Every religion has a narrative about what happens to us after we die. Everyone questions their own mortality and speculates about what comes next. The truth is, we don’t know. We can only speculate. But, because alone we get to ponder what happens to us after we die, we can create the narrative that we believe.
Judaism teaches that one should not be concerned with what happens in the hereafter. Instead, we should focus on the here and now. The afterlife, if there was one, would take care of itself. However, Judaism has a rich belief in the hereafter. In fact, there’s a whole belief system surrounding the Olam Ha Bah, or World to Come, which will be explored in subsequent blog posts. This post specifically will explore what happens to us physically and spiritually, after we die.
Jews believe that the body dies, not the spirit or soul
According to Jewish belief, what dies when we die, is only our body. Our souls are immortal. Souls are eternal and can’t ever die. Therefore, our eternal nature, soul, continues on. We bury the body, which is the physical shell of what held our soul. And the soul itself, lives on in some form. That form, however is not human – it is soul. It lives on in another form, in another world. It ceases to have an ability to live as a living human body.
The science of Matter
Matter, according to science, cannot be lost nor destroyed. Like an ice cube, when it melts, it doesn’t disappear, it just changes form. It is now a puddle of water. That puddle, may evaporate, but it is still not gone. It reappears in cloud form and when it is humid enough, will rain back down to the ground and will freeze once again. That ice cub was never destroyed – instead, it just changed form.
In fact, there are stories that the soul has an actual quantifiable weight. When one weighs the body after death, it is said to have lost 21 grams of weight. The soul supposedly as an actual weight to it! Science has disputed this claim for the past century. But there has not been any proof either way. Don’t believe me? Check it out on snopes here! https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/weight-of-the-soul/
A Story From the Midrash
There is a story in Midrash Leviticus Rabbah. It explains the connection between the body and soul. They cannot exist without one another. Locked in a symbiotic relationship, the soul needs a body and the body needs the soul. “The Thief in the Orchard.” A blind man and a lame man were guarding an orchard. The owner instructed them not to eat any fruit. But the lame man described to the blind man the description of the luscious figs that grew on the trees. The blind man convinced the lame man to climb on his back and together they were able to steal and eat the figs. When the owner of the orchard returned and saw his figs were missing, he accused them of stealing the figs. The protested, claiming that they couldn’t have done the deed. The blind man was blind and the lame man couldn’t walk. But the owner was clever. He understood that they needed one another to accomplish their task. The soul and the body need one another as well.
Gathered To Our Kin
The Torah states that Abraham “breathed his last, dying at a ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin.” (Genesis 25:8). This is also restated about Isaac (Genesis 35:29), Jacob (Genesis 45:29) Aaron (Numbers 20:24) and Joshua (Judges 2:10). In the Ancient Near East, the bones of the families were buried in the same cave or in an ossuary. This concept seems to speak in terms of being gathered physically to one’s family.
But maybe there’s a metaphorical way to view this. Take for instance the concept of birth. When one is born, he or she is in one state (the womb). Then, one travels down a tunnel toward a light and is united with ones family to begin life. Life is circular. Thus, the end of life would be a similar process of being in one state (alive) and then at the next moment, not alive. Maybe we travel down a tunnel, toward a light. When someone goes into the light, he or she is reunited with those who have departed this earth before them.
A hypothesis to consider:
Consider this concept: If the soul doesn’t die, then when we die, if we are “gathered to our kin.” That means, we will be reunited with our loved ones again.
Some claim the concept of “being gathered to our kin” is a physical gathering. Our bodies will be buried with our families, as was Abraham at the cave of Machpelah. And that may be true as well. Our bodies may be physically buried next to our loved ones. But I want to posit that maybe we “gather to our kin” on a soul level as well.
You don’t have to believe this – I just ask you to keep an open mind and consider the concept. Drop me a note if you have any further questions about this and I will be happy to expand upon it in later blog posts!