the Jewish people left Egypt, en route to receiving the Torah, they were led
primarily by three people. Moshe, his brother Aaron, and their sister Miriam.
this week’s portion both Aaron and Miriam die. What is the Jewish outlook on
death? Is death the end, or simply a transformation?
a person is alive, we strive to sanctify the body. We try to imbibe our physical
aspect with spirituality. Eating and drinking, relationships, even sleeping, are
done not only to rejuvenate the body and give it physical pleasure, but also to
rejuvenate it spiritually.
can only sanctify our body to a certain degree. The final sanctification
involves the separation of the physical body—the guf— and the spiritual
body—the neshama (soul). (The nefesh, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago
which relates to the emotional aspects, is in reality a lower form of the
when a person dies, his body is put into the ground, and his soul goes to the
heavenly court. There, the soul is judged for all the actions a person has done
in his life. Some people go directly to the world to come. This is a purely
spiritual world where a person enjoys the Divine presence. Most people, however,
have sinned. For these sins there must be a form of rectification. This is
called Gehennom (the Christian concept of “hell” does not really exist in
Judaism). After the person completes this period of rectification, he goes
to the world to come (this rectification period usually happens in a period of
eleven months or less. Extraordinarily wicked people never go to the world to
the Jewish people are redeemed, there will be a process called Techias Hamaisim
— the revival of the dead. This is when the people who are dead return to the
physical world of the living.
are we meant to relate to our loved ones who have passed on? The Talmud states
righteous people are called alive, even in death. This means their good deeds
live on forever. And we can perpetuate the lives of our fellow Jews who have
passed on by using their memory to inspire us to improve.
when a loved one dies, we confront the physical passing very starkly: we tear
our clothes, we throw dirt on the grave, and we sit on the floor for a week. But
we also behave in a manner of relating to the soul, i.e. allowing the dead
person to inspire us to good things, and through our doing these good things,
the soul is uplifted in the world to come, thus proving true that righteous
people are called alive even in death.
also go to the grave of the person who has passed on. Besides allowing us to
feel inspiration, there is another reason for doing this: that this person
should be an advocate for us in Heaven. While at the grave, most opinions state
that we do not pray to the deceased person, but to G-d that this person should
be an advocate. There are those opinions that state we may pray to the person,
but only to request of him that he be an advocate, not, G-d forbid, to request
from him directly.