What Exists in the After-Life?

Question

Dear Rabbi, I am Jewish, but I would say that I have a very small comprehension of Jewish beliefs in the after-life, ie. Heaven, etc. What exactly exists in the after-life according to Judaism? Thanks, Molly

16 years

Answers

  1. Judaism believes in life after death. We call it the World to Come – Olam Haba. Gehinom – a purification process – is part of the World to Come. When a person dies, his soul gets a chance to “think objectively” about his lifetime spent on earth. Depending on how the person spent his life, this can be a painful process in which the soul mourns its bad deeds, lost opportunities and wasted potential.

    Ultimately, the gehinom process is temporary, and eventually enables the person to enjoy the benefits of all the good things he did during his lifetime.

    Literally, the phrase “Olam Haba” means the “World to Come.” Western Society understands the “after-life” as two different places: “Heaven” and “Hell.” Heaven is where people are rewarded after life, and Hell is where they are punished. However, Judaism does not accept this idea of two different places. Rather, there is one Olam Haba. Its nature, however, depends on one’s manner of conduct in this world.

    A powerful, yet cryptic description of Olam Haba is found in the writings of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin:

    “The actions themselves of the person constitute the reward in Olam Haba. After the soul departs from the body it rises to take pleasure and satisfaction with the light, energy, and worlds of Kedusha (Holiness) that have been added and multiplied by his good actions. This is what the Sages meant when they said that “All of Israel have a portion “to” the World-to-Come [We translate it as “in” the World-to-Come, but the literal translation is “to” the World-to-Come] and not “in” the World-to-Come. “In” implies that Olam Haba is ready and waiting from the time of Creation, as if it where something with a separate existence, and if man warrants he will receive a portion of it for his reward [like a piece of candy waiting in God’s pocket to be given to whoever deserves it]. In truth, Olam Haba is [made up of] the actions of the person, which he expanded and added and perfected into a place for himself [to dwell]….and so it is with the punishment of Gehenom, the sin itself is his punishment [it becomes the “space” that he will occupy during the time of his “reward”].

    As you can see, this is a very complex subject; too complex to deal with in such a short column. I advise you to study the following source texts for a better understanding of this fundamental topic.

    Sources:

    • Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan – The Handbook of Jewish Thought, Moznaim Publishing Corporation, edited by Abraham Sutton, 23:11-19.
    • Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin – Nefesh HaChaim 1:12.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team