Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who Goes to Heaven?

According to Jewish tradition, who is guaranteed a place in Heaven?

The Orthodox?

No.

The Modern Orthodox?

No.

The Conservative?

No.

The Reform?

No.

How about those on the political Right or Left?

No.

So who exactly will go to Heaven?

Good Jews, and good non-Jews.

Heaven does not know of people based upon denomination or political party - it knows only of God's people, and goodness.

The opening to Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states, "Kol Yisrael Yesh Lahem Cheilek La'olam Haba" - all Israel has a share in the World to Come. They base this teaching on the verse from Isaiah 60:21, which references the righteousness of the Jewish people. This is not because we are inherently better than non-Jews; it's only because of God's kindness. God judges all people by their actions, but has graced us with the assurance that we will be rewarded for being His representatives here on earth (as long as we don't engage in one of the extreme sins that causes us to lose that distinction). In addition, all decent and ethical non-Jews will go to Heaven. Our understanding of God is that He is a just and merciful Creator, who will rightly reward anyone for the good deeds they have accumulated during their lifetime.

Unfortunately, the Jewish concept of the afterlife is often misunderstood. In fact, there are many who actually think that Jews don't even believe in an afterlife. However, this is only because we do not overly concern ourselves with it. The next world is not our primary focus because we have so much to accomplish while still in this world. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that the ultimate test for human beings is ethical - not theological. To the best of my knowledge, Judaism is the only major religion which has always maintained that actions determine one's eternal destiny - not theology. It's all about behavior.

However, if all Jews are guaranteed a place in Heaven, what incentive is there to perform any good deeds? The Chofetz Chaim answers this by way of a parable. There was once a wealthy businessman in Russia named Yisrael Brodsky, who employed hundreds of people. He was also a philanthropist who supported many Torah institutions, as well as relatives and community members whose finances had taken a turn for the worse. All the people he supported received a monthly check. One day, Mr. Brodsky came to visit one of his factories. The managers showed him around and introduced him to many of the workers. When Mr. Brodsky approached one of the people (who happened to be a non-working relative) and asked what he did there, the man replied, "I take a check." Everyone broke into laughter. The Chofetz Chaim concluded that such will be the case in the World to Come. Any Jew who claims their share solely because they happened to be Jewish will suffer an eternal embarrassment.

While all Jews have a spot in Heaven, the level of that share is dependent upon what we achieve during our lifetimes. The greater the actions, the greater the reward. The primary message for all of us is to simply do what is right, and God can be trusted to reward us with exactly what we deserve when our time on earth is done. Another lesson is that if Heaven's standards find it unnecessary to distinguish between Jews, then why is it that we so easily separate each other based upon anything other than objective ethical concerns?

Ironically, we can rectify our mistreatment of fellow Jews by more closely following Heaven's guidelines here on earth.

5 comments:

  1. I have read many views on Judaism's idea of Heaven.

    Some say that Heaven is some sort of "Heavenly Yeshiva", others say that this world is but a corridor (reception / school) to the real world (banquet / graduation). A minority assert that the next world is Olam Yetzirah (before going on to the next two worlds), with Good and Evil existing equally though the latter will exist outside of Man, unlike now here on Olam Asiyah where evil not only dominates much of this world but also exists inside of man.

    Quite a few are of the idea that Heaven is a place where you can at last be reunited with former lost loved ones, chat to previous reincarnations or spend an eternity charting one's family tree until one gets to Adam and Eve.

    Many fellow Jews assume that is it a de-physicalized plane of existence or a place where one is honoured for living up to the role G-d has given them, either that or Heaven is merely some sort of botanical garden. While the odd Rabbi or two via Tikunei Zohar in the past have said to something to the effect that every Righteous person will rule over a star, while those less righteous will rule over lesser worlds.

    However, here is my question on Judaism's idea of Heaven / Afterlife / etc, why can’t Heaven or the "World to Come" be a place where one can relive their (rewritten) lives as their ideal selves or a place where one can be whatever one wishes themselves to be for an eternity?

    I know that vision of Heaven sounds rather earthly compared to what the Sage’s have said on the subject, though I personally cannot relate to a vision of Heaven that does not involve allowing a person to fulfil ones full potential or live life as their ideal “maxed-out” selves.

    In my view, such a vision of Heaven is certainly more compassionate and fair then forcing a person in the afterlife to forever accept what one has managed to make of one’s “limited” self on this world with the lot they were given, like others envision being the case.

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  2. Since all my blog posts are directed toward improved interpersonal conduct, I only brought up a basic understanding of Heaven so that we can have a basis from which to improve our behavior in this world. However, until a person passes away, they won't know what such an existence entails.

    As neither a rabbi nor a kabbalist, I don't have all the knowledge necessary to engage in a detailed discussion of this subject. You might be on to something with your idea. Somehow, it will all make sense because God is fair and compassionate. Thus, whatever it actually is, it will be good.

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  3. Why do people always leave out the second part of the Mishna?

    MISHNAH. ALL ISRAEL HAVE A PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME, FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THY PEOPLE ARE ALL RIGHTEOUS; THEY SHALL INHERIT THE LAND FOR EVER, THE BRANCH OF MY PLANTING, THE WORK OF MY HANDS, THAT I MAY BE GLORIFIED. BUT THE FOLLOWING HAVE NO PORTION THEREIN: HE WHO MAINTAINS THAT RESURRECTION IS NOT A BIBLICAL DOCTRINE,31 THE TORAH WAS NOT DIVINELY REVEALED,

    AND AN EPIKOROS R. AKIBA ADDED: ONE WHO READS UNCANONICAL BOOKS ALSO ONE WHO WHISPERS [A CHARM] OVER A WOUND AND SAYS, I WILL BRING NONE OF THESE DISEASES UPON THEE WHICH I BROUGHT UPON THE EGYPTIANS: FOR I AM THE LORD THAT HEALETH THEE. ABBA SAUL SAYS: ALSO ONE WHO PRONOUNCES THE DIVINE NAME AS IT IS SPELT
    THREE KINGS AND FOUR COMMONERS HAVE NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME: THE THREE KINGS ARE JEROBOAM, AHAB, AND MANASSEH.36 R. JUDAH SAID: MANASSEH HATH A PORTION THEREIN, FOR IT IS WRITTEN, 'AND HE PRAYED UNTO

    HIM, AND WAS INTREATED OF HIM, AND HE HEARKENED TO HIS SUPPLICATION AND THEY RESTORED HIM TO JERUSALEM, TO HIS KINGDOM.37 THEY [THE SAGES] ANSWERED HIM: THEY RESTORED HIM TO HIS KINGDOM, BUT NOT TO [HIS PORTION IN] THE WORLD TO COME. FOUR COMMONERS, VIZ., BALAAM, DOEG, AHITOPHEL, AND GEHAZI.
    GEMARA. And why such [severity]? — A Tanna taught: Since he denied the resurrection of the dead, therefore he shall not share in that resurrection, for in all the measures [of punishment or reward] taken by the Holy One, blessed be He, the Divine act befits the [human] deed.

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  4. Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 3:6,14

    6) The following types of people have no share in the World to Come, and are cut off, destroyed and excommunicated for ever on account of their very great sins and wickedness: An infidel; a heretic; one who denies the Torah; one who denies that there will be a Resurrection; one who denies that there will be a Redemption; one who converts from Judaism; one who causes a lot of people to sin; one who withdraws from communal ways; one who publicly sins in a defiant way like Jehoiakim did; an informer [against Jews]; one who instills fear in the congregation but not in the Name of God; a murderer; one who relates loshan ho'rah; and one who pulls back his foreskin [in order to cover his brit milah].



    14) None of these twenty-four types of people has a share in the World To Come, even if he was Jewish. Some of these transgressions are less severe than others, but even so, the Sages said that anyone who accustoms himself to any of them has no share in the World To Come, and that it is [also] fitting to keep away from the following types of people: One who makes a [derogatory] nickname for someone else; one who calls someone else by such a nickname; one who publicly embarrasses someone else; one who enjoys seeing another being embarrassed; one who disgraces Sages; one who disgraces his Rabbis; one who desecrates the Festivals; and one who desecrates any of the holy sacrifices. People who do any of these things do not have a share in the World To Come if they died without having repented, but if they had returned from their wickedness and repented before dying they will receive a share in the World To Come, for there are no sins for which repentance does not atone. Even if one had denied everything throughout one's life but in the end repented on will still get a share in the World To Come, as it is written, "`Peace, peace, both for far and near', says the Lord, `and I will heal him'". All wicked people, opposers and others, who repented, whether publicly or privately, still get a share in the World To Come, as it is written, "Return, faithless children, et cetera" - even if one is still faithless and one repented privately and not publicly, one will enter the World To Come in a state of repentance.

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  5. To both anonymous comments:

    As mentioned before, I was just touching base with this subject in order to draw a lesson for how we treat one another. Obviously, there are exceptions for every general rule (which I alluded to in the first large paragraph of this post - that there are certain sins which can cause a Jew to be cut off from the rest of the Jewish people).

    As for not mentioning the entire Mishna, this is a simple blog - not an extensive theological book. So I thank you for including a more detailed analysis, but this post was never intended to be anything more than a lesson of bein adam la'chaveiro.

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