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What is the Hineni Learning Tool?

Hineni is a unique, interactive, web-based tool that gives users a simple, ergonomic, and fast way to get information about Jewish death practices. The word, Hineni, is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase used in the Torah, meaning "Here I am." It was chosen to indicate this tool is here to give succinct, direct answers to everyone quickly and easily. Hineni is intended to be used by various audiences, starting with (1) with those who directly serve families (funeral directors, cemetery workers, hospice personnel, Jewish clergy, chaplains, death doulas, and hospital personnel, who want to learn more to be better able to serve Jewish families and who want to assist families in making end-of-life decisions), and (2) families facing death of a loved one who wish to learn more about our traditions. We also envision community leaders using this tool as they prepare drashot for services, lectures, or classes, along with Chevrah Kadisha workers who want to expand their abilities to share these practices with their community. Additional possible users could include bnei mitzvot classes and their teachers, chevrah leaders, chevrah volunteers, local education champions,  Jewish community lay leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish clergy, JADE helpline responders, and synagogue caring committee members. Acknowledgements The Hineni tool was developed by the JADE staff as a part of ongoing community educational efforts to find the best ways to disseminate and share knowledge about Jewish end-of-life practices, rites, customs, and traditions. An acknowledgement of the contribution of our staff is shown below.
Concept:
Rick Light
Prototype:
Rick Light
Coordination:
Isabel Knight
Content:
HollyBlue Hawkins, Rick Light
Editing:
Rick Light, David Zinner
Marketing
Isabel Knight, Susan Kramer
Implementation:

Afterlife in Judaism

A Deeper Understanding


The body, as the container for the holy soul, is considered holy. Both aspects of who we are (body and soul) are worthy of respect and honor. The same respect we give the living is also afforded to the dead. Rabbi Art Green explains (in his book, Seek My Face) “The ever-giving Source of life teaches that humans are created b’tzelem Elohim, and thus possess dignity and sanctity.”  This view affects not only how we treat the living, but also how we treat our dead.

Perhaps this explains the saying from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) that we are to greet everyone with a pleasant face. We shine upon others in order to help others shine and to validate their sense of self-worth. The worth of a person is not transactional:  Who are you that I should pay attention to you? The better question to ask when we withhold our attentions is: Who am I that I should ignore you (as a holy being)?

Souls after Death


Judaism offers a very wide range of ideas about the concept of soul and what happens to us after we die. Torah itself offers little, if anything, on either subject, but later writings, including the Talmudic rabbis, had a lot to say, and the range of ideas down through the centuries is vast. The ritual of taharah presumes, in its liturgy, that souls continue beyond death. We offer here a variety of views.

Rabbi Y.M. Tuchachinsky created the following parable (from Gesher Ha-Chayim: The Bridge of Life) to help understand the afterlife:

Twins are growing in their mother’s womb, warm, safe and protected. It is all they know and love. One day they feel themselves getting lower and lower and begin to worry that eventually they will exit the womb. The first twin is an optimist. a believer in a tradition that tells him he’ll come into a new life after the womb. The second twin, a pessimist, believes only in what she can see and touch, and not in anything that is not within her own experience. The optimist says that after his “death” in the womb, he’ll be born to a more exciting, stimulating new world. The pessimist rejects this as silliness stemming from a fear of death. We only know this world, she says. And after this life in the womb, there is nothing, only oblivion. One day the womb convulses, water bursts out, there is turmoil and upheaval, pain and movement. The believing brother leaves first and is born into the “new world” with a cry, causing the remaining twin to bemoan her brother’s terrible fate. What she doesn’t realize is that her brother has been born into a world of light and joy. with people shouting words of mazal tov on the birth of a new life.


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote (in his Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays):

Afterlife is felt to be a reunion and all of life a preparation for it. … Death may be the beginning of exaltation, an ultimate celebration, a reunion of the divine image with the divine source of being. Dust returns to dust, while the image, the divine breath in man, is returned to its source.  Death is not sensed as a defeat but as a summation, an arrival, a conclusion.


Rabbi Daniel Pressman wrote the following drash:

Judaism does affirm an afterlife. In the plaintive words of the El Malei Rachamim, the translation reads, "God full of mercy, who dwells on high, grant perfect rest under the wings of Your Shechinah in the lofty levels of the holy and pure who shine like the radiance of the firmament, to the souls of those we have recalled today for a blessing. May their resting place be in the Garden of Eden. Master of Mercy, may You shelter them beneath Your wings forever, and may their souls be bound up in the bond of life." This beautiful language is unequivocal in its belief that our beloved dead live on, sheltered in God’s protective presence. They are not just a memory, but an inspiration for our good deeds.


Solomon Ibn Gavirol (11th Century) wrote: “Plan for this world as if you hope to live forever, but plan for the World to Come as if you expect to die tomorrow.”

“Plan for this world as if you hope to live forever” is an expression of the well-known Jewish affirmation of this world. Belief in afterlife is not a negation of this life. We have work to do here, and unique possibilities for growth and goodness that end when we draw our last breath. It also means that life is a blessing that is not nullified by death. On the contrary, it is those who believe that when we die, we are snuffed out forever, who have the challenge in finding meaning in their lives. For them, death is a disaster. For those who affirm the afterlife, death is the closing of a chapter.


Rabbi Ya’akov in Pirkei Avot said, “Better is one hour of bliss in the World to Come than the whole life of this world; better is one hour of repentance and good works in this world than the whole life of the World to Come.”

This seems contradictory.  If we believe in a blissful afterlife, shouldn’t that cause us to see the trials of this world as a lesser existence?  However the Sages teach, “in the World to Come it is impossible to repent or do good works. That world exists only for the receiving of reward for what a person has done in this world. And one hour in the World to Come provides more calm of spirit than all of the life of this world, for there is no perfect calm of spirit here.”


A Jewish Colonel in the United States army, Mickey Marcus, who helped to train Israel’s first army, and who died in defense of Jerusalem in 1948, wrote these words on a scrap of paper found in his pocket:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she is only a ribbon of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight—that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” There are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There! She comes!” And that is dying.

Resources to Learn More


 

Judaism teaches that humans are created b’tzelem Elohim, and thus possess dignity and sanctity. This view affects not only how we live, but also how we treat our dead. 

Click on icons below to learn about this topic from different perspectives.

Practical

Textual

Emotional

Spiritual

Afterlife in Judaism from the Practical / Physical Perspective

The body is the container for the soul within it. Both body and soul are considered holy and therefore worthy of respect and dignity. After death the soul returns to the spiritual world from where it came, and the body returns to the earth from where it came. Death is a misnomer for the soul since it never dies.

Afterlife in Judaism from the Intellectual / Textual Perspective

Judaism offers a very wide range of ideas about the concept of soul and what happens to us after we die. The Old Testament itself offers little, if anything, on either subject, but later writings, including the Talmudic rabbis, had a lot to say, and the range of ideas down through the centuries is vast.  Jewish death rituals are predicated on the foundational belief that souls continue beyond death.

Afterlife in Judaism from the Emotional / Feelings Perspective

Jewish beliefs in the afterlife provide a blanket of comfort to those who face illness, death, and mourning. Knowing that your loved one lives on after death enables continuity of the love that supported and enriched your relationship in life.

Afterlife in Judaism from the Spiritual / Soul Perspective

All of life is a preparation for death. The body and soul are both considered holy. The soul lives on after death.  The soul returns to God who gave it and the body returns to the dust from where it came.  Death is not sensed as an end but as a summation, an arrival, a conclusion, and the beginning of the next chapter.  Death may be a reunion of the soul with the Divine source of being.

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Deeper Understanding

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