Dear Rabanit Cohen,
I live in Denver, CO and receive your newsletters every week which I love using at our Shabbos table. Recently, my 15 year-old daughter asked me about the authenticity of Olam Habah. She claims that there is no mention in the entire Torah about an “afterlife.” Unfortunately, her emunah is beginning to weaken as a result of many obstacles but how can I at least address this question?
Thank you for taking the time to write and I am very happy to hear that the newsletters are spicing up the Shabat table. Your daughter is not the first to ask one of the most powerful questions in Yahadut. There are many deep and insightful answers that can be given and for your daughter, although she grew up in a religious setting, I would recommend that you send her on an Arachim or Hidabroot seminar weekend where all her questions of faith will be addressed.
Unfortunately, these subjects are not dealt with enough in the Bet Yaakov’s. I always say that it is important for every Bet Yaakov to bring an exceptional and professional speaker who has dealt with the non-religious world, to engage the young girls in amazing lectures on Yahadut beginning with whether the Torah is Divinely bestowed to is there really life after death?
On one foot, you can explain the following to your daughter: there may be many worlds, but this is the one that matters the most right now. While it is true that the Torah does not mention the afterlife in conjunction with death, it is spoken about in the books of the neviim. Interestingly, the subject of an afterlife is noticeably missing from Chamishah Chumshei Torah.
There is however, an indication that ultimate justice will take place someplace other than this world. An example of this is the story of Kayin and Hevel. Kayin and Hevel bring offerings to Hashem. Hashem accepts Hevel’s offering and rejects Kayin’s. Kayin becomes jealous and kills his brother Hevel. This is the end of the story. But wait! In one pasuk the Torah tells us that Hashem is happy with Hevel and the next moment he is dead! And interestingly. Kayin, who Hashem was not so happy with, walks away! Is this the reward for doing good?
Perhaps the strong message sent is that this world is filled with mystery and not always are things “fair.” Hashem however, does not remain indebted. Ultimate justice comes later. Why then does the Torah not mention Olam Habah? Why is it left for the neviim to describe later on in history?
The answer could be that the holy Torah is about this world, not the next. Lo ba’shamayim hee – the Torah is not in the heavens. It was brought to us down here on earth. While other religions dangle exciting promises of what lies in store for the righteous in paradise, even giving vivid descriptions of who awaits you there and interesting facts about their biology, Yahadut does not see this as a valid motive for doing good. Hashem wants us to do good because it is good for us to engage in good acts and because He commanded us.
There is another lifetime in which the righteous will be rewarded, and the wicked punished. This is something the neviim discussed. This however, is hashem’s realm. We have to concern ourselves with this lifetime. Our mission is to do good, to fight evil, and make this a safe and comfortable world – a place where both Hashem and man can feel at home. Perhaps the world has deteriorated to the state it has is precisely because there are so many out there who do not believe in an afterlife, and they give themselves the allowance to behave immorally, thinking there will be no justice in the end.
The Kayins of this world can get away with murder. It is important to remember that when we over-emphasize the importance of the afterlife over THIS life, we run the risk of belittling the kedushah and preciousness of life itself. The approach of Yahadut is that this world is merely the corridor to the next, but it is the place where we have to strive to achieve and fulfill our mission. Our focus should be on this world and we should leave the next world to the Creator.