LIFE AFTER DEATH
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 That soul-Breath has been withdrawn by the Divine Breather (God)!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).
AFTERLIFE HINTS IN THE TORAH
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
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
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
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).
REINCARNATION AS A METHOD OF REALIZING THE PHYSICAL RESSURECTION
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 JEWISH CONCEPT OF "PRE-EXISTANCE" WITH-IN THE IDEA OF "RE-INCARNATION"
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."
THE FEAR OF DEATH
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
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,
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"
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.
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
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
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,
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
the precious soul of
(name of the deceased)
to the realm from which she/he had
originally come to spend time
with us in this life. May her/his
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 with the spirits of other
great women and men who now
dwell in the Bliss of Paradise.
of all Blessing are you,
Yah, breath of all life, who created
(name of the deceased)
and graced us with the gift
presence in our lives. You chose
to bring her into being on our plane,
and you chose to call her/him
your realm, in your own
mysterious way. We thank you, Creator
of life and death for the time we had
our beloved and ask you to comfort
us now for our sense of loss in our lives
and for our somber encounter with our
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.
soul of the human is a spark of
the divine. Wellspring of blessing
are you, Yah, breath of all life, who is
us in life and in death.
El malay rachamim sho'chain bam'romim
ham'tsei mn'nucha n'chona
ha'sh'chinah lenish'mat (name of the deceased)
Translation: Great Power of Compassion who dwells
Realms of the High, bring forth true repose beneath the wings
of your Presence to the spirit of (name of the
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
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). ]
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 ]
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
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: email@example.com or click on CONTACT ME PAGE.