D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero



Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


When 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.

In this week’s portion both Aaron and Miriam die. What is the Jewish outlook on death?  Is death the end, or simply a transformation? 

When 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. 

We 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 neshama.)

Thus 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 come.).

After 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.

How 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.

So 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.

We 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.

May we all live to see the coming of the messiah and the revival of the dead.

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