How many will be left at the end of days?
The Gemara on today’s daf presents a series of disagreements between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yoḥanan on this topic. In each of them, Reish Lakish presented a pessimistic view regarding the people who would merit a future world, while Rabbi Yoḥanan argued that the pesukim should be understood in a less literal sense.
1. Yeshayahu 5:14 presents she’ol – the netherworld – as swallowing “without measure.”
Reish Lakish understands this to mean that anyone who misses a single ḥok – a single commandment – will be swallowed up. Rabbi Yoḥanan objects, saying that anyone who learned a single ḥok would be saved.
2. Zekharya 13:8 teaches that only one-third will survive.
Reish Lakish suggests that this means that only one third of the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, will survive. According to Rabbi Yoḥanan it means one-third of the entire world.
3. Yirmiyahu 3:14 says that only one from a city and two from a family will be saved.
Reish Lakish takes this literally, while Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches that if there is one meritorious person in a city or two in a family, all will survive.
In Rav Yosef Albo’s Sefer HaIkarim he explains that the disagreement between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yoḥanan is dependent on a basic question – when we say that a person’s portion in the World-to-Come is dependent on his fulfilling the mitzvot in this world, is a person required to engage the entire hierarchy of commandments in full, or does every individual commandment contain an element of merit that would bring a person to this level? According to Reish Lakish, someone who is missing even a single commandment will be lacking in spiritual development and would be unable to merit the World-to-Come. Rabbi Yoḥanan, however, believes that every commandment is a whole unto itself, and proper fulfillment of any commandment raises a person spiritually.