Monday, February 11, 2008
Rabino Kalman Packouz
GOOD MORNING! May your week be filled with blessings and great happiness!
Q & A: DOES JUDAISM BELIEVE IN AN AFTERLIFE?
Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam, set forth 13 Essential Beliefs of Judaism. The Tenth and Eleventh Principles state that God is aware of our actions and that He rewards and punishes us according to our actions. Since we do not see evil always being punished or goodness always being rewarded, it is logical - that if there is a good and just God - that there is a World of Souls, an afterlife which is the great equalizer. There, evil which has not been punished in this world is punished and good deeds which have not been rewarded are rewarded.
There are allusions to an afterlife in the Torah, though it is not explicitly stated or described (the Talmud, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10 called Chelek, does discuss the afterlife). When the patriarch Jacob died, the Torah relates, "... he died and was gathered to his people" (Genesis 49:33). The Torah then informs us of the 40 day embalming period and the 70 days Egypt mourned Jacob before Joseph received permission to bury his father in the Ma'arat HaMachpela, the burial cave in Hebron. What does the Torah then mean that "he was gathered to his people"? It is a reference that his soul was gathered to the afterlife.
Later in the book of Numbers we have the story of Bilaam, the evil non-Jewish prophet, who hires himself out to the King Balak to curse the Jews. Instead of cursing the Jews, his prophecy blesses the Jews. He proclaims, "Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his (the righteous Jews)" (Numbers 23:10). Do the righteous die any better than the wicked? Bilaam was saying, "Let me live my life on my terms and according to my desires, but when it comes to the afterlife, let my soul be rewarded as the righteous are rewarded.
I think that these two allusions are valid, but not emotionally compelling. If the afterlife is such an essential part of Jewish belief, why does the Torah only reference it obliquely? The Torah could have described the next world in detail, yet it refrained from painting a picture. Why?
There are two reasons: (1) The Torah is a guidebook for THIS life. It sets forth instructions on how to live a meaningful, holy life and how to improve yourself and the world. The Almighty wants us to focus on our obligations in this life; the afterlife will take care of itself. (2) Even if the Torah described in detail an afterlife - how would one verify its existence? No one has ever returned from the next world to confirm or deny that vision.
Other religions paint a picture of the afterlife one will receive. The Talmud teaches, "He who wishes to lie says his witnesses are far away." For example, "I paid back the money I owed you, but my witnesses happen to be visiting Europe" - or "Have faith in our religion and you will get Heaven." There is no way of validating the claim.
While Judaism believes in an Afterlife, a World to Come, the Torah makes no promises that are "far away." The Torah tells you about rewards and punishments in THIS world - in response to your actions. You need go no further than this week's Torah portion which states:
"If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you ... I will make you fruitful and increase you..." (Lev. 26:3-9)
Why is reward and punishment so important for us? As Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg teaches: "A world without reward and punishment is a world of utter indifference, and indifference is the ultimate rejection. One cannot serve indifference. In order for there to be a relationship between God and man, God must react to man's actions. Our awareness of this reaction, reward or punishment, informs us that the Almighty cares, that our actions make a difference. Without reward and punishment life has no meaning - for what man would or would not do would make no difference." (Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Fundamentals and Faith).
Torah Portion of the Week
The Torah continues this week with the command to make for use in the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary - oil for the Menorah and clothes for the Cohanim, the Priests. It then gives instruction for the consecration of the Cohanim and the Outer Altar. The portion concludes with instructions for constructing the Incense Altar.
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based on Growth Through Torah
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"You shall make the Choshen Mishpat ("the Breastplate of Judgment" - one of the eight garments of the High Priest, the Cohen Gadol)." (Exodus 28:15)
Each of the garments had a specific spiritual impact and purpose. What do we learn from the Choshen Mishpat?
Rashi, the essential commentary on the Torah, tells us that the Choshen Mishpat "substantiates its statements and its promises come true." When a question was asked to the High Priest, the letters of the breastplate would light up in a sequence spelling out the answer.
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that Rash's intention here is to allude to the following: One person makes a claim to another, "You have promised me such and such. Please keep your promise." The second person replies, 'Yes, I did say that, but my intention was different from what you thought." This indicates a lack of honesty on the part of the person who made the promise. When you make someone a promise, you should make it clear exactly what you are and are not promising. If you do not clarify and qualify when you make your promise, it is not truth.
It sounds more generous when you make a general promise to someone such as, "Don't worry. I'll help you whenever you need my help." You most likely did not mean that you would do anything and everything for this person. However, it sounded wonderful when you said it. Of course, you do want to assist him; however, your intention was to help in a limited manner.
This shows a lack of integrity. By making false promises to someone, you cause him to rely on you when he really shouldn't. Instead of helping the person you can cause him problems in the future. When you make a promise to someone, immediately clarify exactly what you are promising. It is only fair to the other person to do so. On your part, each time you make these clarifications you are becoming a more honest person. You are building up the habit of speaking truthfully.
Being specific in promises is especially important in raising children; it teaches them whether or not they can trust their parents!
CANDLE LIGHTING - February 15
Guatemala 5:48 - Hong Kong 6:02 - Honolulu 6:11
J'Burg 6:33 – KOAH Porto 4:57 - Los Angeles 5:18
Melbourne 8:01 - Mexico City 6:18 - Miami 5:57
New York 5:12 - Singapore 7:03 - Toronto 5:29
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
The wise man, even when he holds his tongue,
says more than the fool when he speaks.
-- Yiddish proverb
Dedicated in Honor of
Rebbitzen Deena Weinberg
and the EYAHT Faculty
-- Sholom and Leah Mark