he thinks it can be valued with mere money, that itself is a reason to lose his reward. On the flip side, the Maharit writes that even if someone used a large sum of money to buy someone else’s reward, the sale isn’t valid. Yet the very fact that the buyer was willing to expend a large amount of money for Olam Ha’ba is itself deserving of reward. If the bid on eBay for $100,000 was a real bid, then, according to the Maharit, that bidder will be rewarded.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.