Rabbinic Polemics

The Gemara in Succah 48b has an amusing story about rabbinic polemics in the time of Chazal:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף מח עמוד ב 

הנהו תרי מיני, חד שמיה ששון וחד שמיה שמחה, אמר ליה ששון לשמחה: אנא עדיפנא מינך, דכתיב ששון ושמחה ישיגו וגו’. – אמר ליה שמחה לששון: אנא עדיפנא מינך, דכתיב שמחה וששון ליהודים. אמר ליה ששון לשמחה: חד יומא שבקוך ושויוך פרוונקא, דכתיב כי בשמחה תצאו. אמר ליה שמחה לששון: חד יומא שבקוך ומלו בך מיא, דכתיב ושאבתם מים בששון. אמר ליה ההוא מינא דשמיה ששון לרבי אבהו: עתידיתו דתמלו לי מים לעלמא דאתי, דכתיב ושאבתם מים בששון. – אמר ליה: אי הוה כתיב לששון – כדקאמרת, השתא דכתיב בששון – משכיה דההוא גברא משוינן ליה גודא, ומלינן ביה מיא.

The story here comes with an amusing story about an exchange between two minim (heretics) where they make fun of Torah, as their names are Sasson and Simchah and they pretended certain psukim were talking about them instead of happiness. Afterwards, one of them came to Rabbi Abahu and attempts to make of him the same way. He tells Rabbi Abahu: “You will serve me in the world to come”. Responds Rabbi Abahu: “No, I will use you in the world to come.”

Is there something else which is buried underneath this exchange? Which min would believe in the world to come, such that he would argue about what would happen in that world with Rabbi Abahu, even in jest. Many of the heretics in the time of Chazal were essentially messianic Jews (especially in Eretz Israel, where Rabbi Abahu lived). This exchange becomes significantly more profound if that is understood here. The heretic says: “You will serve me in the world to come” because that will be the Second Coming, and I will be proven right and your stance will have been proven incorrect and rejectionist. G-d will punish you for your stubbornness. Responds Rabbi Abahu: “Not only will I not be punished in the way which you are describing, I will use you to prove all of your arguments wrong, because when the Moshiach comes, he will not pay attention to you, he and God will reward me for my loyalty over the years.”

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