God Squad: Heaven awaits those who are lost, so that they may be found
Q: I want to start off by saying how much I love your column each week in Newsday. I always watched "God Squad" with you and Father Tom. I just lost my husband of 54 years. At the end of his life I was his caregiver for three years. One day he went to sleep and never woke up. It was heartbreaking; we had the best marriage ever. He was the best husband, father, and "Poppa," and person. I was so blessed for having him. We have three amazing sons and five amazing grandsons, all grown men now. One of our sons was born with hydrocephaly. He lives with me. We take care of each other. I am not an old woman. I just turned 73 years old and tomorrow would have been our 55th anniversary. My husband was Catholic, and I am Jewish. My question is, when God calls me home, will I be reunited with my husband for all eternity? We were not religious. We did pray at home and we both believe in God. The only thing I want to know is if one day we will be together again? Will he know me? I am truly heartbroken. I am close to both the families, but I still want to know. My husband is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, the military cemetery on Long Island. He was a veteran, and I will be buried with him. Please answer my question! God bless you. — A of Port Jefferson Station
A: God bless you, dearest A. God bless you for your humility. You never spoke of the great sacrifice you made to care for your son and for your dying husband. God bless you for your gratitude. You know that not everyone is blessed with such a loving marriage and family, and you do not take that blessing for granted. You were lucky that God shared your husband with you, but your husband and family were also lucky that God shared you with them. Everything you could have been given you were given, except one thing: the belief that death is not the end of us.
I am sorry to say that many Jews are also not given this belief by their rabbis, teachers and parents. Belief in life after death for our souls is a basic, strong and fundamental belief of Judaism; unfortunately it is not a belief held by most Jews, in my experience.
The belief that we have souls that live on after the death of our bodies was developed by the rabbis in the first centuries after the biblical period had ended. Christianity adopted the Jewish belief completely as did Islam. They call the place our souls reside after death Heaven. We call it The World to Come. The Hebrew for this is olam ha-ba'ah, although sometimes it is called The Garden of Eden (gan eden). Here are just some Jewish texts that Jews should know but have not always been taught:
We read in the Mishna Pirke Avot 4.16, haolam hazeh domeh l'prozdor bifnei ha'olam habah, "This world is just a waiting room for the world to come." In Avot 4.17, yafa sha'a ahat shel korat ruah ba'olam habah mikol hayei haolam hazeh, "One hour of bliss in the world to come is better than all the bliss in the world that is." In the Talmud tractate Moed Katan we learn, hai almah ushpizah v'hahu alma beita, "This world is only like a hotel. The world to come is like a home." And one of my favorites, ain tov baolam hazeh shelo y'tukan baolam habah, "There is no good thing in this world which is not better in the world to come."
When I recite the Jewish prayer for the dead, called the el moleh rachamim, I recite these words in it, b' gan eden t'he minuchato or minuchatah, "may his or her resting place be in gan eden."
Above all the other texts I offer up to you as proof that Judaism teaches a belief in Heaven is the prayer that is read at the completion of reading every small section of the Torah. The blessing includes the phrase, v'haye olam nata betocheinu, "and who has implanted within us eternal life."
Yes, dear A, you will not be separated forever from those you love. Yes, dear A, you will be reunited with your beloved husband. Yes, dear A, he will know you and embrace you, and the two of you will be sheltered under the wings of God's protecting love. He is waiting for you. God is waiting for you, but right now your family is waiting for you. Go to them and be calm. Heaven awaits.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.