Friday, April 18, 2014

What Happens to Jews' Souls When We Die?

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Typically, Jews are not to concerned about what happens when we die.  We are more concerned about our actions while alive, for we trust that G-d will do right by us.  What happens will happen, but it's best to be on the safe side and live as good a life as we humanly can.  We're very realistic and know that "for dust you are and to dust shall you return" because this is what it says in Genesis 3:19, but "the spirit returns to G-d who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7.  We realize that "the end of man is death," Rabbi Johanan (Berakhot 17a).  We shall all die.  Being a very scientific minded-people, we haven't had enough proof that there is a certain thing that happens to us, so we don't dwell on it.  We have to accept the fact that it will happen.  BUT.....
King Solomon said, "A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death than the day of one's birth."  (Ecclesiastes 7:1, Berakhot 17a).  So don't sully your name by doing bad things, for it goes down in the great book.  Our good deeds and our bad are recorded, we say, every Yom Kippur, when we ask G-d for forgiveness for our sins.  A picture in my mind is that of a scale and of our sins being weighed.  We don't want to tip the scales towards sins, so have to work pretty hard to perform a lot of mitzvot "good deeds" so that scale doesn't tip the wrong way.

Our present world we were born into is viewed as a hallway that leads to still another world.  The belief in an afterlife, in a world to come called Olam Haba, is where man is judged and where his soul continues to live on is something embedded in Jewish thought.  "All Israel have a share in the world to come" is in the Mishna, Sanhedrin 11:1. Olam Haba refers to the eternal world of the spirit to which the human soul passes after death.  It also is used as the time following the advent of the Messiah, when all the world will be perfected.

 A certain type of existence still continues in Sheol.  Sheol, according to the biblical conception, is where the dead live (Gen. 37:35; and Is. 38:10.  It's a place far below the earth where we the dead cannot give thanks to God anymore.  Usually it's thought of as a place for the wicked (Ezekiel. 32:15.  The name in the Bible is synonymous with shahat and avaddon.  In some places we read that the dead were considered to possess certain psychic powers.

At the end of days, people won't die anymore and all who are dead will rise.  This idea of Resurrection became a fundamental doctrine in Pharisaic Judaism.  The classical liturgy emphasized that faith in G-d is important as G-d is the reviver of the dead.  People die in this world because of sin either from Adam's sin or else personal sin.  There are even many rabbinic legends that talk of a belief that the dead carry on some connection with the living and even take an interest in their affairs.

People  praying for the intercession of the dead seemed to start very early in our belief. "An example is: "Oh papa, please help me!"   When a Jew is dying, he recites the Shema which is, Shema Israel Adonoi Eloheinu Adonoi Echad.  Here Oh Israel--the lord our G-d---the lord is ONE.  In other words, people, there is only one G-d.

If we have become very important in this life and are very worthy, we are a greater loss to the living.  More people grieve for us and their anguish is very sharp.  We have all seen the faces of the parents who have lost their children on the ferry in South Korea.  Every child was important to those parents and they are suffering a great loss.  In our Jewish tradition, we address ourselves to the dignity of the deceased and to comforting the relatives and friends of the deceased who are mourning the loss of that cherished person.

Life is most important to us.  When we make a toast, we say, L'Chaim "to life!"  We don't relish dying at all.  It's not something glorious to do. If we get a bad doctor's report we will go to 3 doctors afterwards to get the help we need if necessary.   We're very sad when someone dies, and so the tradition is to sit shiva for our father, mother, wife, husband, siblings and children.  This is a 7 day period of mourning that follows the burial.  We do bury our deceased, not cremate.  Then there is a 30 day period called shloshim when we should not listen to music or get married or do any shaving or cutting one's hair.  This ends the mourning period except if the deceased was your mother or father.  Mourning for them lasts for 12 months and is called avelut. During this time you don't participate in any joyous events, such as dinner with music,  theater or  concerts.  A special prayer for your parent is said daily called Kaddish by the sons for 11 months of the year.  After that, 12 month period,  you live a normal life again and are not to mourn anymore.

If you read the Bible, you will see many passages showing that our early ancestors looked upon death as rejoining one's fathers.  People received blessings to die a good old age.  Moses himself lived till age 120 and he was a righteous person.

Reference:  To Be a Jew; a guide to Jewish observance in Contemporary Life by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin
The New Standard Jewish Enchclopedia ---on death.
Update: Rabbi Friedman on the soul after life.  from www.Sinai 

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