Mendy Kaminker
Mendy Kaminker

Death: what does Judaism say?

Today, let’s have a conversation about an uncomfortable topic: dying.

But wait: what is it about dying that makes many of us uncomfortable?

Some will argue it’s because we are scared of the unknown. But I am not convinced. Look, no one is uncomfortable guessing who will be the winner of the next superbowl, who will win the next election, and what is going to happen next in the stock market.

And it’s not only about areas that we are familiar with; try talking about UFOs or humans settling on Mars, and you will find an engaging audience.

Dying, however, is still taboo.

I wonder if it’s because death feels like the opposite of ourselves. It’s the end of our existence. And since we very much like to exist, speaking about the end doesn’t feel good.

Thinking about this topic can also make us question our self worth: if it’s going to be over at some point, does it even have any value?

Still, it’s an important conversation. And this week, as we learn in the Torah about Jacob’s passing and burial, is the perfect time to have this conversation.

In Judaism, death is not viewed as an end. It is not the last stop of the journey, rather one more stop in the journey. According to the Torah, when a person dies, they only change form: instead of a soul-plus-body, they are now soul only.

Even after death, neither our identity or our relationships are lost. The soul is very much alive, and is still in touch with its loved ones on earth, aware of their pains and rejoicing in their moments of celebrations.

This is why in Judaism there are many laws and traditions concerning the afterlife, from the way the body is prepared to burial (the “Tahara” purification process), to the funeral, burial and the grave.

These traditions and laws have a dual purpose.

First, they provide the body the dignity it deserves. After all, it was the body that enabled the soul to fulfill so many Mitzvot during its lifetime.

Second, they are designed to ease the soul’s pain. Because although the soul enjoys being in heaven, it does mourn the separation from the body. Through these traditions, the soul is being comforted as it embarks on its spiritual journey in heaven.

Thank G-d, more and more Jews are starting to appreciate the beauty in the traditional Jewish way and choose a Jewish burial over cremation.

I encourage you to explore the topic further on Chabad.org (click here) and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any question.

May G-d bless all of us with a long, healthy, meaningful and impactful life!

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of Chabad.org.
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