The Afterlife

Part 2



In Part 1 we discussed how death signifies a person’s transitions into a different, non-material existence. No longer is one's sense of self a combination of body and soul, instead, it re-emerges with a soul-centric identity, just as a caterpillar re-emerges from its chrysalis, taking on an entirely different form of existence. The Kabbalah tells us that at the moment of death the soul carries all the imagery of life in the body, similar to the imagining of events in a dream. In Hebrew, this imaginary world is called Olam HaDimyon, “the world of imagination”.

After death, a person can continue to exist as a soul in Olam HaDimyon, in an imaginary world in which everything continues as usual. The soul goes back to work. It meets friends. It leads a whole existence which is a continuation of the busy life it had before: meetings, briefings, troubles with a spouse, problems with children, a machine that broke down and so on — all in a nonphysical existence built entirely of bodily images, none of which is real anymore.

A metaphor for this strong experience of a reality that is subjective, imaginary and completely untrue is the phenomenon of “phantom pain”. When a leg is amputated, the person can often feel an itch or a pain in a limb that no longer exists. This happens because the body retains the image of the limb, sometimes for a while, sometimes lifelong. Although the person knows and can even see with his eyes that the leg is no longer there, internally the person cannot accept the new idea that this part does not exist. Such a transformation is even more difficult when the connection is far closer, deeper, and more thorough-going — namely, the connection to the whole body, to bodily existence. After death, the soul carries with it a phantom image of its own existence. A soul that is not prepared for death, for moving on to another existence, may carry this phantom imagery for a long time before it can be released.

The next stage in the journey of the soul is called, in Hebrew, Kaf HaKela — literally, “the cup of a slingshot”. During this phase the soul is "tossed" back and forth between two realities, the physical and the Spiritual. One sees the reality of one’s life without the boundaries of the physical brain, which can block many things. The soul has complete recall of the events of its life, with an understanding possible only from the vantage point of a different form of existence.

Being in Kaf HaKela is like seeing life as an endless film loop, telling and retelling the same story. The soul now has a completely different view, and has to measure itself against different criteria. When we are disembodied, and view life as a whole, many things that we had considered extremely important at the time turn out to be trivial and insignificant, devoid of real meaning.

Reviewing one’s whole life in this way is part of the process of release, of dissociating the two partners, and of coming into a different existence. Seeing life from outside the body grants us the ability to see the body — with which we were formerly so identified, and which we had considered to be the senior partner in the body-soul relationship — as a less important component of one’s identity.

This stage of Kaf HaKela is a preparation for the next stage, the reeducation of the soul. This stage is called Gehinnom, hell. It is a continuation of this preparatory stage of understanding. There are many images of hell in various world cultures. Jews have devoted relatively little time to the concept, but they do have some hell images of their own. In Jewish thought, hell is not a punishment, but rather — to use a modern idiom — like going into deep therapy. This second parting, the dismissing of one’s former faults, is the soul's journey in hell. This "dismissing" is accomplished only through deep therapy and understanding. The deeper the faults are, the deeper the "therapy" needed to reeducate and "cleanse" the soul.

The time needed to rehabilitate each soul, and to turn into an entirely evolved, different being, depends largely on the person’s life. Only then, once a person has been "rehabilitated", so to speak, can the next stage come, which we call paradise. This ultimate stage in this ascension of the soul is spoken of in Jewish tradition as a different “world”, in which the soul enjoys the light of the Divine Presence — the absolute Infinity that contains the wholeness of everything. The soul can keep ascending for eternity.

From the works of Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz