On the Nature of Free Will

Someone wrote me and asked me the following question:


I could use some information. I understand that the Torah says that G-d has given mankind free will. Could you give the verses of the Hebrew Scriptures on that, and explain the logic?

So I answered him:

Ooh, boy, a tough subject. There is much to be said on that, and much to be said on the actual wording of your question.

In the first place, let me preface by pointing out that Judaism does not need explicit verses in the Scriptures to support a doctrine. All of our Doctrine is revealed in the Oral Law even more than it is revealed in the Written Law. That is how it has always been. Still, everything in the Oral Law is at least alluded to in the Written Law. However, that does not mean that one can always cite the Written Law as proof of a Doctrine of Judaism.

Point number two, before I cite the verses themselves: The Doctrine of Free Will is greatly misunderstood by many people who have not actually studied this concept as taught by Judaism. It is not merely the sum of the words «Free Will.» Most people who argue with me over the concept know nothing more than the words «Jews believe in Free Will.» I have no idea what those words mean to them, but their repeated objections against the concept bear no relation to what we actually believe. Therefore the question «What is Free Will?» is in itself a valid question, because it is obviously a concept not readily understood by most. This is why I will discuss its meaning before citing verses.

Point number three (and still before I cite any verses): The very fact that Hashem has given us a Torah at all leads us to the inescapable conclusion that we have free will. What logic would there be in the Torah commanding us to do good and desist from evil, if any act we did was out of compulsion? How could the Torah promise us reward or punishment for acts that we are predestined to do? The Torah gives us 613 Commandments and tells us to do good and not to do evil. This means that it is within our power to do either type of act. The Prophets throughout Jewish history exhorted Israel to mend their ways, to do good, to improve, to repent. How can Israel be so directed if it is not in their power?

The Torah tells us that even though we have the ability to do evil, we should not do evil. We should do good. The Torah tells us we have the ability to do good, as I shall attempt to show, with G-d’s help.

This does not mean, by the way, that we have the ability and power to do anything we want. Nor does it mean that G-d lets us do every sin we want to do, or every good deed. Sometimes we are prevented from doing the actual act. Yet we have the ability to choose which we will attempt to do. A man in a wheelchair can still choose good, and attempt—or at least desire—to do good, even if it is beyond his physical means. Or he can turn bad, and decide that if he ever gets the chance he will do every evil deed he can think of.

And we do not always even have free will to obey G-d’s Commandments. Sometimes we have no choice in the matter at all. Sometimes we are prevented from doing a good deed we desire and plan to do. Nevertheless, G-d counts every good intention as a good act.

And sometimes it is not the act over which we have control, but only over our emotions and desires. That is, we may be forced to fulfill a particular Commandment, but how we approach it is entirely our own decision. We may approach it with joy, and the desire to fulfill G-d’s Command, or with annoyance at the «interruption.»

It is a detailed and complex concept.

There are matters that are left up to the control of each individual. For example, whether or not any of us chooses to fear G-d. That is entirely up to each individual, in almost every situation. There are times, however, that a person can abrogate that right, by sinning in such a fashion that G-d decrees that this person will never again be granted the opportunity to repent. This is very extreme, however, and not the norm.

There are also mixed cases or destiny and Free Will. Say, for example, I work very hard and plant a field full of seeds. I did the work, and it was a function of my Free Will. But whether or not the planting will be successful, whether it will yield a good crop, is mostly out of my hands. Still, it is not entirely out of my hands. I must still tend to the crop, watering it, weeding it, doing whatever is necessary to its success. If I do this, I can hope for a good crop. But I can’t guarantee success. That’s up to G-d.

Personal health is akin to that. A person can get sick if G-d wills it, but a person can also make himself sick, either deliberately or through negligence.

A heavenly decree can also decide that you won’t catch that bus or plane. If heaven did so decree, it is in fact better for you to have missed that bus or plane. It might be better for you in the materialistic sense: perhaps the plane was doomed, or perhaps something much more subtle that you may never know. Or it might be better for you in the spiritual sense, in many possible different ways. I won’t go into that right now.

The point of all this is to show that free will is a complex and varied thing.

As for verses, Maimonides quotes a few on this matter. I shall not quote Maimonides verbatim, but in my own words, using Maimonides’ concepts.

The first verse Maimonides quotes is, «Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil» (Genesis 3:22). We see from this that man knows the difference between good and evil.

Maimonides continues, and explains that humanity has free will in deciding whether or not to be righteous or wicked. G-d does not pre-ordain a person’s goodness, nor predetermine whether s/he will be righteous or wicked. Maimonides quotes Jeremiah, in the third Chapter of Lamentations:

It is not from on high that evil and good emanate. Thus, of what shall a living man complain? A strong man [should complain] over his own sins! Let us therefore search and examine our ways and return to Hashem.

— Lamentations 3:38-40

In other words, since it is not G-d Who causes sin, but mankind, humanity is thus to blame for its own sins. A man should therefore examine his deeds until he has found all his sins, and he should repent and return to Hashem.

This would be impossible, illogical, and irrelevant, if mankind did not have free choice. But since we have free will, we have the responsibilities of free will. The evil and good people do does not come from on high, but from the free will of mankind. Therefore, people should do good, not evil. They should not complain to G-d of evil that befalls them. Yes, G-d causes the punishment, but it comes because of the sins of the people themselves.

Maimonides also quotes Deuteronomy:

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. I have commanded you today to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in his paths, and to keep His Commandments, Decrees, and Laws. You will then live and flourish, and Hashem your G-d will bless you…

But if your heart turns astray, and you do not listen… I am warning you today that you will be exterminated…

I call heaven and earth as witnesses. Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will live.

— Deut. 30:15-19

And Maimonides quotes:

You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is obeying the Commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I am prescribing to you today. The curse is if you do not obey the Commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you go astray from the path that I am prescribing for you today, following the gods of others, which you have not known.

— Deut. 11:26-28

And finally:

Who can assure that their hearts will remain this way, that they will remain in such awe of me? If they did, they would keep my Commandments for all time, and all would go well with them and their children forever.

— Deut. 5:26-27

In this verse, G-d is telling Moses, «I wish they would always fear Me as they do today, and then they would obey Me, and then everything would always be good for them. But there is no guarantee that they will continue to fear me and continue to do only good things.»

This verse alone proves that G-d has given humanity free will. If G-d has pre-ordained who shall be righteous and who shall be wicked, who shall obey and who shall disobey, then why did G-d tell Moses that there is no guarantee that Israel will continue to obey? Let G-d simply ordain that Israel obey! Instead, G-d says that there is no guarantee they will obey, because sin is tempting, but if they obey G-d it will be good for them.

This is obvious and logical.

And though Maimonides does not mention it, as far as I know, I add of my own accord the following verse, that which G-d told Cain:

If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.

— Genesis 4:7

This is a clear statement, I believe, that we have control over sin, that we have free will to do good and reject sin.

To believe otherwise in the context of the Torah seems to me illogical.

Often, what happens to a person is pre-determined, but how you will react is usually your choice. For more on that subject, read my wife’s article Endless Light: A Book Review, which explores that subject (among others).

Body and Soul

Why is Cremation Forbidden?

By Jewish Law, we are required to bury a body, even a Gentile body, as soon as possible after death, and as close as possible to the location of death (with some exceptions).

The respect and honor we must accord the body of a niftar (someone who has passed away) is in some ways greater than the respect we might accord that person when he was alive. I am not required to drop everything I am doing or to spend all my money to support a stranger, for example. But if I am walking in the forest, or even on a street in a city, and I find an abandoned body lying on the ground, I am required to take a day off from work and sink all my resources into burying or getting that body buried properly. A live person might be able to turn to someone else, if I need to go to work, but a dead body cannot turn to anyone. A dead person is completely at the mercy of whoever is willing to help.

And on the other hand, doing a good deed for a dead body is a greater deed than doing it for a live person, because there is always the chance that the live person might pay you back. A dead person cannot return any favors. Therefore, anything you do for it is pure altruism, and is therefore a greater deed.

What is a body? Is a body simply a husk, merely a carbon-based organic entity with some slick programming to generate responses to sensory input? Certainly not. As Judaism explains it, the human body is the physical element in a complex and ultimately spiritual being. The human body is not simply the housing for the spiritual essences, it is part and parcel of the combined human being — a being that will ultimately exist in greater spiritual form in the World to Come, after the Resurrection. For when the World to Come begins, and we stand up at the Resurrection, we will stand up with combined body and soul, though both will be raised to a much higher spiritual level than at which we stand today.

Even if the body were only the mere housing for the spiritual essences of the human being, that alone would grant special status to the body, and that alone would demand our gratitude and respect for the body. But the body is not merely the casing for the soul, a vessel with which to hold the soul. The body is an integral part of the human being!

When a Torah Scroll becomes invalid and unfit for use, it is reverently buried with full honors, because it is a holy item, even if currently it is unusable. We must always accord it respect for the status it once held, and it will always retain holiness.

Most nations of the world honor their veterans, because of the service they have performed in the past. They will forever be respected and praised, even when they are long past the age when they are able to continue to perform as they did in the army.

So too is it with the human body. The Creator gave us physical matter with which to perform the Commandments. It is through the agency of the physical that we attain the spiritual. Some cultures believe that the road to spirituality is only through isolation and meditation. While Judaism subscribes to occasional isolation and meditation, the primary road to holiness is the use of the physical for spiritual purposes. When we pray, what do we use? We use our mouths, and of course our thoughts. When we give charity, what do we use? We use our hands, and of course our emotions. So is it with all good deeds.

And thus, we owe a great debt to our bodies. Our bodies allow us to attain the holiness that the Creator has prepared for us.

And it is not simply our souls that attain that holiness. Would it be fair for the body to do work and not receive reward? No, for when we do any good deed, our physical bodies actually attain holiness through that deed.

How, then, can we commit an act of desecration, of sacrilege, by burning a body, as if it has no meaning or importance to us?

So important is the respect we are required for a dead body, that the Torah forbids a body to remain unburied overnight — even if it is the body of a convicted criminal! The Torah commands that the body of a criminal who has received capital punishment must not be allowed to remain unburied overnight. If the Torah is so particular about a man who has used his body to sin, all the more so for people who have never committed criminal offenses!

And perhaps I can add one more concept, of my own, a supposition that has occurred to me. We are required to allow the body to decompose. The Torah commands that we do not embalm a body, that we use only the plainest of pine coffins, and that we always bury under the ground. Perhaps we are required to return to the soil that which has come from the soil. «You are dust, and to dust you shall return,» says the Torah (Genesis 3:19).

Perhaps, I wonder, if it could be that we must allow the body to do one last good deed, all by itself, without even the aid of the soul that gives it life. This is the only good deed that a body can do alone, and perhaps that good deed gives it that extra bit of merit and holiness that affords its Resurrection. Thus, we are commanded to allow the body to give to the earth elements that will enrich the soil, that will allow the earth itself to rejuvenate, in a sense to resurrect, and will further the growth of life on earth. The death of a body can, that way, bring about life on earth.

When a body is cremated, the ashes will also eventually degenerate, but they will never offer the earth what a dead body can offer the earth. Perhaps that is another reason we are forbidden to cremate a body. But that is just my own suggestion, not a statement found in Jewish Law.

Let me conclude with a brief story. A friend of mine once told me that she did not believe in burial, only in cremation. Then her cat died. She could not bear the thought that there would be no way to visit her beloved pet. She buried the cat in her back yard, and for a long time often visited her.

While this is not the reason for burial, it is often a comfort to the living, and another way to keep alive the memory of those who have passed on.

It is our fervent prayer that all pain and suffering in the world end, and may Hashem the Creator «put an end to death forever, and wipe the tears off all faces, and put an end to His people’s shame throughout the earth. . .» (Isaiah 25:8).

The Afterlife

One reader wrote me:

Q. Does Judaism believe in an afterlife, and in heaven and hell? Do we live our «human» lives in order to go to this afterlife?

A. Yes, we do believe in the Afterlife. However, we do not believe in an eternal hell.

Okay, first, here is the timetable in a nutshell: We now live in what we call Olam Hazeh,
«This World.» The last part of Olam Hazeh will begin to change at some point, and we will eventually live in what will be called the Messianic Era. For this, the Messiah has to come, the Sanhedrin (highest Rabbinical Court) along with all subsidiary Rabbinical Courts will be reinstated, and the Holy Temple will be rebuilt (but not necessarily in that order). All Jews will be gathered to the Land of Israel, and there will be peace all over earth.

All Jews will know all about Judaism, and there will be no estrangement or doubt. The Gentiles will not engage in warfare, and no one will have the need to fear anyone else.

We will all grow spiritually.

The change I mentioned above will not be a physical change. Nature will not change. Our attitudes will change, and we will all be more spiritual.

Of course, there is more to the Messianic Era, but this will do for now.

Eventually, Olam Hazeh will come to an end, when people have perfected themselves under the guidance of the King Messiah in accordance with the teachings of the Torah and Talmud.

The entire world will become dormant. All souls will leave this world, and reside in the
World of Souls. For a thousand years all the souls will absorb pure spirituality. After a
thousand years, the world will be rejuvenated, and all the souls will be brought down to earth again for the Resurrection.

Then will begin what we call Olam Habah — the World to Come.

Now, do we live in this world to gain the other? Yes and no. The Talmud teaches that This World has an advantage over the Next World. It is only in This World that we can serve G-d through adversity, overcome temptation, and fulfill the Commandments of G-d. The Next World is for the reward. It is only in This World that we can actually perform the Commandments.

On the other hand, this world is only a corridor that leads to the main «banquet hall,» so to speak. The Talmud says: «Rabbi Yaakov says, This World is the antechamber that leads to the Next World. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so you can enter the banquet hall.»

And then The Talmud continues: «Rabbi Yaakov also used to say, Better one hour in
repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the World to Come. And better one hour of tranquility of spirit in the World to Come than all the life of this world.»

One hour of the World to Come contains more pleasure in it than all the pleasure of an entire life in this world. But we cannot get a share in the World to Come unless we repent in this world, for it is only in this world that we can repent and do good deeds.

But nevertheless, says the Talmud, «one should serve G-d not like a hired worker who works for the reward, but be like a devoted servant who does not work for reward but out of love for the master.» We are to do good not because it will give us reward, but out of love for G-d, Who desires that we do good.

And the Talmud also says about this world:

Rabbi Akiva used to say, «Everything is given as a loan, which we are obligated to repay. Good deeds and faith are held in trust and as repayment. The store is open, and the Merchant (i.e., G-d) gives credit. The ledger is open, and every transaction is being recorded. Whoever wants to borrow may come and borrow. The collectors make their rounds constantly, and they take payment whether we realize it or not. Everything is done «by the book,» so to speak, and the legal procedure is always correct. Everything is prepared for the feast (i.e., the World to Come).»

It is important to understand that the best motive for keeping the Torah and Mitzvos (Commandments) is to fulfill Hashem’s will. The next-best motive for keeping the Torah and Mitzvos is in order to come close to Hashem, and to thus become holy. Another good motive, but certainly not as good, is to fulfill the Torah and Mitzvos in order to get rewarded for it. That’s obviously not the best motive, but it is an acceptable one. It is doubtful that too many of us today actually have a better motive than that. I am sure there are a few people who have so perfected themselves that they actually have the best motive, but most of us are not able to reach that level, and it would be unhealthy to try.

One of the best ways to learn more about the things I have written about in this article is to study a section of the Talmud called Pirkei Avos, or Chapters of the Fathers. Some call it Ethics of the Fathers. This deals a great deal with this subject, among others. A good translation and explanation to get is the one by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, called Ethics of the Talmud, published by Moznaim Publishing Corporation. My copy lists their phone number as (212) 438-7680, and their address as 4304 12th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11219. It comes in paperback also, and is worth the few bucks it costs. Also, check out a great Jewish book store called Tiferes Judaica.

The Messianic Era and the World to Come

Many people confuse the concepts of the Messianic Era and the World to Come, thinking that they are one and the same. They are not.

The first thing to understand is that the World to Come is not a place, but a time.

Judaism divides our existence in the universe into two times periods: This World (Olam Hazeh), and the World to Come (Olam Habah).

The Resurrection will take place during the World to Come, and will involve a rebirth of the physical world. This is how it will take place:

The world will undergo a complete cessation. There will be only quite and desolation, and the world as we know it will cease to exist. All things will no longer be alive.

All souls will be brought to the Realm of Souls, to recharge, so to speak.

The world will be dormant for one thousand years.

Then the world will be resurrected. The world and everything in it will start to live again. Souls will be reunited with their bodies, but the reconstructed bodies will not have the same low level they now have in This World. Even the physical will have a much more elevated, holier nature to it, as it was before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

No longer will the body be impeded by its own materialism. No longer will the soul be impeded by the desires of the body, because the body and soul will be fully integrated, and as one will be holy.

This is what we call the World to Come, Olam Habah.

In the World to Come, says the Talmud, there will be no eating or drinking, nor any other physical needs that we know today. The righteous will sit and enjoy the splendor of the Manifestation of the holiness of Hashem, which we call the Shechinah (which is not Hashem Itself, despite the common misconceptions).

The World to Come will be forever. That is where we will enjoy the full effects of the spiritual work we do in this world. Many good deeds have «fruits» in this world that we can often appreciate and enjoy during our lifetimes, but the primary results and effects of our good deeds will be manifest in the World to Come.

About the World to Come not much is known. The Talmud says that even the Prophets could not see more than dimly into the World to Come. Only Hashem knows clearly the details of it. 

What about the Messianic Era? What is that?

I have described this world as being separate in time from the World to Come. I have delineated two clear time periods: Olam Hazeh (This World), and Olam Habah (the World to Come). The Messianic Era is a part of This World. It is not a part of the World to Come.

Sometime during the period of time called This World, the world will begin to better itself spiritually. This will either be as a direct result of, or it will be a prelude to, the Messianic Era.

The Messianic Era will be a better time for people in This World. The physical nature of this world will not change. People will still die, people will still be born, but life spans will be very prolonged. Disease will disappear entirely, pain will be eradicated, and all the curses Adam and Eve received for their sin will be nullified.

Women will give birth quickly and easily, without difficult pregnancies and without painful labor and childbirth.

Life will be easy, and we will no longer have to work for a living. Loaves of bread will grow on trees, and clothing will be available at the drop of a, well, a hat, if you’ll excuse the expression.

Our main function at that time will be the attainment of spiritual growth. However, we will still live in the physical world, as we do today, yet without many of the distractions we have today. We will no longer be subject to the rule of oppressors of any kind, neither foreign or domestic. There will be no oppression, no war, and no crime anywhere on earth.

Eventually, all sin will disappear completely.

That is the Messianic Era. And it will take place during Olam Hazeh, This World.

The Messiah will be our first king, and he will live a very long and fruitful life, teaching the world how to attain all these things, especially Torah.

The King Messiah, after a very long and happy life, will die. His son will become king after him, and continue his good work. He too, will die at a very advanced age. His son, the grandson of the first King Messiah, will be king until This World comes to an end, and the thousand years of desolation begins.

All three will be «messiahs,» because the word «messiah» (moshiach in Hebrew) simply means «anointed.» It is applied to any king so designated by Hashem. In Isaiah 45:1 we find that Cyrus is called Hashem’s Anointed, and he wasn’t even Jewish! Nevertheless, we don’t call Cyrus by the title «Messiah,» simply because over the millennia that term has come to be used exclusively when we refer to the future King Messiah of the «Messianic Era.» But of course, King David was anointed, and so was King Saul. King David himself referred to King Saul as «Hashem’s Anointed» (2 Samuel 1:14, 16). We also see that King David calls King Saul’s shield «moshiach» (anointed), since King Saul used to apply oil to the leather parts of it.

So when will all this happen, the Messianic Era, and the time of desolation? Well, we do know something about that, but not all. The time of the Redemption — that is, the start of the Messianic Era — has intentionally been left secret. If we do not repent, it will happen at the ordained time. If we all repent and become what we should be, the Messianic Era will begin immediately. Hashem does not want us to simply sit and wait for the pre-ordained time to come. Hashem wants us to repent and be what Hashem created us to be. If we repent, and become what we should be, the Messianic Era will begin before the ordained time. The ordained time is only a deadline for the coming of the Messiah. He can come earlier. It depends on us.

The original plan was that the world should last six thousand years, to parallel the Seven Days of Creation. Two thousand years was «void,» that is, without people fulfilling the Torah. Two thousand years (starting from the time of Abraham) was to be of Torah, and the final two thousand years was to be the Messianic Era. Then the world would cease for one thousand years, and rest like we do on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. That was how it was supposed to be.

But we kept messing up. Since we keep sinning, and have not yet fully repented, the Messianic Era has not yet begun. The middle period has gone on for much longer than the two thousand years that it was supposed to last.

How long will the Messianic Era be, now that we have eaten into most of the final two thousand years? Will the Messianic Era last less than two thousand years? Let’s say the Messiah comes in the year 5800 Of Creation (which will be the year 2040 C.E.). Will the Messianic Era last only 200 years?

It is taught, according to some Rabbinic opinions, that the Messianic Era will span two thousand years regardless. So, instead of This World ending at the year 6,000 Of Creation, This World will end after two thousand years of Messianic Era, not before.

So, let us review the time chart.

  • First we have the world as we know it, as it is today.
  • Then the Messiah will come, and usher in a new and better life for all of us.
  • After two thousand years of that beautiful life, This World will come to an end. The world will be dormant for one thousand years.
  • During the one thousand years of desolation, all souls will be in the Realm of Souls, recharging for the purpose of the Resurrection.
  • At the end of those thousand years, the Resurrection will take place, and the World to Come will begin, and that will last forever.

Bear in mind that I have used the simplest explanation for these concepts. The full understanding is much more complex.

A good source for this sort of information (and the place I got most of this from) is a Book called The Way of G-d, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of blessed memory, published by Feldheim Publishers.

The Soul, and What Happens After We Die

The problem with the English word «soul» is that it is misleading. It was first adopted by people who had no real understanding of the concept. The English word «soul» could reasonably apply to any one of the many elements within the spiritual essences of the

The soul of a human being is not a one-piece item. It is more of a conglomerate, or as one friend of mine put it when I explained it to her, we each have a «modular soul.» That is, there are five basic elements in each soul, and each are subdivided into various other elements. It is more complicated than that, but that will do for a start.

At this time, I am not going to define the different various spiritual elements of a person’s soul, nor will I explain what each does and what each is for. That would be a major effort, and the Internet is in any case not the medium for such a lesson.

In brief, the lowest level of the spiritual elements, the most physical, is the nefesh, which gives life and animation. This is why the Torah says that «the nefesh is in the blood.» Animals have nefesh also. Higher than that there are more spiritual elements, such as «ruach,» «neshomoh,» «chayah,» and «yechidah,» in ascending levels.

The conglomerate of the spiritual elements of the human being are often referred to by the acronym of «naranchai,» so on occasion I will use that term, among others, even when I refer to only some of the parts of it, and not to the whole.

The naranchai is not the source of a person’s good traits, unlike the beliefs of some other religions. The naranchai is spiritual, so yes, it desires spirituality. That causes within the human the desire to reach out towards the spiritual, to fulfill the natural needs and desires of the naranchai, even as the body needs to have its needs fulfilled as well. (In Judaism we do not «feed» the naranchai by starving the body. That would be a sin as well.)

Good traits come from good education, a good upbringing, a good nature, exposure to good influences, and the wisdom and knowledge of maturity.

When a person dies, most — not all — of his spiritual essences leave his body. Some parts remain for seven days or so at the home in which he lived, which is why there is a custom that mourners walk around the block when they get up from the shivah (seven-day mourning period), to symbolically «escort» the departed away from his home, so to speak.

Some parts of a person’s spiritual essences remain at the grave for either eleven or twelve months, I forget which.

When a person dies, most of the spiritual elements leave the body. If the person, when alive, focused primarily on spiritual matters, and was engrossed in developing the spiritual self through the study of Torah and the performance of the Commandments, as well as the perfection of characteristic traits, that person will be spiritual.

The naranchai is not affected by the person’s physical life. It is affected by the person’s focus. In other words, a person who lived in luxury and comfort, but worked hard for spiritual matters will be spiritual. Bear in mind that success in those matters is not the issue. It is the sincere attempt to attain and do the spiritual that makes a person spiritual.

Such a person has little or no problem upon death. It means that the person has developed his spiritual «muscles.»

If, however, a person did not do good deeds, or never attempted to perfect his characteristic traits, or never or seldom studied Torah or prayed, that person will be rooted in corporeality. A person who during his life made the physical his primary purpose in life will have a severely underdeveloped spiritual essence. Consequently, that person will be rooted to his body even after death.

Such a naranchai will have great difficulty leaving the vicinity of its dead body. The Midrash Tanchumah compares it to the owner of a home that was destroyed by an accidental fire. The owner keeps returning to the scene of the home, staring in grief at the remains and the ashes, crying over the only home he once knew.

But the person who has focused on spirituality knows (not just knows — he or she has internalized and lived the concept) that the body is not the purpose of human existence, and such a naranchai is easily able to leave the vicinity of the body.

However, a «homesick» naranchai (i.e., that of a person who has lived a life focused on the physical) needs to discover that it is still tied to the earth, when it should be moving along. That naranchai does not notice that it has «physical» associations still attached, and that these are preventing him from moving on to the spiritual realm. In Hebrew we call those pseudo-physical attachments «klipos,» which means husks, or shells. They distract a person from the core, the essential elements of spirituality. The klipos are not created or suddenly attached to the naranchai upon death. These associations have been made over the course of its lifetime.

This situation is curable, even though the person is dead. I will not explain the process at this time. Suffice it to say that the method is emotionally painful. It serves to make the naracnchai aware of the problem and by bring into sharp focus the nature of the klipos and the nature of the naranchai. The naranchain will choose to relinquish its associations to the klipos — i.e., its physical associations.

If and when the naranchai gets free of its physical associations, the naranchai is brought before the Heavenly Court, where a decision is made about its future.

The naranchai does not go alone. As the Talmud and Midrash say, whenever we do anything good, like we study Torah, or refrain from a bad deed (to name just two examples), that action creates an angel that testifies to that good deed. The angel, by its nature, makes the person’s deed known. Whenever a person does an evil deed, he creates a spiritual entity of some sort that testifies by its very nature to the negative
deed that this person has done. 

Wherever we go, we are surrounded by these entities. The naranchai goes before the Heavenly Court surrounded and heralded by these entities.

These entities are not merely counted by the Heavenly Court. Their very nature is examined. When we do a good deed with full enthusiasm, we create a healthy angel. When we do a good deed half-heartedly, we create a weak and lame angel, commensurate with the level of our intentions. It has been said by great Rabbis that there is a great difference between doing an evil deed because you have finally, sadly, succumbed to your desires, and doing an evil deed with full relish and joy.

Judaism has no eternal hell. That is a Christian invention, to the best of my knowledge. «The judgment of the wicked in purgatory is twelve months,» says the Talmud (Sabbath 33b). Nevertheless, there are exceptions where one might have to go for a little longer.

Sometimes, a soul that has already been here on earth is returned to earth and placed into the body of a child soon to be born. This happens for several reasons. The primary reason is as follows: A person has a job to do on earth. If that job is not done, the soul might have to come down to try again.

Hashem gives each soul certain strengths and certain weaknesses. Some of our weaknesses are given to us to be rectified and strengthened. Some of our weaknesses are meant to be overcome in other ways. We may have to learn to live with a problem (and everyone has problems) and learn to be happy in spite of it. Or learn and attain some other good characteristic trait. There are a myriad of permutations and possible situations. In fact, there’s one for each person alive, since no two people have exactly the same situation or the same makeup.

Sometimes a person is given a strength or advantage so that he or she can use that to help others. The obvious example is a person born into riches, and who can therefore help poor or otherwise disadvantaged people. At the same time, he or she might also be born with the trait of miserliness, and must work to overcome that trait in this life. Again, this is just one example of millions.

If a person does not accomplish what he has been sent down on earth to accomplish in his first lifetime, he might be sent down to try again. And again. And again. (I do not know if there is a limit.)

There are numerous other things that can bring someone down again. One example (of many) is someone who has died without paying back a loan or something he stole. He is sent down and given the opportunity somehow to do something for the person he owes the debt to.

And sometimes a completely righteous person with no sins is sent down again to be a guide and teacher for others who need him or her.

If, however, the person who just died is judged to be righteous, he or she is taken to the Realm of Souls. (Sorry I had to use the word «soul» there, but you know what I mean.)

The Realm of Souls is a temporary place. Its purpose is to allow the naranchai to recharge its batteries, so to speak.

As long as we are on this physical world, we are unable to express the full holiness of the naranchai. This is because of the sin of Adam and Eve. When they ate from the fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil, without permission from Hashem, they caused this world to become much more physical than it had been. This world therefore dampens the spiritual side of the human being, and makes it difficult for us to fully blossom spiritually.

The Realm of Souls has no such preventive. The naranchai therefore has the opportunity to grow in holiness constantly.

The Realm of Souls is not a static or boring place. It is a place of constant spiritual growth, unimpeded by physical limitations or drawbacks.

The means by which we absorb holiness in the Realm of Souls is through the study of Torah. The Torah that one is given to study in the Realm of Souls is only the Torah that he has studied in this world, though there are occasional exceptions. One exception is Torah that he has helped others learn, by, for example, supporting someone so he can study Torah, or by donating to Torah Academies so that people can study Torah. Another example is that people on this world can study Torah in the merit of the deceased, and it is considered as if the deceased has studied it himself.

Torah studied on this world, but not understood despite sincere and hard effort, is studied and finally understood in the Realm of Souls.

And there the souls await and grow, until the Resurrection.

A good source for this sort of information is a Book called The Way of G-d, by
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of blessed memory,
published by Feldheim Publishers.