- The Afterlife
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- What are the Jewish concepts of life after death?
- Judaism, as well as other philosophies, agrees that death is a
physical occurrence, one which does not effect the metaphysical,
meaning the soul. A soul is not physical, and being such, is not
effected by physical death.
- If one leads a life in search of truth, meaning the ideals of the
Torah, then the soul will achieve a state of continued involvement in
the world of ideas which is eternal. Conversely, one who leads a life
purely of the physical, will not - according to Maimonides - have any
existence once deceased.
- The Rabbis said, "in the afterlife, the righteous sit with
their crowns on their heads, enjoying G-d's splendor". This is a
metaphor meaning that the righteous will be merited by their learning
(crowns on their head), which brought them to the point of having such
appreciation for knowledge, that they will continue in this enjoyment
(enjoying G-d's splendor).
- This is the ultimate reward: The continued state of the
perception of ideas.
- Knowledge is the most enjoyable pursuit, once one escapes the
fantasies of mortal life. If one delves into study, he will eventually
see this is so, and will enjoy the pursuit of wisdom for its own sake,
and not with the ulterior motive of securing the afterlife.
- Seeking the afterlife, as a separate goal from seeking this life
searching for wisdom, is a contradiction. For the afterlife is only
gained by those who are not searching for it. It is gained by one who
strives to live this life the best way possible using his intellect to
guide him, but more essentially, by thirsting for knowledge which G-d
has put man here to discover.. Once one sees that this life is lived
best by following hone's intellect, and once he sees that ideas are
enjoyable for their own sake with no other motive, he will understand
that seeking the afterlife for its own sake is really impossible.
- Allow me to illustrate this point: Say that on a certain world,
hiking is the most beneficial activity. But one desires to be the best
swimmer. To do so, he practices hiking his entire life, as he feels he
will be rewarded with great swimming abilities for his efforts spent
practicing hiking. It is obvious that this person will not become a
great swimmer. Yet he feels he will achieve this through another means
completely alien to the act of swimming.
- His first mistake is that he spends his entire life doing that which
he admits is not his preferred activity. He misses the point that
hiking is the most perfected of activities, because he values some
other imagined good to be better.
- So is the case with our world. The pursuit of knowledge for its own
sake is the most valuable of activities. It benefits man in the
greatest way. As he partakes of what is true, he learns G-d's wisdom
and delights in its refreshing discovery daily. If one feels that the
afterlife will be even better, not knowing what it is, he sacrifices
learning for it's own good, and views it as a mere means to an
imagined end. Had the person realized the good which pursuing
knowledge offers, he would be content to study for the beauty derived
alone, without an ulterior motive. This involvement in learning for
its own sake would offer this person a lifetime of happiness. And as
he became more interested in the world of ideas through learning, he
would cleave more and more to it, abandoning all other pursuits. Since
the afterlife is an existence of the metaphysical, this person will
naturally be in a state of bliss. If on the other hand, one only
learns as he assumes a different reward to follow, he will be sorely
disappointed at the end of days. As he imagined the afterlife to be
that which it is not.
- For one to enjoy the next world, he must enjoy this world.
Concentrating on learning as a means will not yield an appreciation of
wisdom. Only a life lived out of a pure desire for truth will yield a
soul who can enjoy the afterlife.
- If one does not enjoy the pursuit of wisdom, but only does so in
order to achieve the afterlife, he will not achieve it. The afterlife
is by definition an involvement in wisdom to a much higher degree, as
our bodies won't exist as a vale between us and pure wisdom as occurs
in physical existence (Maimonides). One who seeks the afterlife and
believes it to be something other than an existence of perceiving
wisdom, has an incorrect view of the afterlife. He is seeking that
which does not exist. He belittles the life of Torah, as he views
Torah as only a means for some other imagined reward. If his learning
was not for the right reason, he cannot achieve the afterlife which is
purely that existence of the experience of wisdom to the highest