Heaven: Where is it?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: Geographically, where is heaven? Is it up, is it down? Is it east, is it west? Where is heaven? In the skies?
Rabbi: Asking ‘Where is heaven?” is like asking “Where is happiness?” The afterlife—heaven—is not physical; it has no location. Heaven is the state of the soul unrelated to earthly life. Just as God exists without place, our souls continue on after life, unrelated to anything physical, including location.
The universe is not eternal; it was created, as everything requires creation. Nothing can create itself. Thus, God existed—and exists—unrelated to the universe, without physicality…He exists without place. That is key: prior to God’s creation of the physical world, “place” did not exist. Initially, it’s a hard concept to grasp, but it is possible to see. We all imagine everything as being “somewhere,” occupying some space. However, when we learn the idea of “number” or quantity for example, nothing new enters us. The “idea” is not physical, and takes up no space. To prove that “number” is not physical, think of 2 cars, and 2 buildings. They look nothing alike, yet we say in both that their quantity of 2 is identical. The identity of “2” is an idea, not something seen. It is not physical (Rabbi Roth).
Sounds funny, but we need not grow our bodies larger to allow for the increase of our knowledge. New ideas don’t take up space, they have no shape, no weight, no size. Ideas are not physical, but they are very real. This is the world of metaphysics, of ideas and non-physical laws God created to govern the universe and man.
Heaven is the state after death, when our souls attain a higher level of existence, of happiness and reward. It is not a physical existence, but far greater, and heaven has no place. God designed our souls to find great satisfaction in heaven in its awareness of God and His wisdom.
Many will initially find this idea of heaven disappointing. Many think of heaven in physical terms, as an experience where all foods, sexual desires, riches and friendships see no tiredness, or end. But this is fantasy.
Maimonides writes in Laws of Repentance 8:2:
The World to Come harbors neither body nor anything of a concrete form, save only the souls of the righteous divested of body as are the ministering angels. Inasmuch as it harbors no concrete forms there is no need there for eating, drinking, or other of the bodily necessities of the sons of man in this world; neither will any of the many things which happen to bodies in this world come to pass there, as, for instance, sitting down, standing up, sleep, death, sadness, mirth or the like. Thus did the ancient sages say, “In the World to Come there is no eating, no drinking, and no family life, save that the righteous are sitting, graced with garlands upon their heads, and indulge in feasting upon the luminousness of the Shekinah” (Brachos 17a). Herefrom, it is clear to you that no body exists there, seeing that there is neither eating nor drinking. That expression of “sitting” herein employed, is figurative, as if saying that they are there without effort or fatigue, and the phrase they employed, saying, “graced with garlands upon their heads,” means that they have conscious knowledge of the reason why they have merited to be in the World to Come, and this is their crown of garlands, as, for example, Solomon said, “The crown wherewith his mother hath crowned him” (Songs 3:11). Moreover, it was said, “And everlasting shall joy be upon their heads” (Is. 35:10); now joy is not a body to rest upon one’s head, even so the crown spoken of by the sages refers to knowledge. But what is the meaning of the phrase “and indulge in feasting upon the luminousness of the Shechinah”? It is that by which they know and attain part of the Truth of the Holy One, blessed is He! Something they do not know while in the dark, low body.
Avoda Zara 65a:
The reward of the Jewish people will be such that “no eye has seen it, God, aside from You, Who will do for those who await Him” (Isaiah 64:3)
The World-to-Come, “No eye has seen it, God, aside from You, Who will do for those who await Him.”
The afterlife is not known to man. But as our souls are not physical—explaining why they can perceive ideas—our souls after life exist in a non-physical state of bliss, but without location. Heaven is not a place, but a state of the soul.