What Happens When We Die

Judaism is famously ambiguous about this matter. The immortality of the soul, the World to Come, and the resurrection of the dead all feature prominently in Jewish tradition, but the logistics of what these things are and how they relate to each other has always been vague.

Jewish conceptions of heaven and hell — Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) and Gehinnom — are associated with the belief in immortality and/or the World to Come, and were also developed independent of these concepts.

 

Most Jewish ideas about the afterlife developed in post-biblical times.

 

THE NATURE OF THE SOUL

Genesis 2:7

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

 

“HASHEM, God formed the person from the dust of the earth. God blew into the person's nostrils the breath of life, and the person became a living being.  

 

Talmud Berachot 60b

אלהי נשמה שנתת בי טהורה אתה יצרתה בי אתה נפחתה בי ואתה משמרה בקרבי ואתה עתיד ליטלה ממני ולהחזירה בי לעתיד לבא כל זמן שהנשמה בקרבי מודה אני לפניך ה' אלהי ואלהי אבותי רבון כל העולמים אדון כל הנשמות ברוך אתה ה' המחזיר נשמות לפגרים מתים.

My God, the soul, which you placed within me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me.  A time will come when You will take it from me, and restore it to me in the hereafter. So long as the soul is within me, I offer thanks before You, HASHEM my God and God of my ancestors, Master of all creatures, Lord of all souls. Praised are You, HASHEM, who restores the souls to the dead.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The soul consists of three parts which are called by the Hebrew names, nefesh, ruach and neshama. The word neshama is a cognate of nesheema, which means literally "breath." Ruach means "wind." Nefesh comes from the root nafash, meaning "rest," as in the verse, "On the seventh day, [God] ceased work and rested (nafash)." (Exodus 31:17).

 

God's exhaling a soul can be compared to a glassblower forming a vessel. The breath (neshama) first leaves his lips, travels as a wind (ruach) and finally comes to rest (nefesh) in the vessel. Of these three levels of the soul, neshama is therefore the highest and closest to God, while nefesh is that aspect of the soul residing in the body. Ruach stands between the two, binding man to his spiritual Source. It is for this reason that Divine Inspiration is called Ruach HaKodesh in Hebrew.

 

The neshama is affected only by thought, the ruach by speech, and the nefesh by action.

 

Talmud Niddah 31a

The sages taught: Three partners are involved in the creation of a person, and they are: God, the father, and the mother…God inserts in the person the spirit of life, the soul, the individual’s distinct facial features, the senses of sight, smell, hearing, and speech, the ability to walk, (the potential for) acquiring knowledge and understanding and common sense. And when the person’s time comes that he has to leave this world, God removes God’s share; and the share contributed by the father and the mother (i.e., the physical attributes) is placed before them, and they weep. Says God to them: “Why do you weep?  Have I taken anything of yours? Only what was mine did I take.

 

Ecclesiastes 12:7

וְיָשֹׁ֧ב הֶעָפָ֛ר עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּשֶׁהָיָ֑ה וְהָר֣וּחַ תָּשׁ֔וּב אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר נְתָנָֽהּ׃

 

"The dust returns to the dust as it was, but the spirit returns to God who gave it"


 

Zohar I, 205b-206a

Come and see.  When the Holy One, blessed be HASHEM, created Adam, God gathered dust for Adam from the four corners of the world, and God made Adam's body in the place of the sanctuary below. And God bestowed upon Adam the breath of life from the Temple above. There are three levels that comprise the soul, and therefore the soul has three names, on the pattern of the mystery above: Nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.  Nefesh, they have already explained, is the lowest of all. Ruach is the (power of) sustenance, which rules over the nefesh and is a higher level than (the nefesh), sustaining it throughout as is fitting. Neshamah is the highest (power of) sustenance, and rules over all, a holy level, exalted above all.

 

These three levels are contained within each person, in those who are deserving because of their devotion to their Creator. At first a person has a nefesh, which is a holy restorer, by which a person can be restored.  When a person begins to purify himself the person is restored at this level so that the person may adorn him/herself with the ruach, which is a holy level, dwelling above the nefesh, and which stimulates the person who is deserving. Once the person has ascended through them, through the nefesh and the ruach, and the person has begun the process of restoration through the correct worship of his/her Creator, the neshamah rests upon the person, the highest holy level, which rules over all, so that s/he may adorn him/herself with this highest holy level. Then the person is the most perfect of all, perfect in every respect, worthy of the world to come, and the person is one who loves the Holy One, blessed be HASHEM, as it is said, “That I may cause those that love Me to inherit substance” (Proverbs 8:21). Who are “those that love Me”? It is they who possess the holy neshamah.

 

The Maharsha explains that the nefesh, the lowest part of the soul, remains with the body after death; the neshama, the most elevated part of the soul, separates from the body after death and ascends to higher realms. The Gemara in B’rachot 18b) speaks of ruach, spirit; ruach is that part of the soul that is intermediate between nefesh and neshama and which sometimes remains with the dead body and sometimes roams free and ascends to higher realms where the neshama is found.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The soul has its first attachment to the body from the moment of conception, and remains with it until the moment of death. Death is thus often referred to in Hebrew as "departure of the soul" (Yetziat HaNeshama).

 

We are taught that immediately after death the soul is in a state of great confusion. It is therefore customary to stay near a dying person, so that he not die alone.

 

The disembodied soul is intensely aware of the physical surroundings of its body. This is especially true before the body is buried. The soul then literally mourns for its body for seven days. This is alluded to in the verse, "His soul mourns for him" (Job 14:22).

 

For the first 12 months after death, the soul hovers over the body.

 

For the first 12 months after death, until the body decomposes, the soul has no permanent resting place and thus experiences acute disorientation. It therefore hovers over the body. During this time, the soul is aware of and identifies with the decomposition of the body. The Talmud thus teaches us that "Worms are as painful to the dead as needles in the flesh of the living, as it is written (Job 14:22), 'His flesh grieves for him'." Most commentaries write that this refers to the psychological anguish of the soul in seeing its earthly habitation in a state of decay. The Kabbalists call this Chibut HaKever, "punishment of the grave."

 

We are taught that what happens to the body in the grave can be even more painful than Gehenom. This experience is not nearly as difficult for the righteous, however, since they never consider their worldly body overly important.

 

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav

Shortly before his death, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav said, "I very much want to divest myself of this garment that is my body."

 

The Book of Principles, Rabbi Joseph Albo

As for the natures of the soul’s pain and punishment, that is to be explained as follows: If a person in his lifetime pursued his desires and physical pleasures, and his soul departed from doing the will of God and accommodated her acts to the nature of the body, which is opposed to her own nature, then when this soul is separated from the body, she longs for those things to which she was accustomed and feels a desire for them, but has no instruments with which to obtain them. On the other hand, by reason of her own nature she will desire to unite with the higher forms and the immaterial substances, and will experience a longing for them.  But she has not learned the elements, nor been accustomed to the service of God, the delight in which can not be enjoyed except by one who has accustomed and prepared himself for it, as the Rabbis say, “HASHEM gives wisdom to him only who has wisdom, for it says: “He gives wisdom unto the wise.” Accordingly the soul will be drawn in two directions at once, upwards and downwards, the one by reason of her nature, the other by reason of her habit and custom. But she will have no instruments for obtaining the lower desires and no preparation to obtain the higher. This will cause her great pain and suffering, greater than any pain in the world or any kind of fracture – more pain than the burning of fire or cold and terrible frost, more than the wounds of knives and swords or the stings of snakes and scorpions.

 

The understanding, which the soul has during life is like a dream. Hence just as a delightful dream disappoints and wearies a person when he finds that it does not agree with reality, so the ideas of the soul will cause him pain after death when he finds them in disagreement with reality. But if they do agree with reality, that is, if they are true ideas, the soul will experience great delight. It is like a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, or a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and then he wakes up and feels empty.  His pain is great.  But if he wakes up and finds before him a spring in a garden, from which he proceeds to drink, or a table set with all kinds of palatable food, which he eats to his heart’s content, he experiences great delight in the actual eating and drinking, a delight that cannot be compared with that of eating and drinking in a dream, which is merely in imagination, whereas this is real. So the soul will feel delight when she perceives in the spiritual world in reality those things, which she perceived in this world, which is like a dream. Hence we say, in order to explain the matter by analogy, that the relation of the mind’s understanding in this world to the soul’s understanding in the next world is like that of a dream to the waking state.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

What happens then when a person dies?

 

We know that the body ceases to function. The brain becomes inert and the physical person is dead.

 

But what happens to the real you -- the human personality? What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits? When a book is burned, its contents are no longer available. When a computer is smashed, the information within it is also destroyed.

 

Does the same thing happen when a person dies? Is the mind and personality irretrievably lost?

 

We know that God is omniscient. He knows all and does not forget. God knows every thought and memory that exists within our brains. There is no bit of information that escapes His knowledge.

 

What, then, happens when a person dies?

 

God does not forget, and therefore all of this information continues to exist, at least in God's memory.

 

Talmud Berachot 18b

R’ Chiya’s sons went out to the villages where they had their family estate – and they stayed so long that they forgot their learning.  They took pains to try and recall what they had learned.  One of the sons said to the other:  “Does our father, who is no longer alive, know of this pain that we are experiencing?”  The other one replied:  “How could he know, being dead?  For, after all, it is written in Scripture: ‘His sons may attain honor and he (a dead person) will not know it.’(Job 14:21)” whereupon the other replied: “But does he then not know?  But it is written, in the very next verse: ‘But his flesh will pain him, and his spirit will mourn for him,’ – and R’ Yitzchak said in explanation of this verse: ‘The worm is as painful to the dead as a needle to living flesh.’ Obviously, then, the dead are aware of the mortification of their bodies; presumably they are likewise aware of other affairs of this world!’”

 

The Gemara rejects the proof from this verse: “They said: ‘They know of their own suffering, but they are not necessarily aware of the pain of others.’”

 

The Gemara continues to debate this issue:  But do they then not know of the affairs of this world?  But consider the following episode, for it was taught in a Baraita as follows:  It happened that there was a certain pious man who gave a Dinar as charity to a poor man on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in a year of famine, and his wife provoked him over it, so he went and spent the night in a cemetery.  And while there he heard two spirits of two deceased children conversing with each other.  Said one to the other: “My friend, let us roam the world and hear from behind the curtain (that partitions off the Divine Presence (Rashi)) what misfortune is to come to the world this year.”  Her friend replied, “I cannot come with you, because I am buried in a matting of reeds.  But you go and come back and relate to me whatever you hear.”  So she went and roamed and returned and her friend said to her, “My friend, what have you heard from behind the curtain?”  She replied, “I heard that the crops of anyone who plants this winter at the time of the first rain will be destroyed by hail.”  Hearing this, the pious man went and planted at the time of the second rain.  Everyone’s crops were destroyed, while his were not destroyed.

 

The next year, he again went and spent the night in the cemetery, and he heard the same two spirits conversing with each other. Said one to the other: “Let us roam the world and hear from behind the curtain what misfortune is to come to the world this year.” She replied, “My friend, did I not already tell you that I cannot come with you because I am buried in a matting of reeds? But you go, and come back and relate to me whatever you hear. “ So she went and roamed and returned.  And her friend said to her: “My friend, what have you heard from behind the curtain?” She replied, “I heard that the crops of anyone who plants this winter at the time of the second rain will be blasted by a dry wind.” Hearing this he went and planted at the time of the first rain. Everyone’s crops were blasted, and his were not blasted.  Whereupon his wife said to him: “Why is it that last year everyone’s crops were destroyed by hail and yours were not destroyed, and now everyone’s crops were blasted and yours were not blasted?” So he told her the whole story. They say that it was not more than a few days later when a quarrel broke out between the pious man’s wife and the mother of that child whose spirit he had overheard in the cemetery.  And in the course of that quarrel the wife said to her: “Come, I will show you your daughter buried ignominiously in a matting of reeds.” Now the next year he again went and spent the night in the cemetery, and he heard the same two spirits conversing with each other. Said one to the other: “My friend, let us roam the world and hear from behind the curtain what misfortune is to come to the world this year.” She replied, “My friend, leave me be! The words that we spoke between ourselves in years past have already been heard among the living.”  

 

The Gemara concludes the proof: Apparently (the dead) do know what is spoken by the living, since the spirit was aware of what her mother had been told!

 

The Gemara rejects the proof. Perhaps another person died in the interim and went and told them about it.

 

Job 19:26

"And when after my skin is destroyed, then without my flesh shall I see God."

 

THE ETERNITY OF THE SOUL

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (d. 1888) Commentary to the Torah, Genesis 50:2:

The Egyptian believed in the transmigration of the soul and tried to protect the body from any possibility of change. The Jew believes in the soul’s eternal personal existence, and surrenders the body to earthly change.

 

Rabbi Or Rose

The development of the concept of life after death is related to the development of eschatology (speculation about the “end of days”) in Judaism. Beginning in the period following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem (586 BCE), several of the classical Israelite prophets (Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah) began forecasting a better future for their people.

 

However, with repeated military defeats and episodes of exile and dislocation culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jewish thinkers began to lose hope in any immediate change, instead investing greater expectations in a messianic future and in life after death. This was coupled with the introduction into Judaism of Hellenistic notions of the division of the material, perishable body and the spiritual, eternal soul.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

Some authorities maintain that what the sages called Olam Haba (the "Future World" or "World to Come") refers to the spiritual dimension that the soul enters after leaving the body. The majority, however, consider Olam Haba as a completely new stage of earth life which will be ushered in only after the Messianic Age and the Resurrection of the Dead. According to these authorities, all souls pass into an intermediate dimension called Olam HaNeshamot ("World of Souls") after death. It is there that they are judged and then abide until the resurrection and final judgment.

 

Pirkei Avot 4:21

“Rabbi Ya’akov taught: This world is compared to an ante-chamber that leads to Olam Ha–Ba, (the World-to-Come)”

 

Rabbi Or Rose

The rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, and it is often difficult to know which one is being referred to. When the Talmud does speak of Olam Ha-Ba in connection to the afterlife, it often uses it interchangeably with the term Gan Eden (“the Garden of Eden”), referring to a heavenly realm where souls reside after physical death.

 

Gesher HaChaim 1:17 (Rabi Y. M. Tucazinsky d. 1955) – [Based on Kabbalistic sources]

Seven stages of departure: (1) Thirty days before death, the soul begins a partial separation from the body. (2) In the last hours before death, there is a further separation. (3) At the moment of death, the soul leaves the body and meets its Maker. (4) For the first three days after death, the soul is confused. It believes it will re-enter the body and therefore stays closely attached to it. After three days it ceases trying to re-enter the body, but remains confused. During the shivah, the first week after death, the soul goes back and forth from the grave to the shivah house. (5) Between shivah and thirty days, the soul rises in Heaven, but is closely attached to the gravesite. (6) Betwen thirty days and the first year, the soul rises higher in Heaven, but still returns periodically to the gravesite. (7) After one year, it stays in Heaven, except for a small part of it that remains connected to this world and its body.

 

Talmud, Shabbat 152b

R. Eliezer said: The souls of the righteous are hidden under the Throne of Glory, as it is said, yet the soul of thine Lord shall be bound up in the bundle of life.  But those of the wicked continue to be imprisoned,  while one angel stands at one end of the world and a second stands at the other end, and they sling their souls to each other, for it is said, and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling. Rabbah asked R. Nahman: What about those who are intermediate? Had I died I could not have told you this, he replied. Thus did Samuel say: Both these and those [the wicked and the intermediate] are delivered to Dumah (The guardian angel of the deceased);  these enjoy rest, whereas the others have no rest. R. Mari said: [Even] the righteous are fated to be dust, for it is written, 'and the dust return to the earth as it was'.

 

Talmud, Pesachim 50a

Rabbi Joseph, the son of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, who dies and returns back to life. “His father asked him, ‘What did you see?’ He replied, ‘I beheld a world the reverse of this one; those who are on top here were below there, and vice versa.’ He [Joshua ben Levi] said to him, ‘My son, you have seen a corrected world.'”

 

Midrash Ruth, chapter 3

R. Measha, the grandson of R. Joshua, was unconscious for three days on his sick bed.  After the three days he regained consciousness.  His father said to him, “Where were you?” He answered, “I was in a mixed world.” He said to him,” And what did you see there?” To which he replied,” I saw there in disgrace many men who are held here in honor.”  

 

DO JEWS BELIEVE IN HEAVEN AND HELL?

Questions to ponder:

  • How does Rabbi Moshe Zeldman describe heaven and hell?

  • How are his descriptions different from what you've imagined?

Berakhot 28b

Yochanan ben Zakkai said, “There are two paths before me, one leading to Gan Eden and the other to Gehinnom.”

Berachot 57b

"Gehinnom is 60 times hotter than earthly fire."

Rabbi Or Rose

Only truly righteous souls ascend directly to Gan Eden, say the sages. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom.

 

The name is taken from a valley (Gei Hinnom) just south of Jerusalem, once used for child sacrifice by the pagan nations of Canaan (II Kings 23:10). Some view Gehinnom as a place of torture and punishment, fire and brimstone. Others imagine it less harshly, as a place where one reviews the actions of his/her life and repents for past misdeeds.

 

The soul’s sentence in Gehinnom is usually limited to a twelve-month period of purgation before it takes its place in Olam Ha-Ba (Mishnah Eduyot 2:9, Shabbat 33a). This twelve-month limit is reflected in the year long mourning cycle and the recitation of the Kaddish.

 

Only the utterly wicked do not ascend to Gan Eden at the end of this year. Sources differ on what happens to these souls at the end of their initial time of purgation. Some say that the wicked are utterly destroyed and cease to exist, while others believe in eternal damnation (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Law of Repentance, 3:5-6).

 

THE MESSIAH and THE WORLD TO COME

Maimonides - Mishneh Torah Kings and Wars 11:3

One should not presume that the Messianic king must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena in the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is definitely not true.  Proof can be brought from the fact that Rabbi Akiva, one of the greater Sages of the Mishnah, was one of the supporters of King Bar Kozibah and would describe him as the Messianic king. He and all the Sages of his generation considered him to be the Messianic king until he was killed because of sins. Once he was killed, they realized that he was not the Mashiach. The Sages did not ask him for any signs or wonders.

 

Maimonides - Mishneh Torah Kings and Wars 12:5

In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.  Therefore, the Jews will be great sages and know the hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to the full extent of human potential, as Isaiah 11:9 states: 'The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed."

 

Isaiah 11:1-9

וְיָצָ֥א חֹ֖טֶר מִגֵּ֣זַע יִשָׁ֑י וְנֵ֖צֶר מִשָּׁרָשָׁ֥יו יִפְרֶֽה׃ וְנָחָ֥ה עָלָ֖יו ר֣וּחַ יְהוָ֑ה ר֧וּחַ חָכְמָ֣ה וּבִינָ֗ה ר֤וּחַ עֵצָה֙ וּגְבוּרָ֔ה ר֥וּחַ דַּ֖עַת וְיִרְאַ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃ וַהֲרִיח֖וֹ בְּיִרְאַ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה וְלֹֽא־לְמַרְאֵ֤ה עֵינָיו֙ יִשְׁפּ֔וֹט וְלֹֽא־לְמִשְׁמַ֥ע אָזְנָ֖יו יוֹכִֽיחַ׃ וְשָׁפַ֤ט בְּצֶ֙דֶק֙ דַּלִּ֔ים וְהוֹכִ֥יחַ בְּמִישׁ֖וֹר לְעַנְוֵי־אָ֑רֶץ וְהִֽכָּה־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט פִּ֔יו וּבְר֥וּחַ שְׂפָתָ֖יו יָמִ֥ית רָשָֽׁע׃ וְהָ֥יָה צֶ֖דֶק אֵז֣וֹר מָתְנָ֑יו וְהָאֱמוּנָ֖ה אֵז֥וֹר חֲלָצָֽיו׃ וְגָ֤ר זְאֵב֙ עִם־כֶּ֔בֶשׂ וְנָמֵ֖ר עִם־גְּדִ֣י יִרְבָּ֑ץ וְעֵ֨גֶל וּכְפִ֤יר וּמְרִיא֙ יַחְדָּ֔ו וְנַ֥עַר קָטֹ֖ן נֹהֵ֥ג בָּֽם׃ וּפָרָ֤ה וָדֹב֙ תִּרְעֶ֔ינָה יַחְדָּ֖ו יִרְבְּצ֣וּ יַלְדֵיהֶ֑ן וְאַרְיֵ֖ה כַּבָּקָ֥ר יֹֽאכַל־תֶּֽבֶן׃ וְשִֽׁעֲשַׁ֥ע יוֹנֵ֖ק עַל־חֻ֣ר פָּ֑תֶן וְעַל֙ מְאוּרַ֣ת צִפְעוֹנִ֔י גָּמ֖וּל יָד֥וֹ הָדָֽה׃ לֹֽא־יָרֵ֥עוּ וְלֹֽא־יַשְׁחִ֖יתוּ בְּכָל־הַ֣ר קָדְשִׁ֑י כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֣ה הָאָ֗רֶץ דֵּעָה֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה כַּמַּ֖יִם לַיָּ֥ם מְכַסִּֽים׃ וְהָיָה֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא שֹׁ֣רֶשׁ יִשַׁ֗י אֲשֶׁ֤ר עֹמֵד֙ לְנֵ֣ס עַמִּ֔ים אֵלָ֖יו גּוֹיִ֣ם יִדְרֹ֑שׁוּ וְהָיְתָ֥ה מְנֻחָת֖וֹ כָּבֽוֹד׃ וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יוֹסִ֨יף אֲדֹנָ֤י ׀ שֵׁנִית֙ יָד֔וֹ לִקְנ֖וֹת אֶת־שְׁאָ֣ר עַמּ֑וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִשָּׁאֵר֩ מֵאַשּׁ֨וּר וּמִמִּצְרַ֜יִם וּמִפַּתְר֣וֹס וּמִכּ֗וּשׁ וּמֵעֵילָ֤ם וּמִשִּׁנְעָר֙ וּמֵ֣חֲמָ֔ת וּמֵאִיֵּ֖י הַיָּֽם׃

 

(1) And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, And a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. (2) And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and might, The spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. (3) And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD; And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, Neither decide after the hearing of his ears; (4) But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the land; And he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (5) And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, And faithfulness the girdle of his reins. (6) And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the leopard shall lie down with the kid; And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. (7) And the cow and the bear feed; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (8) And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, And the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk’s den. (9) They shall not hurt nor destroy In all My holy mountain; For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.

Rabbi Or Rose

The rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, and it is often difficult to know which one is being referred to. When the Talmud does speak of Olam Ha-Ba in connection to the afterlife, it often uses it interchangeably with the term Gan Eden (“the Garden of Eden”), referring to a heavenly realm where souls reside after physical death.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

Some authorities maintain that what the sages called Olam Haba (the "Future World" or "World to Come") refers to the spiritual dimension that the soul enters after leaving the body. The majority, however, consider Olam Haba as a completely new stage of earth life which will be ushered in only after the Messianic Age and the Resurrection of the Dead. According to these authorities, all souls pass into an intermediate dimension called Olam HaNeshamot ("World of Souls") after death. It is there that they are judged and then abide until the resurrection and final judgment.

 

Pirkei Avot 4:16

רַבִּי יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר, הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה דּוֹמֶה לִפְרוֹזְדוֹר בִּפְנֵי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.

 

“Rabbi Ya’akov taught: This world is compared to an ante-chamber that leads to Olam Ha–Ba, (the World-to-Come)”

 

Talmud Berachot 17a

A favorite saying of Rav was: (The future world is not like this world.) In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the Divine Presence, as it says, “And they beheld God, and did eat and drink.” (Ex. 24:11 re: the Revelation at Sinai)

 

Maimonides (Laws of Kings, Selections from Chapter 12):

  1. Do not presume that in the Messianic age any facet of the world's nature will change or there will be innovations in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern …

  2. Our Sages taught: "There will be no difference between the current age and the Messianic era except the emancipation from our subjugation to the gentile kingdoms …”

  3. There are some Sages who say Elijah's coming will precede the coming of the Mashiach. All these and similar matters cannot be definitely known … for these matters are undefined in the prophets' words and even the wise men have no established tradition regarding these matters except their own interpretation of the verses. Therefore, there is a controversy among them regarding these matters. Regardless of the debate concerning these questions, neither the order of the occurrence of these events or their precise detail are among the fundamental principles of the faith. A person should not occupy himself…concerning these and similar matters, nor should he consider them as essentials, for study of them will neither bring fear or love of God.

  4. The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Messianic era in order to have dominion over the entire world, to rule over the gentiles, to be exalted by the nations, or to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather, they desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and wisdom without any pressures or disturbances, so that they would merit the world to come…

  5. In that era, there will be neither famine, war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God…as Isaiah 1:9 states: “The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed."

 

RESURRECTION

II Kings 13:21

וַיְהִ֞י הֵ֣ם ׀ קֹבְרִ֣ים אִ֗ישׁ וְהִנֵּה֙ רָא֣וּ אֶֽת־הַגְּד֔וּד וַיַּשְׁלִ֥יכוּ אֶת־הָאִ֖ישׁ בְּקֶ֣בֶר אֱלִישָׁ֑ע וַיֵּ֜לֶךְ וַיִּגַּ֤ע הָאִישׁ֙ בְּעַצְמ֣וֹת אֱלִישָׁ֔ע וַיְחִ֖י וַיָּ֥קָם עַל־רַגְלָֽיו׃

 

And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.

 

Ezekiel 37:11-12

וַיֹּאמֶר֮ אֵלַי֒ בֶּן־אָדָ֕ם הָעֲצָמ֣וֹת הָאֵ֔לֶּה כָּל־בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הֵ֑מָּה הִנֵּ֣ה אֹמְרִ֗ים יָבְשׁ֧וּ עַצְמוֹתֵ֛ינוּ וְאָבְדָ֥ה תִקְוָתֵ֖נוּ נִגְזַ֥רְנוּ לָֽנוּ׃ לָכֵן֩ הִנָּבֵ֨א וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ אֲלֵיהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִה֒ הִנֵּה֩ אֲנִ֨י פֹתֵ֜חַ אֶת־קִבְרֽוֹתֵיכֶ֗ם וְהַעֲלֵיתִ֥י אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִקִּבְרוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם עַמִּ֑י וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֶל־אַדְמַ֥ת יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

 

Then He said unto me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.(12) Therefore prophesy, and say unto them:Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.

 

Isaiah 26:19

יִֽחְי֣וּ מֵתֶ֔יךָ נְבֵלָתִ֖י יְקוּמ֑וּן הָקִ֨יצוּ וְרַנְּנ֜וּ שֹׁכְנֵ֣י עָפָ֗ר כִּ֣י טַ֤ל אוֹרֹת֙ טַלֶּ֔ךָ וָאָ֖רֶץ רְפָאִ֥ים תַּפִּֽיל׃

 

Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise— Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust— For Thy dew is as the dew of light, And the earth shall bring to life the shades.

 

Daniel 12:2

וְרַבִּ֕ים מִיְּשֵׁנֵ֥י אַדְמַת־עָפָ֖ר יָקִ֑יצוּ אֵ֚לֶּה לְחַיֵּ֣י עוֹלָ֔ם וְאֵ֥לֶּה לַחֲרָפ֖וֹת לְדִרְא֥וֹן עוֹלָֽם׃

 

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

 

Sanhedrin 91b

It has been taught: R. Meir said, Whence do we know resurrection from the Torah? From the verse, Then shall Moses and the children of Israel sing this song unto the Lord: not sang but shall sing is written: thus resurrection is taught in the Torah.

 

Maimonides Commentary to the Mishnah:

"Resurrection of the dead is one of the fundamental principles in the Torah … (Introduction to Perek Helek).

 

REINCARNATION

Zohar (1:186b)

As long as a person is unsuccessful in his purpose in this world, the Holy One, blessed be God, uproots him and replants him over and over again.

 

Sefer Bahir

Why do things go well for an evildoer and badly for a righteous man?  Because the righteous man was already (once) in the past an evildoer and he is now being punished.  But does one punish a person for (wrongs committed in) the days of his youth?…I do not speak of the (same) life; I speak of the fact that he was already there in the past.  His companions said to him: How long will you still speak obscure words?

 

Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841)

My Master and teacher Jacob Isaac of Lublin, of blessed memory, once asked me, "Why is there no mention of fish in the Torah as it relates to the story of angels and their meal?  Yet the rabbis generally speak of meat and fish when referring to a meal.  I replied that the main purpose of eating meals is in order to elevate the holy sparks in the food and put right the souls of those who have been reincarnated. According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the majority of tzaddikim come back to earth as fish.  this applies only to tzaddikim of lesser rank; the great tzaddikim need not come back.

Yiddish Folktales (edited by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, translated by Leonard Wolf)

My grandfather bought the forest in Paluzh and ordered the peasants to cut down some trees. One day a group of children went to the forest to gather mushrooms. When they finished they ran off, having forgotten about one little girl so that they left her behind.

The girl sat down to rest on the stump of a tree and at that moment she began to cough, because a gilgul had entered into her.

At last she got home, and her family noticed that she coughed with the sound of a dog barking. When she was silent, the gilgul spoke; and when the gilgul spoke, she developed a goiter. The gilgul used to call the girl’s mother "Mother," and they had to give him whatever he wanted. One day when he wanted milk, he said, "Mother, unless you give me milk, I’ll strangle your daughter. So bring me milk." Another time when the girl’s mother was baking challah , the braided Sabbath bread, he said, "Mother, make challah for me, too. I want to eat some. "

One of my uncles told him one day, "You’ve got an awfully big mouth. You want everything." This made the gilgul cry. Whenever they ordered him to leave the girl, he would say, "If you want me to leave, you’ll have to bring ten rabbis. But if you bring the Rabbi of Oshmen, one will be enough."

My grandfather disguised himself and said, "I’m the Oshmen Rabbi, and I order you to leave this girl."

The gilgul replied, "Some rabbi you are! You’re the one who bought the forest and sent a couple of huge peasants with axes into it to chop down trees. And they cut down the one I lived in so that I had to enter the girl."

The gilgul told them that he had once transmigrated into a dog, a very quiet yellow dog that my father himself had seen. Then Gentile boys killed the dog, so the gilgul entered into a horse, but the horse died, so he entered into a tree. Then Shmuel-Yoysef of Paluzh bought the forest and had the tree cut down, after which the gilgul entered into the girl.

He tormented the girl so severely that finally they went to the Rabbi of Oshmen. And the rabbi quarreled with the gilgul, because the gilgul wanted to leave by the girl’s throat and the rabbi wanted him to leave through one of her little fingers. At last he did leave, and a great shot was heard.

The story is told that before he went, he asked that candles be distributed for the sake of his soul. After that, the rabbi advised the family to sell the house and leave the town.

They followed the rabbi’s advice and emigrated to America.

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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