ABRAHAM’S TENT | 5779 – Week #5: What is the Jewish concept of the Afterlife?

 *Disclaimer: In the next weeks, I begin a series covering concepts in Judaism. It is not exhaustive, but it is meant to go over in a general way what are Jewish beliefs and where they are found in the Hebrew Bible (What Christians call the “Old Testament”).
These articles are for educational purposes only.  If you have further questions, you should ask your religious leader, or you can email me, for further information.  (End of Disclaimer)*

This week we look at the Afterlife in Judaism.
Unlike other religions, Judaism has no concept of Heaven or Hell in regard to punishment or reward. If you look at the entire Hebrew Scriptures, there is no mention of such places when you die. We do have mention that our blessing or immortality is found in our offspring and their successive generations. We have examples of this found in the story of Abraham (Genesis 17:5-10) where Abraham’s gift is that he will be a father of “Many Nations”.  Abraham’s concern is never that he will get to heaven when he dies, but that he has children to carry on his memory (Genesis 15:1-3).

This is why among the Ten Commandments it states “You will Honor your mother and father, so you may live long in the Land” (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16) it is mentioned twice because it is quintessentially important to one’s status, both as a child, and a parent.
The only time we have a person coming back from the dead (as a ghost), is the Prophet Samuel, in which he tells King Saul that he will join him in the grave (Sheol) (1 Samuel 28:3-19).

So, even those who have come back from their death, state that they “Sleep with their ancestors’” and there is no reward after this life.

For Jewish people, and Torah Observant folks, that means that our actions are not for our own selves, but for those we leave behind. Even Moses warns us that we are not to look toward the Heavens or across the universe (sea), to find how to live our lives, but to take hold of the Torah (Commandments) and apply them, here and now (Deuteronomy 30:11-21).

This is why we remember our passed family members, teachers and others that have guided our lives. In modern traditions, Jews refer to those individuals with honor with the designation “Of Blessed Memory” or (OBM) when they are writing about them. It is a fulfillment of the Commandment of honoring your parents, which includes those who have guided you and taught you along your life.

The concept that we leave the world and the people in better shape than when we were physically here is part and parcel of what the Hebrew Scriptures speaks directly to us as Children of G-D.
Proverbs 22:6 states the main purpose of our existence:

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Even though the Hebrew Bible is quite vague about what happens when we die, it clearly explains what we are to do when we are alive. To honor those who come before us, to teach our children diligently. To be kind to the animals and the earth HE has given to us in our care, and to be a light to others that see these actions of Observance, Study, and, Justice (Charity).

As it states at the end of Proverbs 22:29:

“29 Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings;
he shall not stand before mean men. (JPS)”

Our goal is to be the best at what we do and leave a legacy.  It is not something that happens when you die. It happens for generations to come. The world is now, and it is for those you teach, and raise in your place.
It is to create a ‘Heaven’ on the Earth.

Next week: The Sabbath/Shabbat

Dir. Rel. Ed and History