Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Next World

Reunited by Keith Maniac

Not too long ago, DPChallenge hosted a challenge for digital photographers- the subject being the Afterlife. It was very interesting to see the different takes and views people had, and how they were able to express these beliefs through the medium of photograpy. The picture above won the blue ribbon for the challenge; it was the one that comforted or interested the most people. In some measure, this may just have been because of the technical skill or innovative setup, however, I think that the idea expressed- the reunion of the family unit- is what mainly drew viewers toward the picture.

I started thinking about the afterlife/ Olam HaBa/ the next world after this challenge. What is the Jewish view on the world to come? Do we even really know?

From here, it seems we do not:

    R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan's name: All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only in respect of the Messianic era; but as for the world to come 'the eye hath not seen, O Lord, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.'18

On the other hand, there are certain themes, motifs and ideas that are repeated and represented in terms of the world to come. I don't profess to understand them, but I thought I would represent them here.

1. Judgement-

      There will be three groups on the Day of Judgment: one of thoroughly righteous people, one of thoroughly wicked people and one of people in between. The first group will be immediately inscribed for everlasting life; the second group will be doomed in Gehinnom [Hell], as it says, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" [Daniel 12:2], the third will go down to Gehinnom and squeal and rise again, as it says, "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name and I will answer them" [Zechariah 13:9]... [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b-17a]
        The school of Hillel suggested a more merciful view, in which the middle group are sent directly to Gan Eden (Heaven) instead of Gehinnom after death. Rabbi Hanina added that all who go down to Gehinnom will go up again, except adulterers, those who put their fellows to shame in public, and those who call their fellows by an obnoxious name [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Metzia 58b]. Source here


        All the good deeds which Israel does in this world will bear testimony unto them in the world to come, as it is said, Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified; let them hear and say it is truth. Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified — that is Israel; let them hear and say it is truth — these are the idolaters.

        Avodah Zara 4a


        R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan also said: Every good deed that one does in this world precedes him and walks in front of him in the world to come, as it is said: And thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.5 Likewise, every transgression that one commits clasps him and leads him on the day of judgment, as it is said, They clasp him in the course of their way.6 R. Eleazar said: It is tied on to him like a dog, as it is said, He hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, to be with her;7 [it is to say that] to lie by her in this world, [would mean for him] to be with her in the world to come.

        Avodah Zara 5a

      2. Rewards-

      A. The Shining Face

        (and I'm certain that the Little Midrash Says brings up an idea, somewhere, stating that one's face shines in accordance to one's learning- the brightest have radiant faces like the sun, the next like the moon, then there are those who glow like the light of the menorah...and hence one can tell one's level of learning from one's face.) I'm not sure if this is the source for that, but...

        R. Judah, son of R. Simeon, expounded: He who emaciates25 his face for the sake of the study of the Torah in this world,26 the Holy One, blessed be He, will make his lustre shine in the next, as it is written, His countenance shall be as the Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.27

        Sanhedrin 100a

      B. The Leviathan

        Likewise, Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent he created male and female; and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed the whole world.19 What [then] did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female preserving it in salt for the righteous in the world to come; for it is written: And he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.20

        Bava Basra 74b

      and also stated here,

        Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.11 Kerah12 must mean a banquet; for it is said: And he prepared for them a great banquet13 and they ate and drank.14 Companions must mean scholars,15 for it is said: Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken for thy voice; cause me to hear it.16 The rest [of Leviathan] will be distributed and sold out in the markets of Jerusalem...

        Bava Basra 75

      C. The Crowns

        A favourite saying of Rab was: [The future world is not like this world.]19 In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, And they beheld God, and did eat and drink.20

        Berakhot 17

      D. Golden Three-Legged Tables

        Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa's wife said to him, "For how much longer are we to continue to suffer so much?" When he asked her what they should do, (she replied), "Pray to God for mercy that He provide us with something."

        Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa davened for mercy and something like the palm of a hand miraculously appeared, and he was given one golden leg of a table. He (others have the version she) saw in a dream that in the future world, the righteous people are eating at golden tables that have three legs, whereas Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was eating at a table with only two legs. He said, "Are you content that everyone else is eating at a complete (three-legged) table, while we eat at a defective (missing a leg) table?"

        She said to him, "What shall we do?"

        "Let us pray for mercy that they should take it back."

        He prayed for mercy, and they took it back...

        Ta'anit 25a


      E. Justice

        R. Abbahu also said: Solomon was asked: Who has a place in the future world? He answered: He to whom are applied the words, and before his elders shall be glory.7 A similar remark was made by Joseph the son of R. Joshua. He had been ill and fell in a trance. [After he recovered], his father said to him: 'What vision did you have?' He replied, 'I saw a world upside down, the upper below and the lower above.'8 He said to him: 'You saw a well regulated world.' [He asked further]: 'In what condition did you see us [students]?' He replied: 'As our esteem is here, so it is there. I also [he continued] heard them saying, Happy he who comes here in full possession of his learning. I also heard them saying, No creature can attain to the place [in heaven] assigned to the martyrs of the [Roman] Government.' Who are these? Shall I say R. Akiba and his comrades?9 Had they no other merit but this? Obviously even without this [they would have attained this rank]. What is meant therefore must be the martyrs of Lud.10

        Bava Basra 10

      3. Punishments (while there's an entire discussion simply about Gehinnom and its purpose, and about those who have no portion in the world to come, here are some explicit punishments)

      A. Titus

        What I decreed for myself. Every day my ashes are collected and sentence is passed on me and I am burnt and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas.

      B. Bilam

        He replied: With boiling hot semen.2

      C. Sinners of Israel

        What is your punishment? They replied: With boiling hot excrement, since a Master has said: Whoever mocks at the words of the Sages is punished with boiling hot excrement.

        All of these are from Gittin 57 (which has the very fascinating story of Onkeles communing with the dead)

      4. The Dead and Our World

      Are the dead cognizant of humans? There is a an extensive debate about this in Berakoth, beginning in Chapter 3, 18a. It starts with:

        R. Hiyya and R. Jonathan were once walking about in a cemetery, and the blue fringe of R. Jonathan was trailing on the ground. Said R. Hiyya to him: Lift it up, so that they [the dead] should not say: Tomorrow they are coming to join us and now they are insulting us! He said to him: Do they know so much? Is it not written, But the dead know not anything?19

      They continue through various dreams (money hidden in forgotten places, children 'forgetting their learning' and wondering how their parents would respond, the story of the two girls, one buried in a shroud of matted reeds, whose discussions help out a pious man until they learn their words are being 'heard" in the world below...) and each "proof" brought is subject to argument, so it cannot conclusively be said the dead are cognizant of the living.

      Relating back to the topic that brought on my curiousity about this subject- namely, the DPChallenge pictures- there was another evocative photograph that I personally connected to Ecclesiastes/ Koheles, even though the quote was taken from the New Testament.

        "For what is your life? It is even a vapour," by mpeters

        The above picture and this picture were my favorites.

        What about you? What do you think of the afterlife/ the next world? Which picture do you find compelling?


        Tobie said...

        The quotes that you brought are exceptionally interesting, although various ones seem to be referring to Gan Eden and Olam Haba, which the Rambam regards as different things- "The World to Come", I think, referring to the time after Mashiach. My personal picture of the afterlife- not the World to Come stuff- is that we spend eternity being what we have made ourselves, but cognizant of the perfection for which we strived. Sort of the thing about glowing according to your level or basking in Hashem's aura. We are able to realize as much perfection as we prepared ourselves for in our lifetimes, and no more. Heaven is that perfection, Hell lies is the perfection for which we failed to work hard enough to achieve.

        I admit, however, that I don't really think too much about the afterlife- I don't think that's really the point. If I only perfect myself for the joy that it will give me in Heaven, then I don't know how much it's really worth.

        Jameel @ The Muqata said...


        The best story I ever heard about "olam haba" was when a person gave up his share of "olam haba" for someone else.

        The person reasoned that from then on, all his good deeds and positive actions would be pure, since he would have zero ulterior motives.

        At the end of the day, when it says "VaChai BaHem" -- we do the mitzvot not for our current existance to be difficult, but to perfect our living existance...and make it enjoyable.

        Carpe Diem!

        kasamba said...

        Actually, I think about Olam Haba alot. I think about how my deeds in this world will look in the next with the total clarity that is missing in this realm.
        I am also well aware of what Tobie was saying. In other words- Gehinom is the clarity to see what you've done wrong without the ability to correct it.

        That is why Shabbos comes once a week while other yomim tovim only come once a year. The lesson is that great. Whatever we prepare for Shabbos we have on Shabbos- you don't prepare you don't have (Shabbos being the day of rest). The same thing pertains to our lives. Whatever we prepare for the next world we will have, otherwise we are high and dry.

        Orthoprax said...


        "What do you think of the afterlife/ the next world? Which picture do you find compelling?"

        Personally, I don't believe in a life after death. I believe that we have our reputations and our relationships so that we live on for a time in the minds and memories of others. The effects we have on others and on the world at large can be said to be our continued legacy.

        Alternatively, if we look at the universe non-chronologically since time can be looked at as another dimension of space, we never cease to exist. Our whole person, from birth to death, is enclosed in a space-time that is indivisible. Just because we are no longer existing in a certain time, that does not mean we do not exist. It is as meaningful as saying we do not exist in a certain place.

        Lastly, if you learn to break from the ego, then "you" are really just an expression of the universe. As much as a unique wave is a variance in the sea, you are a unique variance in existence itself. When you die, you are returning from whence you came, becoming one again with the whole.

        Something to meditate on, at least.

        As far as the "next world" goes, however, I do believe in progress and that there will come a time when there will be peace on earth and good will towards all men. I don't know about the nature of lions and lambs, but people will act justly and human rights and dignity will be universally recognized and celebrated. But this 'olam haba' can only come about through human endurance, ingenuity and effort, not from divine deliverance.

        Ezzie said...

        I tend not to think about it too much.


        As for the pictures, they're all interesting but none particularly 'hit' me as respresentative of anything to do with the next world. The dandelions are obviously more about this world, the light at the end I think a skewed perspective - I don't see that man would bow down to their fate, but rather more as the standing in fair judgement fashion...

        ~ Sarah ~ said...

        I have to say that, like Ezzie, I don't really think about it too much. It's not the most tangible notion (at least to me!). How do we really know anything much about it?

        The pictures are nice as images but personally I don't feel that a single photograph can reflect such a lofty concept. And it's such a subjective thing.

        Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the different ideas and beliefs that the photographers wanted to portray in their images and the techniques, colours and design. There are some stunning compositions there.

        FrumGirl said...

        Its quite scary to think about it. Not much is documented about what is in store for us in the world to come. Those punishments you list sound terrible.

        These pictures are so haunting!

        Irina Tsukerman said...

        I love the photographs! Like many others, I try not to think about it too much or too often, and when I do, I try to see it a lightweight way. I think of life after death as a conspiracy, of thoughts. While we're alive, we always think about what happens after, and plan, if at all possible to be as helpful to people we leave behind as we can, or even try to let them know that we're all right, through a dream or whatever. But once people die and see everybody else who's passed on, they decided to keep mum. Completely mum. Thus nobody ever comes back. You have to wait for y our time to find out what happens... and when it comes, they are waiting, and you immediately decide that their silence makes more sense than your earlier decision to "stay in touch" - and join the club. It's kind of mean of me to think of it that way, but that's the only reasonable explanation I can think of if I want to incorporate all elements of what I would WANT to happen -
        1)For there to BE an afterlife
        2)For everyone to retain their memories
        3)For everyone, to be aware of everything around them and what goes with people who are alive.

        Sorry for the long-winded comment.