Christianity and Judaism have quite different views on this topic. Christianity says that all are judged upon death, and are either granted access to heaven, or doomed to hell and damnation. Judaism on the other hand teaches that the soul separates from the body at death and returns to its Creator in Gan Eden.
Which is it? It would be good to know, it could be a little late if you wait to see. Lets take a look at both sides of the discussion.
Christianity takes a “dualistic” approach. Dualism is described as a “good god” verses a “evil god”. This was evident in many religions during the era of Christianity’s origin. Zoroastrianism is a classic example of dualism. The god of Zoroastrianism is representative of “good”, and he is in battle with the god of “evil”. Similarly Christianity refers to the devil as “the god of this world”, (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Christian god and the god of this world are in battle over every persons soul. The Christian god is made up of three divisions or “persons”, the father, the son, and the holy spirit. It is the holy spirits job to draw people to the triune god, and away from the devil (aka Lucifer). The devil on the other hand has daemons that tempt people and work hard to draw people in the other direction away from the Christian triune god. Those that believe in the Christian three part god also called “the trinity”, go to heaven, however those who do not accept the trinity are doomed to go to hell with the devil and his daemons. Hell or hadies is a place of eternal punishment and damnation, vs. heaven that is in the presence of god and eternal peace.
Where did this concept of heaven and hell come from? It didn’t come from the Tanach, the Jewish Bible, because there is no mention in the Tanach about a place of eternal bliss, or eternal damnation. The Hebrew word שמה (shameh) is usually translated into English as heaven, but it also means sky. Shameh is referring to heaven and sky as synonymous, perhaps it could be referring to something lofty. In Deuteronomy 7:1 the translator’s left the word out, when the verse refers to going into “the land”. I think it describes the land, in a “spiritual” way. This word שמה (shameh) is left out in several occasions when referring to entering the land. Also shameh is spelled the same as Adam and Eves son Shem, who is the father of the Shemites, or as we say “Semites”. The Hebrew word שאל (Sheol) refers to a grave, a place where the flesh is placed after it dies to return to the ground. A few references are Genius 37:35, Numbers 16:33, and 1 Kings 2:6. Upon death our flesh and soul are separated, the flesh is placed in sheol, and our soul returns to its Creator. If you were to read the King James translation of the book of Psalms, you would have an argument with me on hell and heaven not being in the Tanach. However a translation of the Bible, and the Bible in Hebrew is two different things. In the book of Psalms you will find שאל in 15 verses, they are: 6:5, 9:17, 16:10, 18:5, 30:3, 31:17, 49:14, 49:15, 55:15, 86:13, 88:3, 89:48, 116:3, 139:8, 141:7. In 5 of these verses the translator uses the word “hell” instead of “grave”. What would be his purpose to not be consistent, unless he had an objective? Also 6 of these verses refer to the soul, with 4 referring to the soul leaving the grave to return to its Creator. See 16:10, 30:3, 49:15, 89:48.
Where do we learn about a place of eternal bliss or heaven and eternal damnation or hell? It must come from another source. That other source or other religions is what Christianity drew from in its beginning. According to Robert Wright, about the time of the the writing of the New Testament book of Luke, (around 80 ACE), the “kingdom of heaven” was not taking place, so the writer of Luke introduces a borrowed belief from a popular Roman religion originating from Egypt. This pagan religion was the Egyptian god Osiris. A comparison of the rich man and the poor man written in the book of Luke (Luke 16:19-31), and a very similar story told earlier about Osiris, shows how Luke may have drawn this story from another religion. Osiris was the Egyptian god of the afterlife. This is intended to be a possibility, and to be viewed a fact.
The Torah teaches us in the first chapter of Genius that all of life was created by Hashem in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden). Hashem created our nephish (soul) and from the earth he created our flesh. We consist of two parts, the soul and the flesh. The flesh, originating from the earth, has been passed down from generation to generation from Adam an Eve. Upon our death it returns to its origin, the earth. Likewise, upon death the soul returns to its origin, Gan Eden, and its creator, Hashem. According to Ezekiel there will be a day when the flesh will be resurrected. That is during the same time as the coming messiah, and the third Temple. But in the mean time, our souls return to the Creator. Some Jewish teachings suggest that sometimes the soul lingers before it returns to Gan Eden. Another teaching says that because the deceased persons soul is without body, they are not able to do a mitzvah. So we can do a mitzvah in their name and on their behalf. When this happens, there soul is present and they reap the pleasure of that mitzvah. To go a little deeper is the teaching of the seven stages of the “after life”. The first two stages are prior to the souls departure. First is the knowledge of death being upon you, and then the actual death. Stage three is called “Gehenna”, this isn’t the same as the Gehenna that Christians refer to as “hell”. This is very different. Gehenna is a place of healing of the soul, prior to entering the next stage. A person can be in Gehenna for up to the equivalent of our 11 months, depending on the need. But Hasham is with them carrying them through the entire time. Stages four and five are lower “Gan Eden” and upper “Gan Eden”. Lower Gan Eden is total bliss, while Upper Gan Eden is in the presence of HaShem. After Gehenna we pass to lower Gan Eden and then on to Upper Gan Eden. Stages six and seven are preparing the soul to return to the earth and then the actual returning and entering another life on earth. Some of these teaching you may connect with and some you may not. Sometimes after understanding the source, and background of a new teaching we obtain new revelation. This topic is not addressed in the Tanach, so we don’t have Scriptures to refer to. The best thing to do is to embrace “Life”, live it according to Torah, and do our part to make the earth a better place. Once we leave here we can no longer keep the Mitzvahs, so enjoy what Hashem has given us while we are alive and we can.
I thank Hashem for His peace that surpasses all understanding, His Shalom-Shalom. I can rest assured that as I truly confess my sins to Him, with a repentant heart, I am forgiven!
by, Jim Behnke