Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lech lecha parasha


Rabino Kalman Packouz

People often ask me, "Does Judaism believe in an afterlife?" I grew up with a secular background and it wasn't until I was 22 years old that I met a Jew who believed in a World to Come. Then I found out that for the past 3,300 years that the Jewish people lived with the knowledge that the afterlife is a fundamental Torah belief. There is even a chapter in the tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli discussing it.

When we talk of an afterlife, we are talking about our soul. How do we know we have a soul? What is the nature of the World to Come? Below is a slightly edited article from my colleague, Rabbi M. Younger dealing with these issues.

"The creation of man testifies to the eternal life of the soul. The Torah says, 'And the Almighty formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the SOUL of life' (Genesis 2:7). On this verse, the Zohar states that 'one who blows, blows from within himself,' indicating that the soul is actually part of God's essence. Since God's essence is completely spiritual and non-physical, it is impossible that the soul should die.

"That's what King Solomon meant when he wrote, 'The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it' (Ecclesiastes 12:17).

"From Judaism's perspective, our eternal soul is as real as the fact that you have five fingers on your hand. This is the world of doing, and the 'World to Come' is where we experience the eternal reality of whatever we've become.
"So, what exactly is the afterlife?

"When a person dies and goes to heaven, there is a judgment for the soul - for reward and punishment. For every commandment one fulfilled and every transgression that one refrained, there is a spiritual reward of feeling a closeness to the Almighty. For the transgressions, one's soul is sentenced to Gehenom; one can picture Gehenom as a "spiritual laundry" for the soul. For up to 12 months the soul goes through a purification process. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler likened the experience to having a movie of one's "greatest" transgressions - and then having all of a person's loved ones ... parents, grandparents, spouse, children ... watching it with you. Imagine the embarrassment. Embarrassment can be a worse punishment than devils with pitchforks!
"The soul is shown two 'videotapes'. The first 'video' is called 'This is Your Life!' Every decision and every thought, all the good deeds, and the embarrassing things a person did in private is all replayed without any embellishments. It's fully bared for all to see. That's why the next world is called Olam HaEmet - 'the World of Truth,' because there we clearly recognize our personal strengths and shortcomings, and the true purpose of life.

"The second 'video' could be called 'This Could Have Been Your Life!' - if the right choices had been made, if the opportunities were seized, if the potential was actualized. This 'video' - the pain of squandered potential - is much more difficult to bear. At the same time, it purifies the soul as well. The pain of regret removes the barriers and enables the soul to completely connect to God.
"Heaven is where the soul experiences the greatest possible pleasure - the feeling of closeness to God. Of course, not all souls experience that to the same degree. It's like going to a symphony or concert. Some tickets are front-row center; others are back in the 'nose-bleed' section. Where your seat is located is based on the merit of your good deeds - e.g. giving charity, caring for others, prayer - how you fulfilled all of the 613 of the Almighty's commandments (mitzvot) for a Jew or the 7 Bnei-Noah Commandments for a non-Jew."

(Next week I'll share my quest to find evidence of an afterlife and why I think it's vital to understanding life.)

postagem: Andre-Moshe Pereira