The Afterlife
 
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Question:
What are the Jewish concepts of life after death?
 
 
Response:
Judaism, as well as other philosophies, agrees that death is a physical occurrence, one which does not effect the metaphysical, meaning the soul. A soul is not physical, and being such, is not effected by physical death.
 
If one leads a life in search of truth, meaning the ideals of the Torah, then the soul will achieve a state of continued involvement in the world of ideas which is eternal. Conversely, one who leads a life purely of the physical, will not - according to Maimonides - have any existence once deceased.
 
The Rabbis said, "in the afterlife, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads, enjoying G-d's splendor". This is a metaphor meaning that the righteous will be merited by their learning (crowns on their head), which brought them to the point of having such appreciation for knowledge, that they will continue in this enjoyment (enjoying G-d's splendor).
This is the ultimate reward: The continued state of the perception of ideas.
Knowledge is the most enjoyable pursuit, once one escapes the fantasies of mortal life. If one delves into study, he will eventually see this is so, and will enjoy the pursuit of wisdom for its own sake, and not with the ulterior motive of securing the afterlife.
 
Seeking the afterlife, as a separate goal from seeking this life searching for wisdom, is a contradiction. For the afterlife is only gained by those who are not searching for it. It is gained by one who strives to live this life the best way possible using his intellect to guide him, but more essentially, by thirsting for knowledge which G-d has put man here to discover.. Once one sees that this life is lived best by following hone's intellect, and once he sees that ideas are enjoyable for their own sake with no other motive, he will understand that seeking the afterlife for its own sake is really impossible.
 
Allow me to illustrate this point: Say that on a certain world, hiking is the most beneficial activity. But one desires to be the best swimmer. To do so, he practices hiking his entire life, as he feels he will be rewarded with great swimming abilities for his efforts spent practicing hiking. It is obvious that this person will not become a great swimmer. Yet he feels he will achieve this through another means completely alien to the act of swimming.
His first mistake is that he spends his entire life doing that which he admits is not his preferred activity. He misses the point that hiking is the most perfected of activities, because he values some other imagined good to be better.
 
So is the case with our world. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is the most valuable of activities. It benefits man in the greatest way. As he partakes of what is true, he learns G-d's wisdom and delights in its refreshing discovery daily. If one feels that the afterlife will be even better, not knowing what it is, he sacrifices learning for it's own good, and views it as a mere means to an imagined end. Had the person realized the good which pursuing knowledge offers, he would be content to study for the beauty derived alone, without an ulterior motive. This involvement in learning for its own sake would offer this person a lifetime of happiness. And as he became more interested in the world of ideas through learning, he would cleave more and more to it, abandoning all other pursuits. Since the afterlife is an existence of the metaphysical, this person will naturally be in a state of bliss. If on the other hand, one only learns as he assumes a different reward to follow, he will be sorely disappointed at the end of days. As he imagined the afterlife to be that which it is not.
 
For one to enjoy the next world, he must enjoy this world. Concentrating on learning as a means will not yield an appreciation of wisdom. Only a life lived out of a pure desire for truth will yield a soul who can enjoy the afterlife.
 
If one does not enjoy the pursuit of wisdom, but only does so in order to achieve the afterlife, he will not achieve it. The afterlife is by definition an involvement in wisdom to a much higher degree, as our bodies won't exist as a vale between us and pure wisdom as occurs in physical existence (Maimonides). One who seeks the afterlife and believes it to be something other than an existence of perceiving wisdom, has an incorrect view of the afterlife. He is seeking that which does not exist. He belittles the life of Torah, as he views Torah as only a means for some other imagined reward. If his learning was not for the right reason, he cannot achieve the afterlife which is purely that existence of the experience of wisdom to the highest degree.


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