“Is there death after life?”
This question was posed by Rabbi Manis Friedman at the South African Sinai-Indaba conference in 2012. When I heard the question, I paused the video I was watching and played it back. Isn’t the question “Is there life after death?” ? I replayed the few seconds in which he asks the question—and a light bulb went on. What a fantastic question; one that can lead to a lot of thought and discussion.
While scholars and laymen alike have debated the question if there is life after death, this question is a very different one. After all, the answer seems self evident: You live, you die. What’s the question?!
In order to answer this and take the idea to a different level, let’s begin with the basics.
The human being is made up of two elements: the body and the Neshama/soul. The body is the PHYSICAL aspect of the person and the Neshama is the G-dly, SPIRITUAL aspect. It is what is known in Hebrew as חלק אלוק ממעל , or a part of Hashem Himself, that He has infused into our physical bodies. That which gives “life” to the physical body is indeed the Neshama. Without it, the body itself would not live. Meaning, that in and of itself, the body does not have a life form. Only by dint of the presence of the Neshama in the body does that body “live.”
The Neshama is eternal. The Neshama, as a “part” of Hashem always continues to exist. When a person passes away, that Neshama returns to the Olam HaNeshamot (World of the Souls) to be sent, once again, to another human being.
In other words: the BODY in and of itself never was “alive” and the soul never dies! Therefore, the direct answer to the eponymous question is “NO!” There indeed is not death after life, since our LIFE is our Neshama and our Neshama never “dies.”
But, it goes beyond that basic idea. That Neshama retains a “memory” of what transpired while it was here on this Earth. In addition, there is a concept in Kabbala that the soul returns to this Earth for a Tikkun, or repair, for past transgressions. Recall that the Neshama, being a Heavenly entity does not “desire” to be in this world in the first place (see Mesillat Yesharim) and is in a constant “struggle” with the physical body into which it is placed. The physical body wishes to indulge itself while the heavenly soul seeks only purity and kedusha. This constant inner struggle that we experience; this fight between doing right and wrong—that is the struggle of the Neshama with the body.
So, this heavenly soul, after leaving this world, returns in order to “right the wrongs” that occurred while it was “housed” in a prior human being. It struggles, as it were, to do a Tikkun for itself, struggling to “help” the physical body do the right thing and especially in areas in which that prior person failed.
This process continues over and over as the soul “seeks” to repair itself and return to its pristine existence. This soul continues to live on after a person’s death. The soul never “dies.”
As long as we are granted life on this Earth from Hashem, it is our constant responsibility to serve Hashem and follow His Torah. This inner struggle that we feel (on occasion or at all times) is our Neshama “communicating” with us. And not just “our” Neshama, but also the same Neshama that was here on this Earth already.
So, is there death after life? Clearly, there is not! Our eternal Neshama lives on.
As we have just passed the darkest day in the Jewish calendar of Tisha B’Av and move headlong towards Elul and the Yamim Noraim, it is time for us to begin to take stock of our lives and our relationship with Hashem. It is time to think about what it is that we are doing WITH our Neshama, and what we are doing TO our Neshama. We have been granted this gift of life from Hashem for a purpose. That gift of life, the NESHAMA, will continue on long after we have left this Earth.
It is our duty and our responsibility to do our absolute best to enable our Neshama to move along on its Heavenly/Earthly journey in as holy a manner as possible. We do this by performing Mitzvot and shunning Aveirot. We serve Hashem to the best of our ability and recognize that we have a part of Him with us at all times. May we all be zoche (merit) to keep our Neshama as pristine as possible and work towards infusing our lives with Kedusha.