If youth is wasted on the young, is it possible that life is wasted on the living?
Whether we have a “good” life, or even just a long life, sooner or later, it’s over.
Historically speaking, people are dead for much longer than they’re alive, yet most people don’t like to think about what happens when they die. Or at least talk about it.
Can we talk?
Say what you want about organized religion (no, please don’t), one of the biggest benefits religion provides is the clear assurance of something beyond this world. My hunch is that the more one is connected to G-d, regardless of one’s “organized religiosity,” the more one believes in an afterlife. It can’t be any other way. If you think about it, the world we see makes very little sense; why would G-d create an imperfect world with no chance for redemption beyond it?
But, if you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what G-d wants from you in this life, the middle path is the safest. Be good enough in case there is an afterlife, but no need to kill yourself trying to be good in case there isn’t.
Torah teaches, and Chassidus emphasizes, that G-d created our “lowest” world, a world where He is hidden by darkness and confusion, so that we can reveal Him through doing mitzvos. What gives Jews the inclination to do this is that a part of G-d Himself is deeply embedded within our souls, making us “naturally” predisposed to do what He wants.
And when a person leaves this world, the body and soul part ways and the soul goes before the heavenly court where we are judged for our deeds and rewarded accordingly.
After that, G-d knows what our souls then do in the upper worlds, but they’re said to be Divinely happy (even helping loved ones down here) while they wait to be fully resurrected, body and soul, in the time of Techias Hameisim, as part of the final phase of the Messianic Era. (Please don’t email me with questions about how this will happen–I have no idea–I just know that belief in the resurrection of the dead is the thirteenth principle of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith. Save the best for last, I guess.)
Torah Judaism teaches that every soul has a unique mission in this world; some simply take longer than others to fulfill it. We don’t know what our defining moment will be or when it will be, but when it’s done, we’re done. If we’re still kicking, it means we still have a spiritual bucket list.
It means we have more time to do the things that our G-dly soul wants us to do before we can’t do them anymore.
This Shabbos is the 18th day of the month of Elul, the dual birthdays of two great luminaries of Chassidic thought, the Baal Shem Tov and the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. They revealed to this world an unprecedented understanding of G-dliness, emphasizing the importance of self-sacrifice in order to do a favor for someone materially, or even more so, spiritually. According to the Baal Shem Tov, a soul descends to this world and lives for seventy or eighty years or more, to do a favor for even one single Jew.
What about everything else in the meantime? The blessings we hope to enjoy in this world–health, wealth, and pleasure from our family–are hugely beneficial and not to be minimized; they are the “working conditions” that make it easier for us to be G-dly individuals, to do these favors. (We’ll save discussion about why so many people lack these blessings for another time, maybe after Moshiach comes.)
But, for now, the reward comes after we leave this world–our spiritual bucket list complete–and after our soul has given its reckoning in the upper world.
From our limited, physical perspective, we can’t grasp what happens in this heavenly encounter, but it’s a subject worth talking about, and more importantly, doing something about.