Whether we realize it or not, we wonder…
Do I die?
Do I live?
No one wishes to die, as our sages teach, “Every living thing (even animal, plant, ameba) wishes to exist.”
It is very beneficial to understand Judaism’s (as taught mainly in Jewish mysticism) perspective of life.
We are but the final world, above which are four.
Our world is called Asiyah (literally translated as “action;” for the most important element of life is positive good-deeds.)
Corresponding to our world there is the spiritual world of Asiyah.
Above that, the world of Yetzirah. (As you move up, these worlds are more spiritual, more esoteric, more Divine.) In this world, is the lower Gan Eden (where good souls go.)
Then there is the world of Beriah (this is the highest heaven – by way of example, it states that the great and noble Rabbi Akivah was from the few souls who skipped the lower heaven. For heaven has continuous ascents – each inspiration, revelation, effectively inspiring mystical insight, is a reward – upon finishing one, one goes a little higher.)
Of-course as we know, on a Yor Tzeit (which is why it is so important to say Kaddish, for a dearly departed) the soul goes to a much much higher level.
Generally speaking, as Judaism is uniquely concerned about how we behave on earth, the wisdom of what happens in heaven, is mainly found in Jewish mysticism.
From the many writings (a little like finding the gems in the haystack) are the following insights:
The Baal Shem Tov taught, “What is hell? When we get to heaven they show us everything, we could have accomplished – now that is hell.”
From The Alter Rebbe, who wrote the Bible of Jewish mysticism, the Tanya: (this is the concept, not the literal translation) Heaven is “spiritual-place,” hence to appreciate spirituality, you need to be, well, spiritual.
Many of us on earth – though born, as we see in children, idealistic, become a little narcissistic.
As we move through life we often get attached to the material.
The following is a true, but fascinating miracle which occurs not so infrequently (and I personally have heard it firsthand from one of the Chevra Kaddisha – Holy Burial Society.)
If a person was humble (never got too physically attached) their body will not decompose (as I personally heard from a member of the Burial Society in Johannesburg, that as they were interring a couple (buried for twenty years – they were moving the bodies to Israel – one spouse was perfectly intact, and there are countless eyewitness accounts.)
One of the first stages of physical disassociation, is the disintegration of the body – as our sages teach, “A worm to the skin while one is alive, is as painful as when one is dead.”
I recently visited a community member whose father passed on and explained to him that, “Who exactly are we? We are obviously our consciousness.” Now as science has discovered (as you can watch on the quantum physics documentary, “What The Bleep Do We Know”) no one can pinpoint this consciousness – our brain is a function of the consciousness; But when we say, “I think therefore I am,” the flipside is, that there is an “am” (a preexisting consciousness – the soul) that thinks.
This soul began in the highest heaven (the world of Atzilus, meaning close perception of Divinity) and descended and picked up its unique persona, and infused the embryo.
When we pass on, it is this consciousness, that obviously became ourselves (of-course a person is their perception of themselves, their identity, which is formed in early childhood and progresses throughout life-shaping experiences) it is this “us,” that never dies.
However to accustom it to the higher realm, it first, as our sages say, must “forget the taste of this world” – hardly would man wishing to eat steak, be able to have a spiritual feast.
Our sages teach, “the soul hovers over the grave for thirty days,” until it comes to terms that this body is no longer its identity.
I do not know all the stages, timeline etc. but there certainly is a judgment.
A couple of things on this:
First and foremost, the purpose of this judgment is not to punish but to cleanse – as we know no soul is so evil as to need more than 11 months in purgatory (the time period we say the Kaddish, for every Kaddish spares 1,1/2 hours of Gehinom, purgatory. A punishment our sages say, that the fire is 60 times hotter than the sun (though this is not physical, but certainly on the pain factor…))
Now the reason we need to be cleansed is because the soul G-d created and put into our body was pure, untainted, as an innocent newborn.
But as we desire – that’s the key word, DESIRE… – we attach our soul to various filth.
This is like a child who plays, day-in day-out, in the mud – eventually it becomes so much part of his skin, that to get rid of it, must take some serious painful scrubbing.
Generally speaking, our sins are of two sorts: those of lusts and those of indolence; hence there are two special hells – the hell of fire in which corresponding to the amount we lust (certainly if we take pleasure God-forbid in another’s shame/pain etc.) is the amount of heat needed to excoriate such evil; and likewise, depending on how lazy, indolent, and simply (as they say in England) “couldn’t be bothered…” is how much corresponding “Dry Ice” we get put into (this of-course creates, that instead of desiring the former pleasure, we now despise it (as it is the cause of our suffering.))
Here’s the good news… there are two things that save us from these truly terrible excoriating hells – the first is repentance – one of the greatest gifts of G-d is the ability that in a single moment, as G-d can see our heart, all of our sins (of lust or indolence, though not sins between man, which we somehow must make up – often through being reincarnated and repaying a debt etc.) – will be erased.
Of-course, as a loving father G-d seeks our welfare, hence the moment we have a true change of heart, as the verse states, that even at the very last moment of life, G-d seeks that one should return, then literally all is forgiven! On a practical level, as many of us do fear – one need not become a Tzaddik/saint – change of-course is an infinite process – it means embarking on a new direction; as long as you willingly submit to fulfil the will of G-d, as G-d has told us, within our three thousand three hundred year Jewish Rabbinical tradition – be it lighting Shabbos candles, keeping kosher, wearing Teffilin, and of-course a forgiving and loving heart – this is immediately accepted.
On the subject of a forgiving loving heart, the Holy Baal Shem Tov teaches, that as the teaching in Pirkei Avos (Ethics Of Our Fathers) states, in point of fact, we judge ourselves! It works like this, We are shown scenes (much like you see in dreams) of people who do certain misdeeds, and are asked for our judgment – feeling self-righteous, we may pass judgment; then we are told that we were the one who did that. Hence developing a heart in which we see compassionately, we see ourselves not as righteous and others as lacking, rather we humbly accept others, is the real ticket!
PS The other great ticket is the amount of goodness and kindness, love and charity, we have contributed.