What in the World is the World-to-Come?

Question

I have a co-worker who asks me many questions about Judaism. One morning when he came to work he told me his children asked him why they have to go to church. He didn’t know what to tell them. He said an honest answer would have been, “Go to church so you won’t go to Hell.” But he didn’t know if he should be so blunt with his young children.

Then, he suddenly looked at me and asked, “What would you tell your children? Don’t Jews believe in Hell?” I said that I had never been taught the concept in my religious education and had never heard it discussed in the synagogue. I was taught that Judaism emphasizes this world we live in right now. So, Rabbi, does Judaism believe in Hell?

, 2 weeks

Answers

  1. In fact, Judaism does believe in “life after death.” We do not call it “heaven and hell,” but we refer to it as the “World-to-Come.” In Hebrew it is called “Olam Haba.” The World-to-Come is a state of existence and a “world” in which one continues to live on after life in this world, receiving reward for the good done in this world and basking in the delight of being close to God.

    Some people, however, before reaching a final destination in the World-to-Come require a temporary stage called gehenom (sometimes translated as hell, but should in no way be confused with any non-Jewish concept by this name.)

    Rather, 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 lifetime, this can be a painful process in which the soul mourns its bad deeds, lost opportunities and wasted potential or it can be a process of joy in which the soul delights in its closeness to God.

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

    Although it is important to be aware of the Jewish concept of the Afterlife, we nevertheless emphasize life in this world. Here’s a parable to explain:

    A wealthy man goes on a cruise ship. The ship sinks and he finds himself afloat in a tiny rubber raft. This raft is his only hope of arriving safely to his family, his mansion and all his wealth.

    Judaism looks at this world like a raft. By following the survival manual – the Torah – this little raft can bring us safely to the World-to-Come.

    Therefore, Judaism emphasizes this world. Only through good deeds in this world does a person earn reward in the next.

    We educate our children about the World-to-Come, including the idea that no bad action goes without redress. But the emphasis is positive and the aim is to help everyone maximize potential and live the best life possible.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team