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Life After Death

Life After Death

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Man has had an abiding faith in a world beyond the grave. The conviction in a life after death, unprovable but unshakeable, has been cherished since the beginning of thinking man’s life on earth. It makes its appearance in religious literature not as fiat, commanded irrevocably by an absolute G‑d, but rather arises plant-like, growing and developing naturally in the soul. It then sprouts forth through sublime prayer and sacred hymn. Only later does it become extrapolated in complicated metaphysical speculation.

The afterlife has not been “thought up”; it is not a rational construction of a religious philosophy imposed on believing man. It has sprung from within the hearts of masses of men, a sort of consensus gentium, inside out, a hope beyond and above the rational, a longing for the warm sun of eternity. The afterlife is not a theory to be proven logically or demonstrated by rational analysis. It is axiomatic. It is to the soul what oxygen is to the lungs. There is little meaning to life, to G‑d, to man’s constant strivings, to all of his achievements, unless there is a world beyond the grave.

The Bible, so vitally concerned with the actions of man in this world, and agonizing over his day-to-day morals, is relatively silent about the world to come. But precisely this very silence is a tribute to the awesome concept, taken for granted like the oxygen in the atmosphere. No elaborate apologia, no complex abstractions are necessary. The Bible, which records the sacred dialogue between G‑d and man, surely must be founded on the soul’s eternal existence. It was not a matter of debate, as it became later in history when whole movements interpreted scripture with slavish literalism and could not find the afterlife crystallized in letters and words, or later, when philosophers began to apply the yardstick of rationalism to man’s every hope and idea, and sought empirical proof for this conviction of the soul. It was a fundamental creed, always present, though rarely articulated.

If the soul is immortal, then death cannot be considered a final act. If the life of the soul is to be continued, then death, however bitter, is deprived of its treacherous power of casting mourners into a lifetime of agonizing hopelessness over an irretrievable loss. Terrible though it is, death is a threshold to a new world—the “world to come.”

A Parable

An imaginative and telling analogy that conveys the hope and confidence in the afterlife, even though this hope must be refracted through the prism of death, is the tale of twins awaiting birth in the mother’s womb. It was created by a contemporary Israeli rabbi, the late Y. M. Tuckachinsky.

Imagine twins growing peacefully in the warmth of the womb. Their mouths are closed, and they are being fed via the navel. Their lives are serene. The whole world, to these brothers, is the interior of the womb. Who could conceive anything larger, better, more comfortable? They begin to wonder: “We are getting lower and lower. Surely, if it continues, we will exit one day. What will happen after we exit?”

Now the first infant is a believer. He is heir to a religious tradition which tells him that there will be a “new life” after this wet and warm existence of the womb. A strange belief, seemingly without foundation, but one to which he holds fast. The second infant is a thoroughgoing skeptic. Mere stories do not deceive him. He believes only in that which can be demonstrated. He is enlightened, and tolerates no idle conjecture. What is not within one’s experience can have no basis in one’s imagination.

Says the faithful brother: “After our ‘death’ here, there will be a new and great world. We will eat through the mouth! We will see great distances, and we will hear through the ears on the sides of our heads. Why, our feet will be straightened! And our heads will be up and free, rather than down and boxed in!”

Replies the skeptic: “Nonsense. You’re straining your imagination again. There is no foundation for this belief. It is only your survival instinct, an elaborate defense mechanism, a historically conditioned subterfuge. You are looking for something to calm your fear of ‘death.’ There is only this world. There is no world to come!”

“Well, then,” asks the first, “what do you say it will be like?”

The second brother snappily replies with all the assurance of the slightly knowledgeable: “We will go with a bang. Our world will collapse and we will sink into oblivion. No more. Nothing. Black void. An end to consciousness. Forgotten. This may not be a comforting thought, but it is a logical one.”

Suddenly, the water inside the womb bursts. The womb convulses. Upheaval. Turmoil. Writhing. Everything lets loose. Then a mysterious pounding—a crushing, staccato pounding. Faster, faster, lower, lower.

The believing brother exits. Tearing himself from the womb, he falls outward. The second brother shrieks, startled by the “accident” befallen his brother. He bewails and bemoans the tragedy—the death of a perfectly fine fellow. Why? Why? Why didn’t he take better care? Why did he fall into that terrible abyss?

As he thus laments, he hears a head-splitting cry, and a great tumult from the black abyss, and he trembles: “Oh my! What a horrible end! As I predicted!”

Meanwhile as the skeptic brother mourns, his “dead” brother has been born into the “new” world. The head-splitting cry is a sign of health and vigor, and the tumult is really a chorus of mazel tovs sounded by the waiting family thanking G‑d for the birth of a healthy son.

Indeed, in the words of a contemporary thinker, man comes from the darkness of the “not yet,” and proceeds to the darkness of the “no more.” While it is difficult to imagine the “not yet,” it is more difficult to picture the “no more.”

As we separate and “die” from the womb, only to be born to life, so we separate and die from our world, only to be reborn to life eternal. The exit from the womb is the birth of the body. The exit from the body is the birth of the soul. As the womb requires a gestation period of nine months, the world requires a residence of 70 or 80 years. As the womb is a prozdor, an anteroom preparatory to life, so our present existence is a prozdor to the world beyond.

The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. To purchase the book click here.
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Lisa Tibbitts White Bear Lake January 15, 2015

In Genesis the tree of life is in the garden on earth. Adam and Eve were to live forever on earth. In psalm 37:11 it says the meek shall inherit the land. Is it a stretch to think that the religion in the scriptures was not teaching about an immortal soul but a time when the cherubs guarding the tree will be dismissed. And those lying in the ground will wake up? Reply

Anonymous Ocala,Florida February 24, 2014

Beautiful Reply

Anonymous San Diego, CA October 17, 2012

That was awesome. Beautiful! Applaud! This is a piece of art. The idea itself as it presents the topic and the way it is written.... Never death looked so wholesome! :) Reply

ruth housman Marshfield hills October 17, 2012

I read this before and it was beautiful. It's interesting I come to this now, because I yesterday commented on a comment on Chabad on line that said people who feel there is an afterlife are really pagans, that there is no writing on this in Torah. There certainly is, in Jewish mysticism. The metaphor here is really beautiful and rings true. I wish I had remembered this article to quote this as a reference for this person who wrote in to comment. Reply

Lroche NY October 17, 2012

Life after Death means there is Life before Birth.
OR...
Has man a terrible time to acknowledge the relativity of its existence? To live forever is very boring.
Fact: energy transforms. In this natural reality of Cosmic Consciousness it means there are other dimensions you cannot enter unless you move within the cycle of Birth and Death....unless in between you know how to make use of the mindpower or...ask Scotty Beam you up is precisely Disintegrate and Reintegrate. Nu? Reply

arshad musqat, oman October 11, 2012

very good to know Reply

Anonymous Bal Harbour, Florida via theshul.org August 7, 2012

After losing a son of only 18 I chose to believe in the afterlife. It is comforting my forever wounded soul. Although I am not a blind believer I am convinced to have experienced my son's presence in many difficult times in my life feeling his hands on my shoulder. Like a guardian angel. Therefore there must be life after death and it must be a beautiful peaceful one.
Reply

Carolyn Roanoke, VA October 20, 2010

Now think about this. Wouldn't this be a better name for this parable? I have been having second thoughts about life, God and such. Suddenly I find myself here at this website. Interesting! God does things for us and for a reason! Reply

Anonymous March 30, 2008

this does not exactly answer the question of life after death for Jews. i think it needs to be a bit 'more-to-the-point'

thanx anyways!! Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia December 25, 2007

thank you, this has opened my eyes and mind to relieve my sorrow Reply

Linda NY December 12, 2007

Beautifully stated. Reply

Vovka December 24, 2005

you guys complicate everything :) Reply

David Levy Los Angeles, CA via chabadsc.com December 24, 2005

What a wonderful commentary.
He has shed light on an age-old question.
My congratulations to a beautiful artist of contemporary thought. Reply

Jon Lee Kern Marina del Rey, CA via chabadofmarinadelrey.com December 24, 2005

An interesting concept. I enjoyed it. Thanks, Reply

funny china December 23, 2005

mind you explain a little further on, how that heavenly judgement is to be conducted, according to rabbi b.s.t? your elaboration is appreciated. Reply

Benjamin Friedman Kamloops, Canada December 22, 2005

Remember that not everything is relative. Reality was what it was before G-d gave us the Torah on Mt. Sianai. Then He gave us his commandments. We have to follow his laws as much as we can. But then what happens after life which is the punishment/reward? The Baal Shem Tov taught that when you are put in front of the heavenly court they show you a life. It is up to you to judge what happens to this person. Next, they tell you that you are this person. Since you are now only your soul, you don't recall any of your physical life. Therefore it is you who decides your morality. Therefore you should also judge people positively. Reply

A. Gene Young TX, TX December 21, 2005

To J Dubitsky:

It appears we agree that if there is a God with authority He has to have the power to judge a life after death. Frankly I believe there is a God and that He has the power to judge a life; you can't escape that judgement even with death. We do disagree that the standard of judgement is my 'knowing' what is right and wrong.

People are too inclined to rationalize their behavior to allow that 'knowing' to be a standard. You kind of elude to that when you make the point that belief or acceptance of an afterlife isn't essential. Whatever reality is our perception of it doesn't effect it.

Reality or more to the point what is right and wrong isn't dependent on a my perception. For instance I might have stolen because I was hungry. All that makes me is a hungry thief. Reply

J. Dubitsky Rochester, NY via chabadrochester.com December 20, 2005

To Mr. Young
If G-d who is the creator of souls, life and the universe, than it's obvious he can and does met out justice in the next world. But because with our limited minds, we cannot know what that judgement is like nor what the reward for good is like. It is not within the physical realm. But be assured, the wicked will reap the reward they deserve.
Remember, you don't have to believe in the after life, nor do you have to accept it, all you need do is "know". For when you are asked if what you did is right or wrong, you will be judge on that "knowing". Reply

A. Gene Young Houston, TX December 20, 2005

It's a logical conclusion that there's life after death. As you point out the bible agonizes over man's day-to-day morals. If a very immoral person could get thru life and make it to death he would have escaped any judgement for his life. If God has the authority to describe morality He has to have the power to judge. If you can escape God thru death He doesn't have the power to judge your life and really doesn't have the authority to perscribe morality. Authority without power is meaningless. Reply

Anonymous Houston, TX December 18, 2005

"The exit from the body is the birth of the soul" I dont understand what that means. Isnt the soul born even without the death of the body. The simple proof for that being that we are able to sense things, we see through our eyes. It is the eye which allows us to see but there is the person which is seeing. Reply