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Following untimely death, many wonder how the soul ascends

Rabbi Zev Wineberg, Guest Columnist

To capture this esoteric soul journey replete with spiritual imagery collected from the teaching of Jewish mysticism I have tried to use some prose.

Last week Mark Fasbinder, a beloved member of the Kansas City Jewish community, was tragically taken from us at the age of 57. Whenever someone passes, this brings to mind questions rarely thought and even more rarely discussed. So to answer some of the enigma surrounding the soul’s ascension and the relevant Jewish customs please read on.

Our soul is in truth always conscious — it was before we came into our body and it will be after. Let me share with you a true story I personally heard.

When I was the rabbi in the small resort town of Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, we held a monthly meeting for our fellow Jews in the nearby community of Kynsna. There a lady told me that she had been on the Chevra Kadisha (the holy burial society, for in our tradition burial accords dignity to the person) and a doctor in their community unfortunately had a coma — she and some of her friends tried to prevail upon his wife that he should not be cremated rather buried.

Amazingly the day they got her to sign that he would be buried he briefly woke up and his first words were, “I will not burn!” Three hours later he had passed on.

You see, we are living in what is called olam (the world) and etymologically and kabbalistically this is connected to the word helem — concealment/darkness.

Our eyes do not see, rather the matter they see from light refractions create a delusion that our reality is all there is (as Einstein said, “Reality is an illusion albeit a very persistent one.”)

Behind all matter as Kabbalah teaches us is souls — within physical matter is a Divine conscious force (and we can now photograph — google Emoto — how water will biologically change shapes based on the positive or negative energy it feels). The same is true of vegetation (which also reacts to emotions) certainly animals (think dogs with their emotions) and most definitely us highly sensitive humans — and according to Kabbalah the most sensitive compassionate and caring being of all, is our Divine Loving Father. 

In other words, our soul is the one who feels and this conscious feeler is never unconscious — hence when the soul departs the body, it is painfully, perhaps even traumatically disconcerted with its destiny.

The very worst thing we can G-d-forbid do is add to one’s trauma through cremation. However, through the dignity provided by an Orthodox traditional cleansing and clothing of the body, the soul consciously aware and somewhat attached to its previous home, is comforted. This is why one of our greatest mitzvahs is accompanying a departed person on their final journey to their burial.

The soul is actually aware (think how much more aware you become in dangerous or traumatic scenario) of all that is going on. It is comforted by the love being shown to it.

And most importantly, a young father was inconsolable after he tragically lost a son — the Lubavitcher Rebbe shared the following poignant, inspirational and comforting analogy with him: “Tell me,” said the Rebbe. “If you knew your son was on a distant island where his every need is cared for, yet the only gap is that you cannot see him but he can see you? Furthermore you could send him packages showing your deep love, concern and bond — he will joyously receive them and his love in fact will hence multiply for you. How would you feel?” “It would be hard,” replied the father, “but I could handle it.” So the Rebbe explained, “This is the exact scenario.”

A soul in heaven is 100 percent cared for, it has no physical needs, it sees from one end of the universe to the other, it deeply loves its family and friends, community and people, and though it cannot communicate to you, nonetheless through your every act of goodness and kindness, every extra mitzvah observed, undertaken for it; you cause it indescribable joy!

“Our Soul’s Journey”

In the beginning I awaited anxiously

My turn finally came

Gathering around, all other souls wished me Mazal Tov — good luck!

As my soul merged into my body, as I celebrated milestones: bris, upshernish, Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah respectively

Progressively becoming more aware

Discerning, Seeking, Learning

As my allotted mission of light and love, goodness and kindness ended

An unwelcome visitor said “hello”

The malach hamaves, the satan, the angel of death

“But this is my home!”

Mirthlessly a hollow voice said, “You are coming home.”

And no doctor and no potion could stay his sword

As I drifted into heaven, surrounded by all past loved ones, a new dimension unfolded

“I am not my body and my body is not me”

As the corporeal body began to decompose, I disassociated from the flesh

Facing heaven, my life flashed, but oh’ too clearly

My every word was worth a thousand tons

My every act counted like all the gold ever found

As the scales of my good or bad, my kindness versus my cruelty, my love versus my hate

Luckily in my favor, good outweighs

And in joyous exultation I entered into the heavenly academy

From the mouth of Moses, I studied The Five Books of Moses

From the mouth of Aharon his brother, how to love

From Rabbi Shimon bar Yochia, esoteric secrets

Could it be that I pursed vain vanities?

When true riches were in holy-wisdom

Could it be that money was my god

When all the money compares not to a single truth


Rabbi Zev Wineberg is a rabbi at Chabad House Center and blogger on his website www.kabbalahwisdom.org.