"Akabya ben Mahalel said; Ponder on three things and you will not come under the power of error: Know where you came from, where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to make an accounting. Where do you come from? From a stinking drop (of semen). Where are you going? To a place of dust and worms (the grave). Before Whom are you destined to make an accounting? Before the Supreme Potentate over all of the earth's rulers, the Holy Blessed One" ( Talmud, Pirke Abot 3:1).


Although most practicing Jews believe in some form of "Life After Death," and, even though THE major story recorded in the Jewish Bible relates to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt; a people and culture OBSESSED with a belief in the afterlife, you will search Hebrew Scriptures in vain for any definitive texts about what the soul is, where the soul exists, or what happens to it after death.

This lack of scriptural clarity has allowed Jews to believe in every possible form of "Life After Death" that has come down the pike, from not believing in a life after death AT ALL, to the very Christian concepts of a Heaven and a Hell as places of reward and punishment. However, the Jew who believes in this "Christianized" concept of the after-life puts a very Jewish spin on it. He allows that no one is punished for more than a year by the torments of Hell for sin.

Those who have committed crimes against humanity so serious that it would be unjust for them to only be punished for a year; their souls are simply blotted out. No more! KAPUT! That soul is no longer able to return to the earth to live more life experiences. That soul-Breath has been withdrawn by the Divine Breather (God)!

Now, as for the souls of the family and friends of the everyday person, the Jew observes the mourning ritual for 11 months, for surely, his family member has not been so bad as to warrant a full years punishment (10 months if from the Maghreeb Jewish tradition of North Africa).


Even though the Hebrew Bible does not make an overt mention of "life after death" beliefs, there are several texts that refer to contacting the dead or the prohibition from doing so.

It is also possible that the entire story of the Exodus; the Crossing of the Yam Suf (the Sea of the End), the trip through the Wilderness, and the Crossing over into the Promised Land may represent different stages in a Hebrew version of an After-Life Reincarnation Journey.

In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul obtains the services of the Wise Woman Shaman of En Dor and seeks from her the boon that she connect him with the spirit of the dead Prophet, Samuel.

King Saul had previously "expelled all of the mediums and shamans from the land" (1 Samuel 28: 3), because he had a mistaken belief that God would look favorably upon him for doing this and allow him to succeed in his battles. The proof that God did NOT look upon King Saul's murderous action favorably is in the message that the SPIRIT BEING (ghost) the Shaman of En Dor conjured up for King Saul said about Saul's kingdom coming to an end as a result of the coming battle.

This story is informing us that the Israelites did indeed believe in the "life after death" of human souls around a thousand years B.C.E. And they also believed that another living human could, through magical means, or through the right shaman, make literal contact with these dead souls of once living people.

Also in the Torah; in Leviticus 21: 10 - 12, it states: "The person who is to be High Priest over the people; upon whose head the oil of anointing (making him a MESSIAH) is poured; the one who is set apart to wear the special High Priests garments; he shall not (observe the rituals of mourning, such as) have(ing) uncut hair, or rending his clothing (at the time of a death); he shall not even go into a room that a dead body is in. He shall not cause himself to become defiled through contact with the dead; not even for his parents. Once he has been set apart as High Priest, he shall not mix human life with death in the Holy Temple of his God; for the Messiahship is on his head. I AM is YHVH."

The concept here is clearly presented that contact with the dead, or even with rituals FOR the dead, would in some way bring ritual defilement upon the High Priest, who is the person who intervenes for the living, through ritual sacrifices and acts of atonement. Those who the High Priest interceedes with God for have in some way defiled their souls by sin (error) against God, it could be a more serious, even fatal error if the Priest were contaminated by contact with that which is ritually impure.

It is also obvious that God has delineated between those who are permitted to make a connection with the dead and with the members of the High Priesthood, who are prohibited from making such connections.

By the time period of the finding of the Scroll of Deuteronomy, during reign of King Josiah of Judah, in the 7th century B.C.E., 300 years after Saul, and 1000 years after Moses, we get the admonition against ANYONE practicing the "sacrifice of a son or daughter in the fire, divination or sorcery, interpretation of omens, engagement in shamanism, or casting spells, or who is a medium or spirit consultor with the dead" (Deuteronomy 18: 10-11).

However, it is again obvious from the continued tradition of our holy rabbis and sages who were involved in doing divinations, and healings, interpreting dreams and reading the omens in nature, the casting of spells through cursings, and blessings, and doing out of body soul travel with a dying person so that the person is accompanied to the Chambers of Dead Souls, that they saw the prohibitions as not referring to the practices that they were doing.

The Rabbis and Sages also were adept at the reciting of special petitionary prayers and the asking of special blessings at the graves of dead teachers, sages and rabbis, who had long passed on to the next life. Thus, it is evident that the Holy Rabbis also saw this concept of prohibited sorcery and divination differently from how it is presented to us by many of our religious leaders today.

The Psalmist says both: "The dead do not praise God, nor do those who go down into silence" (Psalm 115: 17; see also Psalms 6: 6 & 88: 10-12), and "You have raised up my soul from the Lower World [Sheol].. Sing to Adonai you pious ones..." (Psalm 30: 4). He declares the supreme privilage of the faithful "to walk before Adonai and to see the goodness of Adonai in the Land of the Living" (Psalm 116: 9 & 27: 13).

In the Talmud is recorded the following midrash on King David's death. Solomon, his son, "sent an inquiry to the Court of the Sanhedrin asking: 'My father is dead and his body is lying in the sun; however the dogs of my father's house are hungry; what shall I do?' The Sages of the Sanhedrin sent back the message: 'feed the dogs then attend to the burial of your dead father.'" The living, even animals, took precedence over the dead, even over a dead king.

When King Hezekiah gets deathly ill and at the point of death, he cries out: "O restore me to health and make me live!... For Sheol cannot thank You, death cannot praise You; those who go down to the grave cannot offer hope for You to be Always Faithful. Only the LIVING, the living, he gives thanks to You, as I do this very day!" (Isaiah 38: 16, 18-19).

These expressions reflect the disillusion that the Israelite people had with religions that was focused over much on the Here-After to the negation of the Here-and-Now, like those of Egypt, Canaan and other death denying, fear of death, religions. To these religions, the freedom of the individual was denied and the physical plane of existance was viewed as a place where one accepted the lot in life that the gods had placed him in. After all, this life was only for a short time and after death all would be made right. The victim would receive recompense and the perpetrator would be punished.

The Israelite denied this concept! To the Israelite, his God demanded an end to slavery and to oppression in THIS life AND IN THE WORLD TO COME. His God placed both Priest and King, serf and slave as equals before the sight of God. The rewards or punishments incrued would play themselves out in the history of the individual or his descendants in this life.

The concept of reward and punishment in the Written Torah expresses itself along the lines of creating a "blessing [or cursing] path," a path of good deeds, or KARMA [goral], see Deuteronomy 11: 13 - 21, used in the thrice daily recitation of the Sh'ema. "If you do the commandments; loving the Infinite Eternal Creator and doing the work assigned to you with all your heart and soul, the rain will fall; your crops will grow, your cattle will be eat..., you will eat and not be hungry, etc. If you turn away from your Tribal worship, the rains will not come, your crops will wither up and die, your cattle and you will perish off the land that Adonai is giving to you.... That your days and the days of your children may be long... in the land that Adonai has promised to your fathers to give to them." Nothing in this text on reward and punishment in an "afterlife." Neither Heaven nor Hell are mentioned. The concept here is that the good you do in this lifetime can carry on good results for your offspring, and the bad that you do can also be passed on to your offspring.

After we were exiled into Babylon (586 B.C.E.), we came into contact with the "after death" beliefs of Persian Zoroastrianism and were heavily influenced by these beliefs. Unlike the after death beliefs of the Egyptians, who were only remembered for enslaving us, and whose philosophies we totally rejected, the Babylonian-Persian beliefs found favor in our eyes.

Instead of treating us like slaves, as the Egyptians did, the Babylonians honored our Royal House of David; allowed us to govern ourselves; and allowed us to set up Academies of Rabbinical learning and study. We were over a thousand years in Babylon, leaving only when an intolerent Moslem fanatical sect became the governing power and denied us our sovereignty. But we came away from our experience with Babylon, with the names of the months of our calendar, the Talmud, the Rabbinical system, and much more; unlike the Egyptian exile, from which we did not bring away hardly anything.

The Jewish writings that form the pseudopigraphia, and the Gnostic writings, as well as the New Testament, reflect the philosophies we picked up in the Babylonian Exile; especially the beliefs in angels, demons, Heaven as a place of reward after death, and Hell as a place of punishment until refined and purified after death. (The belief in an Eternal Punishment in Hell without chance of paying the debt for our sins is NOT Jewish, but related to Greek sensibilities borrowed by Christianity).


Rabbi Moses Maimon (Maimonides or RAMBAM; 1135-1204 C.E.) saw the realm of the "World to Come" (Olam Haba); as "the ultimate and perfect reward, the final bliss which will suffer neither interuption nor diminution (and) is the life in the World to Come."

"The good reserved for the righteous is life in the World to Come - a life which is immortal, a good without evil."

"In the World to Come, there is nothing corporeal, and no material substance; there are only the souls of the righteous without bodies" (Mishnah Torah, Sefer HaMada).

This scenario aptly describes the place that many Jews believe the human immortal soul to go upon the death of the person. A place of Soul-Breath (neshamah) returning to the Ocean of the Breather of Soul (God). A returning to where you began, to be cleansed, purified, and then re-Breathed out into life once again.

The "resurrection of the Dead" occurs when the soul is re-breathed by the Divine Breather back into a physical form again, to experience life, with its pluses and its minuses once again.

Maybe, we experience life this time as the soul in a rock, or a bird, or a goat, or a tree, who knows? Maybe, as traditional Jews have long believed, we continue experiencing life in the bodies of our descendants. In any case, life is ETERNAL; it never ends; just keeps getting recycled.


The following story told by the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel Ben Eli'ezer, c. 1700-1760, illustrates how the Jewish tribal tradition saw the idea of a "pre-earth life" in relation to being born and dying and being re-incarnated.

"Every year an old woman made a pilgrimage to Rabbi Israel to ask him for prayers that she might bear a child. Rabbi Israel knew though that no child was yet to be born through her, and he always told her to go home and wait. Year by year she grew older and more bent but she always made the pilgrimage to Rabbi Israel.

One year, though, he said to her, "Go home. This year a child will be given to you." He never saw the old woman in the next five years, and Rabbi Israel knew she had had her child.

In the fifth year, he saw her again, with a small child by her side. She told the Rabbi she loved the child but she could not keep him. She said his soul was not kin to her. He was a gentle boy and obedient, but his eyes shown with a wisdom she could not bear.

The Rabbi took the child and raised him, and he was soon the best scholar in the area. Many wealthy people came to the Rabbi to arrange a marriage, but always the Rabbi refused. Instead he sent to a distant village for the third daughter of a poor farmer.

This daughter was the quietest of the farmer's children. She was good and gentle. The farmer agreed to the marriage and brought his daughter to Rabbi Israel.

There they were received with great honor. A feast was prepared, and the Baal Shem Tov read the service of the marriage and blessed the new husband and wife.

When the ceremony was over and they all sat to eat, the Rabbi rose and said, "I will now tell a story." And everyone knew this would be no ordinary story.

"Long ago," he said, "there was a king who fretted that he had no heir. Not even the sorcerers and wise men were able to help. Then one of his wizards presented an idea to the King. "In your land there are many Jews, and they have a powerful God. Forbid them to worship, under pain to death, until a son is born."

This the king did, and darkness came over the land. Many fled the kingdom. Others worshipped in secret. Others hid their own sons, for it was the king's decree that no child would be circumcised until his heir was born. If a child was found circumcised, the king's soldiers would cut the child in two with their swords.
Many children were slaughtered and the people of the land were filled with grief.

The angels on high saw the suffering and raised their voices in song beseeching God to send a son. Then one soul, purer than the rest, one who had been freed from the earthly bonds, stepped forward and offered to suffer again the gilgul, the reincarnation. This he offered that the suffering might cease.

God consented, and when the child was born, the King forgot about the Jews. But the laws were not withdrawn. The prince grew to be beautiful and skilled in learning. The son was provided with every luxury, but he seemed to take no pleasure in it, and even as a child he drained the knowledge from all the wise men of the kingdom. But the son was discontent.

The king searched for a wise man to teach his son happiness. After many days he found an aged man who was willing to teach the prince. The old man agreed on the condition that he be allowed to have a chamber in which he would not be disturbed by anyone for one hour each day. This the king gladly decreed.

The prince was happy with his new teacher; they explored new depths of wisdom. One day, though, the prince followed the old man into the chamber and saw him standing before an altar. There he discovered that the old man was a rabbi who worshipped, in spite of the laws of the kingdom.

The young boy did not care, for the wisdom to be touched was yet too great. He begged the rabbi to teach him more. After much begging, the rabbi agreed on the condition it be far away from the kingdom.

They left, and for years the young prince grew in scholarship. He became celebrated among the rabbis for his wisdom.

Still he was discontent, for though he had knocked on the innermost door of heaven, it had remained closed to him. A hand had shown him a blot upon his soul.

Then one day he met the daughter of a rabbi, and her soul quivered. As the young prince looked upon her, he knew she would be the end of his loneliness. So the two were married, and so true was the love of their souls that, at the moment of their marriage, a single light streamed upward to heaven and lighted the whole world.

The soul of the prince had learned to leave the body to rise to the heavens and return with greater wisdom.

After one such moment, he looked upon his wife and spoke softly. 'This night I pierced to the highest heavens. I learned that my soul was born in sin. I was raised in luxury and ignorance while the people of my kingdom suffered. For that I cannot attain perfection. There is only one thing I can do. I may consent to immediate death, and afterwards my soul must be reborn through a pure but humble woman, and the first years of my life must be passed in poverty. Only in thenext incantation may I attain perfection.

The wife agreed only on the condition that she be able to die with him and then be reborn, to become his wife and to be one with him again. To this he agreed.

They lay down together, and their souls went forth in the same breath. For timeless ages the souls strayed in the darkness.

At last the soul of the boy returned to be born as the son of an old woman. And the soul of the girl returned to earth to be born as the third daughter of a poor farmer.

And so all the days of their childhood and youth were a seeking for they knew not what. Their hearts yearned and their eyes looked with hope toward each new soul, until they forgot what they awaited.

Rabbi Israel paused in his story and looked at the celebrants around the table. "Know my friends that these two souls have at last found each other again and have come together today as husband and wife."

Then the master was silent, and all felt a joy fill them. The young man and the young woman held hands, and their eyes were lighted by a single flame that rose to the heavens."


Rabbi Michael Lerner has written in his wonderful book, "Jewish Renewal"; "Not every ancient culture is suffused with a fear of death. There are some cultures in which death is accepted and integrated into the ongoing life of a community. For some ancient peoples, the group or the clan, not the individual self, was probably the source of each person's identity, and people probably didn't have the kind of differentiated sense of self that makes possible worring about individual mortality. With the emergence of class societies, riven by sharp divisions and oppression, the harmony and integration of clan-based communities began to dissolve, and individuals began to distinguish themselves from the larger societies in which they lived. As this individuation took place, people began to identify themselves as seperate beings with seperate fates - and to worry about their personal survival."

"While there may be some level of sadness that individuals feel when faced with the prospect of leaving loved ones and community, and that the loved ones and community feel when they lose an individual, the desperation and denials of death that have become virtually synonymous with the human condition in the past several thousand years are not built into the structure of necessity. When people feel happily integrated in a society that has a spiritually and ethically rich communal purpose, they tend to be less traumatized or obsessed with their own individual deaths and more concerned about the survival of the community. To the extent that people feel unfulfilled, oppressed, or divorced from a framework of meaning and purpose provided by their community, the fear of personal death may take on much greater importance. In such societies people become invested in myriad ways of overcoming death. They look for an understanding of the meaning of life. They might build businesses, corporations, or empires; write books and songs; create religions or philosophical systems to assure themselves that somehow they will be able to transcend the meaninglessness of the world as currently organized."

"Societies become death-oriented to the extent that people accept the alienated status quo as unchangeable and believe that the only meaning they can find must be purely personal. In that case, death threatens the meaning of one's life -- so many seek to sustain meaning through personal immortality. Morever, to the extent that existing systems of evil and cruelity appear to be unchangeable, one can hope only to find a more caring and loving world in some other transcendent reality."

"Moses grew up as part of the ruling elite of a death-oriented society. Egypt had become the greatest empire in the world and, in the process, the greatest exploiter and oppressor of peoples. Faced with the pain and suffering that their social order inflicted on the vast majority of the population. Egyptian rulers developed a theory of personal immortality. The construction of the pyramids provided a religious guarantee that in a future life the rulers of Egypt would enjoy the same power as in this one, built on the backs of thousands of slaves whose lives were filled with pain and suffering (some of whom were killed and placed in the pyramids so that they could serve as slaves when the rulers came back to life)" Jewish Renewal, page 60-61.


Death occurs with the cessation of respiration and heartbeat; or when the brain ceases to show activity.

If it is the time for a person to die, death can be seen as the cure for any sickness. Death is not to be feared! The TRUTH be known, death is a friend! Death is a NATURAL PROCESS of re-birthing into the next phrase of Eternal Life. There is no beginning-there is no end. LIFE IS ETERNAL. In the Hebrew language, Chet, Yod is Life; Yod, Heh is YAH, the Infinite Eternal. Heh and Chet are interchangable consonants. So Chai and YAH are the same; they equal ETERNAL LIFE!

The Eternal Infinite Creator created the human being as mortal. The Hebrew word ADAM; Aleph, Dalet, Mem; actually means "a mortal being, a being of blood (dam)." It is the NATURAL aspect of humans to die. Every created thing has a beginning and an end.

However, the human was given an IMMORTAL SOUL, a NESHAMAH. The Hebrew word neshamah actually refers to a God Breath, the "Breath of Life", nishmat chayim, "God breathed into the nostrils of the Adam formed from the dust of the Earth, the breath of life, and the Adam became a living soul-being, a NEFESH CHAYA."

The journey through life is also symbolically referred to within the Hebrew word NESHAMAH, itself. NESHAMAH is spelled, NUN, SHEEN, MEM, HEH. If you rearrange the letters, you spell SHEMONAH, Sheen, Mem, Nun, Heh, which means "eight." The number eight refers to the covenant of circumcision, which is a covenant between humans and God centered around birth. In seven days God created the universe and stopped (rested). It is up to humans to continue creation through birthing newborns and circumcising them. The cycle of creation is REPEATED-MISHNAH (Mem, Sheen, Nun, Heh) by this birthing and living and dying process continuing to happen.

At birth, the Neshamah-Breath entering the body brought LIFE! At the end of life, the Neshamah-Breath leaving the body brings DEATH! The Breath returns to its' Breather; to the YHVH Elohim, the Infinite Eternal Creator.

The gematria of NESHAMAH (soul) is 395; the gematria of HEAVEN (SHEMAYAH) is also 395. This means that the origin of the Neshamah Soul-Breath is the Infinite Eternal. That which came from dust (the mortal body) returns to dust. That which came from God (the Neshamah Soul-Breath) returns to God.

Death is similar to a wave that is cast up on a beach to make a tide pool, gather a bit of sand, nourish aquatic life forms, cleanse and renew dirty sources of water, etc. And then, return to the Source of Waters, the Ocean. Like the Wave, we souls return to the Soul-Source, the YHVH-Eloheem Source, the Infinite-Eternal-Creator God, upon our death.

Like the Wave, we are cast back into life again and again so that we may experience eventually, ALL that life has to teach us. The Good, the Not-so-good, and the range of experiences in between.

Death is likened by our Rabbis to pulling a hair from milk. IT IS NOT A BIG DEAL! What is a big deal is the feelings of guilt and abandonment those who are left behind feel. They should be taught to know that the dead souls have undergone a process that is part of the circle of the life-birth-death-rebirth cycle that every created thing is part of.

The knowledgable Shaman-Rebbe can accompany a dying person through the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" to give the neshamah-soul over to a waiting loved one (or angel), and then he or she may return to the Land of the Living. Going through the Pargawd (the Veil of Seperation) between life and death requires a knowledge of the rituals of the shamanic kabbalah rites relating to that journey.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler on DEATH

The sanctity of death in Judaism is best dramatized in the story of our ancestral father, Av'raham, that very detailed story of his extensive dialogue and negotiation with the Hitites over a piece of land he had chosen for burying Sarah. That he went through all the trouble and a heap of money to acquire a particular piece of property for the burial, and that the Torah spends an entire chapter detailing the acquisition of this piece of land (Genesis, Chapter 23), demonstrates how dear the dead are to us, how we do not dismiss it the land of the living with glib disposal. The ancients also tell us that Av'raham went through so much dialogue negotiating for the burial site for Sarah in order to impart to the Hitites a lesson, that death is sacred, and the dead live on, thus the need to honor them with decent burial, not arbitrary disposal.

"The soul," the rabbis taught us some 2,000 years ago, "is in death as she is in life" (oral tradition quoted by 12th-century Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Chassid in Sefer Chassidim, No. 1129).

The Torah makes no mention of what happens after death, only that we join our ancestors (e.g., Genesis 25:8 and 49:29 and 33). The Torah herself is referred to as the Torah of Life, To'rat Chayyim. The emphasis of the teachers has always been toward Life, toward Living, in the here and now. They taught about the eventual resurrection of the dead (1 Samuel 2:6, Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2, Mishnah, Sotah 9:15, Sanhedrin 10:1) though not all the sages held the belief as a principle of our faith (e.g. Yosef Albo in Sefer Ha'Ikkarim Vol. 1, Chapter 29, No. 31). They taught us about the World to Come and how the soul lives on after death - yes - but they encouraged a greater focus on Life in the land of the living.

"I want to walk before God," wrote David some 2900 years ago, "and witness the good of God in the land of the living" (Psalms 116: 9 and 27:13).

They taught us about the World to Come and how the soul lives on after death - yes - but they encouraged a greater focus on Life in the land of the living.

"I want to walk before God," wrote David some 2900 years ago, "and witness the good of God in the land of the living" (Psalms 116"9 and 27:13).

And while Life is to be celebrated, Death is not to be feared -- it is to be seen as an integral part of Being. As the 3rd-century B.C.E. sage Ben-Sira taught: "Do not fear death. Remember there were people that have been here before you and there will be people here after you. This is God's scheme of things for all of us, so why are you so against this particular piece of the Divine Plan? (Ecclistiasticus 41:3-4). And as the Wise Woman of Te'ko'ah told King David some 800 years earlier: "We must all die; we are like water spilt upon the earth, which cannot be gathered up again" (2 Samuel 14:14).

In other words, life can never be undone. Once we are created, we are like water spilled on the ground that can never be collected again, never recalled from what it is. We instead seep deeper and deeper into Being-ness; we live forever. Therefore, while we are taught of the importance of grieving over a dead close of kin, we are also warned against excessive grieving. The Talmud puts it this way: One who grieves to excess over the death will soon grieve over another death (Babylonian Talmud, Mo'ed Katan

What happens after death? We cannot know. Like Moses told us more than 3,000 years ago: "The hidden things are for Hashem our God; the revealed things are for us and for our children" (Deuteronomy 29:28).

What we do know from our ancestors, however, is that we return to where we came from, to God who made us. That even when our bodies give in, our soul lives on. "Whom have I in the Heavens," wrote King David, " but you, O God. And I desire nothing here on earth but you. Though my flesh and my heart fail, God is my rock and my thread of continuity forever" (Psalms 73:25-26).

Judaism has many practices around the dead and the dying. What happens to our soul after we die is called hash'eret nefesh, meaning: "the remaining of the soul," that although the body is gone from life, the soul remains in life. To protect the departing soul from bad spirits that might be hovering about to harass this rookie who's just left home, so to speak, the body is placed on the earth immediately upon the last breath (Sif'tei Kohen on Shulchan Aruch, Yorah De'ah 339:4).

The connection of soul and body remains for a while, so that if the body touches the earth, she will repel the spirits from approaching the ascending soul. In fact, the soul still sees the body from its spiritual abode even long after death (Sefer Hassidim, No. 1163). The windows are opened as well, to allow for the soul to make its exit with ease (Ma'avar Ya'bok).

Close of kin tear their garment in respect to the fact that the body had been the garment of the soul all these years and the two are now separated, torn, from one another (Responsa of B'er Moshe, Vol. 2, No. 117). Thus the ancient rabbis instructed that the garment tearing be done immediately upon the departure of the soul from the body, to mark that separation (Babylonian Talmud, Mo'ed Katan 25a).

These days, the ripping of the garment is done prior to the burial or at the burial or upon hearing of the demise. But the earlier tradition reflects a time when our people were more in tune with the actual moment of the soul leaving the body.

In fact, there is a rule that if a person is dying and there is noise outside, such as wood cutting, etc., that the wood cutter is ordered to cease from his or her work in case the soul is having trouble parting from the body due to the distracting noise outside (Sefer Hassidim, No. 723).

The person who is dying, whose soul is ebbing from its home in the body, is draped in a tallit. The bystanders help them to wash their hands ritually, three times over the right, three times over the left. The dying person then does a little Yom Kippur either verbally or in their thoughts, reflecting on their life, asking for forgiveness for having wronged people, etc., and if they are able to, they recite Psalms 4, 6, 121, 145. As they feel themselves at the door of death, they recite Psalm 22 and 29 (13th-century Rabbi Moshe ibn Nachmon, quoted in Choch'mat Ahdam, No. 151).

The dying person then lifts his or her hands to the heavens and declares:

"Creator of the universe. I hereby actively and with integrity accept upon myself Death, and I do so with joy and with whole-heartedness, to fulfill the mitzvah that incorporates all mitzvot by joining myself with you and becoming one with your sacred Name. Bring me into the mystery of the Feminine Waters (may nuk'va), so that I might by my death unify the Sacred Wellspring with the Shechinah in awe and in love, and draw forth from Above to Below, level by level, from your Flux, so that my rising from earth to heaven be a bonding between creation with creator. May my respite be in peacefulness. Sh'ma yisro'el, ah'do'nie elo'hey'nu ah'do'nie e'chad!" (13th-century Rabbi Moshe ibn Nachmon, quoted in Choch'mat Ahdam, No. 151).

When the soul leaves the body, the visitors place the body on the earth immediately, and cover the body with pure white linen, and recite the Adon Olam prayer, and the Sh'ma, first line, and Ah'do'nie hu ha'elo'heem ("The Infinite One is the Source of all Powers") seven times, and ah'do'nie melech, ah'do'nie moloch, ah'do'nie yim'loch l'olam va'ed ("God reigns, God has reigned, God will always reign forever and ever").

The body is then taken to be washed, first by pouring water over the frontal part, one pours another washes or scrubs where the water has been poured. The body is then turned on its left side and the right side of the back is washed, then on the right and the left side is washed. The body is never placed face down out of respect. The body is then immersed in a ritual pool, a mikveh, after which it is clothed in a pure linen sheet and placed in a purely wooden casket void of any artificial treatment or steel, including nails. If the deceased had a tallit, it is placed over them as well. The bottom of the casket is slid from underneath after the casket is lowered into the earth, so that the body will return to the earth more organically and expediently.

We then place the left hand on the grave and recite from Isaiah, Chapter 58, verse 11: "God shall guide you always; God will take away your thirst in the parched places of your being, and give strength to your bones. You shall become like a watered garden, like a spring whose waters do not fail."

There are many rituals involved in all this, I am only referring to a few. The idea of washing the body is not only out of respect to the garment that had clothed and facilitated the soul, but because, as the 12th-century Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Chassid taught: "When we come into this world, we are washed; likewise should it be that we are washed when we leave this world."

We are taught by the Kabbalists of old that the dead return to the land of the living when they wish, and can appear to us in any form or garment they desire. (Sefer Hassidim, No. 1129); that they sometimes will come to us, and communicate with us but only when they want to. They don't appreciate being conjured up (I Samuel 28:13), and when they do visit us they will visit us in dreams or while we are awake (Sefer Hassidim, No. 1128). They are not allowed to reveal to us secrets of the heavens, though (Sefer Hassidim, No. 1133), and if they come to us in our dreams and offer us something, there are two schools of thought about whether we should receive it: the Talmud says no, the Zohar says, go for it, it's a good omen (Vol. 4, folio 180a).

The dead roam around the world at times, curious about what's happening here, and what fate looms ahead for us living folks (Babylonian Talmud, B'rachot 18b). At times, they even come to us to advise us, and well-meaningly will suggest we follow them. But this can cause us to die, we are taught, so if that ever happens, say three times: "I want to be in this life, in this world. Do not come back, neither to me, neither to my children, etc. ever again" - and say this barefoot (Last Will and Testament of 12th-century Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Chassid, No. 9).

Death itself, we are taught, has no meaning unless Life has meaning. If one is not able to live, one is less able to die. Alexander the Great asked the sages of the nehggev 2300 years ago: "If one wishes to die, what should one do?" They replied: "One should live." Meaning, the quality we invest in living later translates into the quality we reap in dying.

Or as the Talmud puts it: hi al'ma k'bay hee'lu'la dam'yeh, "This world is like a house of celebration" - the more we celebrate living, the better prepared we will be for the transition to dying, because the empowerment gained from the celebration of life will carry us through the transition of death. Akin to the strength we gather from a party for what awaits us after the party.

Sleep is one-sixieth of Death (Babylonian Talmud, B'rachot 57b)

The most potent experience in the body is that of sexual climax. Why? Because it is the closest glimpse we have of the realm beyond Life.

What is the mystery of sex? Usually the body experiences blissfulness from what it takes in. But in sex, the body experiences bliss by what it sends out, surrendering of itself - which is what happens at death, when the body sends out the soul, surrendering of itself. Thus, the sages taught that sexual climaxing is akin to the bliss waiting in the next World. (Babylonian Talmud, B'rachot 57b)

Three days are for weeping
Seven days are for grieving
Thirty days are for eulogizing
Eleven months are memorializing
After that, don't behave as if you have a greater compassion than God.
(Babylonian Talmud, Mo'ed Katan 27b)

As is written in Jeremiah 22:10 - "Do not cry for the dead, and do not lament for them. Weep rather for the one who is dying and shall never again return to the land of the living."

Grieve for the one who is dying, to get it out of your system, as is written:
"Weep rather for the one who is dying" (Jeremiah 22:10)

Visiting the sick removes from them one-sixtieth of their illness (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzi'a 30a).

Ancient Jewish Prayer for the Dead (Translation by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)

Compassionate One,
remember now
the precious soul of
(name of the deceased)
who returned
to the realm from which she/he had
originally come to spend time
with us in this life. May her/his
soul be intertwined with your
great spirit, the source of all life,
and in the warmth and serenity
of your wings. May her/his spirit be
joined with the spirits of [her/his] (for Jewish person: our)
ancestors (for Jewish person: Sarah and Abraham),
and with the spirits of other
great women and men who now
dwell in the Bliss of Paradise.

Source of all Blessing are you,
Yah, breath of all life, who created
(name of the deceased)
and graced us with the gift of her/his
presence in our lives. You chose
to bring her into being on our plane,
and you chose to call her/him back to
your realm, in your own
mysterious way. We thank you, Creator
of life and death for the time we had
with our beloved and ask you to comfort
us now for our sense of loss in our lives
and for our somber encounter with our own
mortality in this moment. Renew in us
the faith that -- in your unending love --
death is but a journey of the spirit from
the finite realm of physical being to the
infinite realm of your eternal embrace.

For the soul of the human is a spark of
the divine. Wellspring of blessing
are you, Yah, breath of all life, who is
with us in life and in death.

El malay rachamim sho'chain bam'romim
ham'tsei mn'nucha n'chona tachat kan'fei
ha'sh'chinah lenish'mat (name of the deceased)

Translation: Great Power of Compassion who dwells in the
Realms of the High, bring forth true repose beneath the wings
of your Presence to the spirit of (name of the deceased)

Oseh shalom bim'ro'mav hu ya'aseh shalom, shal'vah, ne'chamah,
v'ko'ach zee'karon ed'nah, aleynu v'al kol yosh'vei tey'vel

Translation: You who creates harmony in the Realm of the High,
also bring to us harmony and peace of mind, consolation and strength
of nurturing memory, upon us and upon all who walk, swim, and fly
across this earth. (Translation by Rabbi Gershon Winkler)



 Yit-ga-dal v'yit-ka-dash sh'mei ra-ba, (A-mein.)
b'al-ma di-v'ra chi-ru-tei, v'yam-lich mal-chu-tei
[ v'yats-mach pur-ka-nei, vi-ka-reiv m'shi-chei. (A-mein). ]
b'chai-yei-chon uv'yo-mei-chon
uv'chai-yei d'chawl beit Yis-ra-eil,
ba-a-ga-la u-viz-man ka-riv, v'im'ru: A-mein. (A-mein.)

Y'hei sh'mei ra-ba m'va-rach
l'a-lam ul'al-mei al-ma-ya. [ Yit-ba-rach ]

Yit-ba-rach v'yish-ta-bach,
v'yit-pa-ar v'yit-ro-mam v'yit-na-sei,
v'yit-ha-dar v'yit-a-leh v'yit-ha-lal, sh'mei d'ku-d'sha, b'rich hu, (b'rich hu)   [Some Chassidic and Sefardic congregations say "A-mein"]
l'ei-la min kawl bir-cha-ta v'shi-ra-ta,
tush-b'chata v'ne-che-mata, da-a-mi-ran b'al-ma, v'im'ru: A-mein.  (A-mein.)

Y'hei sh'la-ma ra-ba min sh'ma-ya,
v'chai-yim [ to-vim ], a-lei-nu v'al kawl Yis-ra-eil, v'im'ru: A-mein.  (A-mein.)

O-seh sha-lom bim-ro-mav,
hu ya-a-seh sha-lom a-lei-nu v'al kawl Yis-ra-eil, v'im'ru: A-mein.  (A-mein.)


Rabbi Gershon Caudill, the EcoRebbe conducts traditional Jewish, Jewish style Interfaith, and Jewish shamanic funerals. Contact him at: ecorebbe@earthlink.net or click on CONTACT ME PAGE.



Siting shiv'a is about taking care of the person in mourning, but there is a huge tendency for each mourner to try to take care of each person coming to visit. That's why the Hallakhah (Jewish law) set out guidelines:

1. Don't try to cheer up or reassure the person mourning. Don't ask them 'how they are doing?' which then pulls for them to reassure you that they are fine when they are probably not fine (unless they are completely detached from the death that they are mourning).

The spiritual psychological process of the Jewish mourning process is that you let people get fully into the grief, not distract them from it. For that same reason, the topic of conversation is about the person who has died, not about all the other topics that could distract attentiion or make the whole thing "less heavy."

2. Let the mourner initiate conversation, rather than the other way round.

3. It's traditional not to say "hello" or greet or say "goodby" to the mourner. Instead, one says, "I'm sorry" when greeting and "may you be comforted with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem" when leaving.


During the period immediately prior to death, when a Jewish "shaman-rabbi-prayer person" is helping the dying person to make the transition from this life to the next, after the recitation of the VIDUI-CONFESSION and the traditional Prayers for the Dying (see below), the following fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Shir ha'maalot) should be recited in a soft, rhythmic undertone chant.

These "ha'maalot" Psalms represent the fifteen steps in the rising, going up, (aliyah) of the nefesh (soul) as the neshamah (God-Breath) is returned to the One Source who breathed it into the person at the time of its birth. The nefesh is first purified and purged of all imperfections and then allowed to "exist" in heavenly bliss until it is time to be re-breathed back into earthly existance again, and again, and again....

These Psalms were chanted during Temple times, as one ascended the Fifteen Steps leading from the Court of the Women (the Birthers) to the Court of the Men (the Community), in the Temple Court (symbolically representing the Afterlife). These Fifteen Steps were symbolic of the Journey of the Soul from this life-space to the Chambers of the Soul. The person ascending these Fifteen Steps was SYMBOLICALLY enacting in life the journey he/she would take upon death, through the Desert Wilderness, and into Heavenly Bliss.

The MOURNER'S KADDISH (which is recited twice in each of the daily synagogue prayer services - with community) contains fifteen praises of God, corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascent.

Too, the Yishtabach Prayer that concludes the Pesukay Dezimrah section of the morning Shachrit service, contains fifteen praises; and in the prayer sequence recited following the "SH'MA": "True, enduring ... good and comely" - there are fifteen aspects besides "true."

Also, the verse in the Torah that describes the Foundation Stone that Jacob placed under his head for a pillow (Genesis 28: 11) has fifteen words, each word representing a "stone-Psalm" that became one stone.

The Priestly Blessing in Numbers 6: 24-26, also has fifteen words, as does the verse "Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob" in Leviticus 26: 42.


THE SONG OF ASCENTS (Shir Ha'Maalot), based upon the teachings of the Rebbe, HaRanit.


FIRST ALIYAH - Distress - Psalm 120
El-YHVH batzaratah lee karati vaya'anayni
In my distress I called upon ADONAI and I was answered.
The time of seperation of the neshamah (soul) from the body.

SECOND ALIYAH - Hope - Psalm 121
Esa einai el heharim, me'aiyin yavo ezree
I lift up my eyes towards the mountains from where my Help comes.
The seeing of the Eternal Light at the end of the tunnel.

THIRD ALIYAH - Rising Up - Psalm 122
Bayit YHVH naylekh
Let us go up to the House of ADONAI.
The release of the neshamah on the physical body (death).

This is the time of departure from the physical body. DEATH takes place. The NESHAMAH, the God-Breath, is inhaled back into the Ocean of the Divine. Now begins the Soul's Journey towards dis-incarnation. The ALIYOT begin!


FOURTH ALIYAH - Supplication - Psalm 123
Chanaynu YHVH, chanaynu
Be gracious towards us ADONAI, be gracious towards us.
The neshamah cries for support from those left behind (and to the Source) to help it rise out of the physical plane.

FIFTH ALIYAH - Deliverence - Psalm 124
Lulai YHVH shehiyah lahnu... ahzi ahvar al-nafshaynu ha'mayim ha'zaydonim
If ADONAI were not with us... the raging waters would have washed over our soul.
The faith to cross through the Waters of Finality, knowing that the neshamah is to be delivered from chaos and darkness.

SIXTH ALIYAH - Attachment - Psalm 125
Ha'botcheem b'YHVH l'olam yeshev
Those that join themselves to ADONAI...abide forever.
The attachment of the neshamah to the Source of Life that draws the soul back to its origins.

SEVENTH ALIYAH - Jubilation - Psalm 126
Hayinu kh'choleem
We were as dreamers.
The Song after successfully crossing over as on dry land into the Desert Wilderness.

There is great joy at the soul's surviving the passage through the waters between the Worlds of Assiyah and Yetzirah into the expanse of the Desert Wilderness. The journey begins!


EIGHTH ALIYAH - Submission - Psalm 127
Im-YHVH lo-yivneh bahyit
If ADONAI does not build the house...
The journey through the Desert Wilderness requires a release of personality.

NINTH ALIYAH - Joy In Submission - Psalm 128
Ashrey kol-yirah YHVH, hacholekh be'ad'rakhav
Happy are all who hold ADONAI in awe; those who walk on the path.
The neshamah accepts with joy the Path through the tunnel towards the Source of Light.

TENTH ALIYAH - Contemplation - Psalm 129
Al-gabee charshu chorsheem
The plowers plowed upon my back.
The final look back on the dead body, the scene of the mourners, the funeral, the burial, etc. Also, a review of the life that the soul experienced.

ELEVENTH ALIYAH - Forgiveness - Psalm 130
Ki-imkha ha'slichah
For with You is forgiveness.
The neshamah goes through the forgiveness process; forgiving all who have brought hurt, pain and ill feelings into its life. It forgives itself too.

The journey through the Desert Wilderness has cleansed us of our sins (our mistakes, blemishes, errors, and rebellion). We now return to the Path of ADONAI with acceptance as a PURE SOUL.


TWELFTH ALIYAH - Comfort - Psalm 131
K'gamul 'alee nafshee
With me, my soul is like a weaned child.
The sense of well-being and ease that comes with the arrival at the Chambers of Dead Souls (The Promised Land).

THIRTEENTH ALIYAH - Homecoming - Psalm 132
Zot-menuchati 'aday-ad po eishev
This is my resting place for Eternity; Here I will dwell.
The sense of timelessness and rest.

FOURTEENTH ALIYAH - Unification - Psalm 133
Hinei mah tov umah-naaim
Behold, how good and pleasant it is.
The companionship of family and kindred spirits as one is folded back into the Breath of the Divine Breather.

FIFTEENTH ALIYAH - Bliss - Psalm 134
Hinei barkhu et-YHVH kol-avdee YHVH
Behold, I bless ADONAI and all servants of ADONAI.
The thinning of the veils, opening to the Divine Eternal Light. The preparation to make GILGUL, a returning again; either in the body of a descendant or in the form of some other living being (nefesh chayya), like a tree, grass, a rock, or some other form of life.

We have arrived at the Upper Chamber of Souls! The veils have parted. We are now part of the LIGHT! We now await the time of our re-birthing into a new life, to begin the cycle over again.

- Loosely based upon "The Hebrew Book of the Dead," by Zhenya Senyak.

The SABBATH (Shabbat) is equaited in Jewish tradition with "entering into the Garden of Eden" for a period of 24 hours. Death is also viewed as "entering into the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden)." It is as though one returns to Gan Eden every Shabbat in preparation for the major return at the time of Death.

On the Sabbath, it is the custom to recite the "Songs of Ascent" (Psalms 120-134) AND Psalm 103 (Barkhee nafshee). The latter is recited because it describes the creation of the world. This Psalm is also thought by Kabbalists to be describing the PROCESS that takes place in the World of Briyah (Creation) between Death and Re-Birth.

These sixteen Psalms are recited anytime that one needs a protection from the Sword of God, which, in our folklore, punishes those who do not keep the Sabbath and deliberatly desecrate it.

Another reason that "Barkhee Nafshee" is recited on the Sabbath is that on the Sabbath everyone who keeps the Sabbath merits an additional "Sabbath Soul." This is seen by Kabbalists as a hint of the process of the RENEWAL OF THE SOUL in preparation for reincarnation.


Verse 1: L'daveed - Barkhee nafshee et YHVH v'khol k'ravai et Shem Kadsho

For the Beloved - My blessings and my soul are ADONAI's; with everything I draw near to the Holy Name.

Verse 2: Barkhee nafshee et YHVH v'al tishkechee kol gemulav

My blessings and my soul are ADONAI's; I will not forget all of the rewards.

Verse 3: Hasoleyach l'khol 'avoneykhee harofey l'khol tachaluaykhee

The One who forgives all your iniquity, is the One who heals all your diseases.

Verse 4: Hagoeyl mishachat chyaikhee ham'atreykhee chesed v'rachameem

The One who redeems your life from the grave, is the One who crowns you with lovingkindness and with mercy.

Verse 5: Hamasbee'a batov 'edyekh titchadesh kanesher ne'uraykhee

That satisfies your progress in time with good things, so that your youth is renewed as an eagle.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi on REINCARNATION (click here)

Rabbi Yonasson Gershom on REINCARNATION (click here)

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