2.3. The afterlife and the transmigration of souls


Although the human soul is immortal and survives the physical death of the body, Judaism focuses on the importance of the actual earthly life, and not on a future reward. At death the soul passes in the afterlife and it is sent in one of the two places: the Garden of Eden or the Purgatory. According to the Mishnah, the belief in resurrection is necessary in order for a Jew to be part of it: “All Israel have a portion in the world to come ... but the following have no portion therein: he who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, that the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an apikoros [apostate]” (Sanhedrin 90a).19

The afterlife refers both to the life after death and the existence during the reign of the Messiah, but it is not clear what category of people will be resurrected and what will happen with the souls of the ones not resurrected. Most medieval scholars argue that during the Messianic Age the spiritual and material realms will merge and people will be able to directly communicate with God. The resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Messiah is one of Maimonides’s “13 principles of faith.” He says that until the coming of Messiah the souls of the dead will have a parallel existence, entirely spiritual.

Although the Tanakh and the Talmud do not mention it, Kabbalah teaches about the transmigration of souls – a kind of reincarnation that is neither automatic, nor a punishment for sin as it is depicted in some Eastern ideologies. It rather concentrates on the individual process of atonement. From a kabbalistic point of view, each Jewish soul is reincarnated until it fulfills all the moral principles indicated in the Torah.20 Likewise, the souls of the righteous non-Jews can be assisted during the cycle in order to fulfill the Seven Laws of Noah.21 The cycles of the soul represent an expression of divine compassion, a new chance of redemption and a heavenly agreement with each individual soul for a new descent. According to the teachings of the medieval scholar Isaac Luria, at the beginning of Creation the emanations of God invaded all the possible worlds, until they reached an end in our physical world as divine “sparks.” Divine revelations in the form of scriptures are meant to guide each spark (human soul) to return to its original source (God) for reunification. When all the sparks will be close enough to God the Messianic Age will begin. Thus, Jewish theology grants cosmic meaning and importance to each individual life, because each individual has tasks that only he can accomplish. The future eschatological utopia will take place only in the material world, the lowest one, because the material realm is at the margin of Creation and the Messianic Age represents the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation in the material world.22

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