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Shabbat 12-05-5767 (02-24-2007)

Who Shall Be Saved? part two

2 Esdras 8

He answered me and said, "The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of few. But I tell you a parable, Ezra. Just as, when you ask the earth, it will tell you that it provides very much clay from which earthenware is made, but only a little dust from which gold comes; so is the course of the present world. Many have been created, but few shall be saved." I answered and said, "Then drink your fill of understanding, O my soul, and drink wisdom, O my heart! For not of your own will did you come into the world, and against your will you depart, for you have been given only a short time to live. O Master who are over us, grant to thy servant that we may pray before thee, and give us seed for our heart and cultivation of our understanding so that fruit may be produced, by which every mortal who bears the likeness of a human being may be able to live. For thou alone dost exist, and we are a work of thy hands, as thou hast declared. And because thou dost give life to the body which is now fashioned in the womb, and dost furnish it with members, what thou hast created is preserved in fire and water, and for nine months the womb which thou has formed endures thy creation which has been created in it. But that which keeps and that which is kept shall both be kept by thy keeping. And when the womb gives up again what has been created in it, thou hast commanded that from the members themselves (that is, from the breasts) milk should be supplied which is the fruit of the breasts, so that what has been fashioned may be nourished for a time; and afterwards thou wilt guide him in thy mercy. Thou hast brought him up in thy righteousness, and instructed him in thy law, and reproved him in thy wisdom. Thou wilt take away his life, for he is thy creation; and thou wilt make him live, for he is thy work. If then thou wilt suddenly and quickly destroy him who with so great labor was fashioned by thy command, to what purpose was he made? And now I will speak out: About all mankind thou knowest best; but I will speak about thy people, for whom I am grieved, and about thy inheritance, for whom I lament, and about Israel, for whom I am sad, and about the seed of Jacob, for whom I am troubled. Therefore I will pray before thee for myself and for them, for I see the failings of us who dwell in the land, and I have heard of the swiftness of the judgment that is to come. Therefore hear my voice, and understand my words, and I will speak before thee." The beginning of the words of Ezra's prayer, before he was taken up. He said: "O Master who inhabitest eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers are in the air, whose throne is beyond measure and whose splendor is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire, whose word is sure and whose utterances are certain, whose ordinance is strong and whose command is terrible, whose look dries up the depths and whose indignation makes the mountains melt away, and whose truth is established for ever -- hear, O Master, the prayer of thy servant, and give ear to the petition of thy creature; attend to my words. For as long as I live I will speak, and as long as I have understanding I will answer. O look not upon the sins of thy people, but at those who have served thee in truth. Regard not the endeavors of those who act wickedly, but the endeavors of those who have kept thy covenants amid afflictions. Think not on those who have lived wickedly in thy sight; but remember those who have willingly acknowledged that thou art to be feared. Let it not be thy will to destroy those who have had the ways of cattle; but regard those who have gloriously taught thy law. Be not angry with those who are deemed worse than beasts; but love those who have always put their trust in thy splendor. For we and our fathers have passed our lives in ways that bring death, but thou, because of us sinners, are called merciful. For if thou hast desired to have pity on us, who have no works of righteousness, then thou wilt be called merciful. For the righteous, who have many works laid up with thee, shall receive their reward in consequence of their own deeds. But what is man, that thou art angry with him; or what is a corruptible race, that thou art so bitter against it? For in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wickedly, and among those who have existed there is no one who has not transgressed. For in this, O Master, thy righteousness and goodness will be declared, when thou art merciful to those who have no store of good works." He answered me and said, "Some things you have spoken rightly, and it will come to pass according to your words. For indeed I will not concern myself about the fashioning of those who have sinned, or about their death, their judgment, or their destruction; but I will rejoice over the creation of the righteous, over their pilgrimage also, and their salvation, and their receiving their reward. As I have spoken, therefore, so it shall be. "For just as the farmer sows many seeds upon the ground and plants a multitude of seedlings, and yet not all that have been sown will come up in due season, and not all that were planted will take root; so also those who have been sown in the world will not all be saved." I answered and said, "If I have found favor before thee, let me speak. For if the farmer's seed does not come up, because it has not received thy rain in due season, or if it has been ruined by too much rain, it perishes. But man, who has been formed by thy hands and is called thy own image because he is made like thee, and for whose sake thou hast formed all things -- hast thou also made him like the farmer's seed? No, O Master who art over us! But spare thy people and have mercy on thy inheritance, for thou hast mercy on thy own creation." He answered me and said, "Things that are present are for those who live now, and things that are future are for those who will live hereafter. For you come far short of being able to love my creation more than I love it. But you have often compared yourself to the unrighteous. Never do so! But even in this respect you will be praiseworthy before the Most High, because you have humbled yourself, as is becoming for you, and have not deemed yourself to be among the righteous in order to receive the greatest esteem. For many miseries will affect those who inhabit the world in the last times, because they have walked in great pride. But think of your own case, and inquire concerning the esteem of those who are like yourself, because it is for you that paradise is opened, the tree of life is planted, the age to come is prepared, plenty is provided, a city is built, rest is appointed, goodness is established and wisdom perfected beforehand. The root of evil is sealed up from you, illness is banished from you, and death is hidden; hell has fled and corruption has been forgotten; sorrows have passed away, and in the end the treasure of immortality is made manifest. Therefore do not ask any more questions about the multitude of those who perish. For they also received freedom , but they despised the Most High, and were contemptuous of his law, and forsook his ways. Moreover they have even trampled upon his righteous ones, and said in their hearts that there is not Elohim -- though knowing full well that they must die. For just as the things which I have predicted await you, so the thirst and torment which are prepared await them. For the Most High did not intend that men should be destroyed; but they themselves who were created have defiled the name of him who made them, and have been ungrateful to him who prepared life for them. Therefore my judgment is now drawing near; I have not shown this to all men, but only to you and a few like you."