Weekly Sermon





Life After Death

Peggy Lee sang about her disappointments in life: “Is that all there is?” The song ends: “When that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself, ‘Is that all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing, Let's break out the booze and have a ball, If that’s all there is?’”

This is one of the great questions of life: “Is that all there is?” Is this life the only life? Is there a Heaven, a World to Come?” How do we know? Does the Torah ever speak about it? This week’s Torah portion ends (Deut. 32:49-50) with Gd telling Moses to ascend Mount Nevo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is told: v’heyaseyf el amav (he will be gathered to his people).

This verse is one of the most famous references to our belief in the afterlife. Later, the Torah tell us (Deut. 34:6) Moses died alone, and no one knows where he is buried. If he was alone, then where are these people with whom he will be gathered? Therefore, “gathered to his people” must have a higher meaning! When we pass from this existence into the next, we will be gathered, reunited with our people, our loved ones that have passed before us. And yet so many Jews struggle with this.

A very prominent physician, who is not a member of this congregation and who I had become friendly with, came to see me in my office. He was somewhat troubled and needed to talk. He is a very caring doctor, and when a patient dies, he almost always attends the funeral. He told me that when he attends a Christian funeral, the minister usually emphasizes that we should rejoice for the deceased is going to a better place—heaven. This thought he found very comforting. But when he attends a Jewish funeral, the rabbi usually speaks of how we can keep the deceased alive in our hearts and memory by living according to the noble ideals the deceased stood for. “Rabbi,” he asked, “do we Jews believe in an afterlife?”

         “Of course we do,” I reassured him. 


If so, what happened to this belief? Why do most Jewish parents fumble all over themselves when their kids ask them about what happened to grandpa after he died? It’s not really the parents’ fault. In our modern sophisticated world where science and technology can solve all problems, we have de-emphasized the spiritual side of our traditions. If there is no verifiable proof that we can measure, it does not exist. Heaven cannot be measured, quantified, and so heaven is only fantasy.    

But an understanding of life beyond the grave is crucial to the search for meaning in our lives. Dag Hammerskjold, former Secretary General of the U.N., once wrote: “No choice is uninfluenced by the way in which the personality regards its destiny, and the body its death. In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us.”

It’s true! This is not the sort of thing we articulate even to ourselves. We really don’t take time out to think about what will happen to us. Nevertheless, we do have a certain view of what our destiny is, and our lives are lived with an understanding of that destiny—be it that there is no life beyond the grave and hence “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die,” or there will be a final accounting of our souls, and I will meet so and so in the afterlife. He/she knows what I am doing here now—he/she being my parents, my grandparents, my spouse, my siblings, whomever. In fact, when we go to visit our loved ones at the cemetery before Yom Kippur or a simcha, like a wedding, we go, not only to ask them to pray for us from their position on high with Gd, but to tell them what is happening with the family, to give them a little nachas—a little pride and joy.  

So, here’s a good question to ask ourselves before Yom Kippur: How are you going to make your major goal in life accumulating another couple of bucks, if you believe that there will be a final accounting, and that this is not the sort of thing that really counts in the end? How are you going to make your most important driving force in life revenge, getting back at someone else when you discover that the secret to life is to love, and to love more so that your soul can grow? 

Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, z”l, my teacher, would tell the story of when he was a small child, he overheard his father and grandfather arguing about what Rambam (Maimonides) said. He then asked them, “But Abba and Zeyde, if you’re not sure what Rambam said, why don’t you just knock on his door and ask him?” The Rav describes how he cried when his mother explained that Maimonides died hundreds of years ago. But to Rav Soleveitchik, he was never really dead. For him, he was always alive. The idea is that to be remembered after life in this world depends on what one does in this world. When you positively influence the lives of others, you continue to live here on earth—even beyond the grave.

But is there a world beyond this world—what Judaism calls Olam Haba (the Next World, Heaven, Life after Life)? You might ask, “Has anyone ever come back to tell us about it?” And surprisingly, the answer is “YES.” There are tens of thousands of people who have had near-death experiences and have come back to tell us about them. Books, magazines and television shows periodically report them. The sages of Kabbalah have talked about it for thousands of years.

The experiences are mostly the same. While suffering a near death experience where one is clinically dead, there is a sensation of leaving the body and traveling through a dark tunnel towards a glorious light. Relatives and loved ones come to greet them while a panorama of their lives—much like a movie—unfolds before them. There is a feeling of great remorse as they view events from their lives that they are not particularly proud of. Perhaps this is part of the judgement process. Then they are told that it is not their time, and they have to go back, although almost everyone wants to stay. 

I would venture to say that just about everyone here today knows someone who has had such an experience, only you probably don’t know who they are because they are reluctant to talk about it for fear of seeming crazy. 

There has been a good deal of scientific research into near death experiences. Dr. Michael Sabom, a professor at Emory Medical School has written a book Recollections of Death, a Medical Investigation in which he brings many stories to support this. One of the 1st to really collect stories of this kind was a prominent physician and physicist, Sir Dr. William Barret, of the Royal College of Science and Dublin. His wife was an obstetrician. As she was once delivering a baby, the mother went into the throws of death. Afterwards the mother described her experience. After going through a long dark tunnel toward the light, she saw her father who had died coming to greet her. She then cried out, “Oh my Gd, that’s impossible. He has Vita with him.” Vita was her sister who had died 3 weeks before, but because of the delicate nature of her pregnancy, they hadn’t told her! This and thousands of similar stories are eyewitness confirmation of life after death!

What would you say if I told you that Judaism does NOT believe that when we die, we will go to Eternal Life? You might say, “How can a rabbi say that?” The answer is that you won’t go to Eternal Life when you die because you are living Eternal Life now! Your soul existed before you were born in the World of the Souls. It exists in you now and when you die it will return to the World of the Souls. If I’ve whetted your appetite and you want to hear more why we believe this, let me know and we can sit and talk or if there is sufficient interest, I’ll give a few classes.

If you will ask me, “Rabbi, can you honestly believe all of this?” I would answer by reading to you a beautiful Midrashic story, by Y. M. Tuckachinsky I’ve told in some of my classes, but let me share it with you now:

         There were once twins in the womb of a mother about to be born. [Imagine that they had consciousness and were aware of their circumstances as much as they could hear, see and feel. Imagine that they could talk and that they were having a conversation. One was an optimist, and one was a pessimist.] The pessimist says, “It looks like the end is coming soon for us, because I can feel movement, and we will probably be expelled from here soon. I don’t see how we can possibly survive.”

         The other twin responds, “Stop being a pessimist. There has to be some reason why we are here all 9 months. It would be absurd for us to be here all this time just to go to extinction.!”

         The pessimist says, “Sure, you and your religion. You are a fanatic. [You’re probably an orthodox rabbi.] You are an optimist, but we are doomed."

         The optimistic brother responds, “I just have a feeling, a belief that there is a reason and a purpose, and that we will go on.”

         The pessimist says, “All right, if you’re so smart, tell me how can we continue to exist. Here we are by this water, connected with the tube of life that is sustaining us. Obviously without all this we will   die. Can you describe life out of the confines of this palace that we live in? It is impossible.”

         The optimist responds, “I don’t know how, but I know that it will be.”

         Suddenly the mother goes into labor, and as fate would have it, the optimist is expelled first. The pessimist inside is most anxious to hear what is going on, on the other side, and strains very closely to the walls of the womb and hears from without crying and screaming. He says, “Too bad for my brother, I guess I was right after all. Poor boy, he is gone.”

         While on the other side at the very same moment, happy mother and father are wishing each other Mazel Tov at the birth of a new child, who has gone from one kind of existence to another. While in the other kind of existence, no one would be able to describe, predict or imagine the other.


The point of the story is that even as there is one kind of existence leading to another in the birth of a baby as we enter this world, so too we believe that when our story is finished here and we hear the cry and the scream as we leave this world, someone in the World to Come is saying, Mazel Tov, welcome home, glad to have you back.”

So, no Peggy Lee. This world is not all there is. Amen!




Contact Info

Shaarei Shamayim
1600 Mount Mariah
Atlanta, GA 30329
(404) 417-0472

Amazon Smile




Tobin Law

2019 03 05 Ad for Shul

Copyright © Shaareishamayim 2023. All Rights Reserved.

We come together with love of Hashem, Derech Eretz, and Respect for our G-d given Torah

Site Design and Hosting by SST Webs