Shalom. I’ve become somewhat perplexed by the lack of words of comfort and reassurance regarding death (in general) in the Nevi’im. I am a Gentile so am wondering if Israel has a different conception of, or relationship to, natural death than other peoples. For me, natural death is quite a big thing! Thus I expected Hashem to have had more to say in response to such concerns and fears. Is my fear and alarm regarding said things pathological? Thank you for your time.

  • 3
    The promise of the World to Come for the deserving should be enough to both alleviate fear of death and encourage observance of commandments. Feb 12 '20 at 16:34
  • @Maurice Mizrahi - Ah, I guess my faith is just not strong enough at this time. Please pray for me. TW
    – Tom W
    Feb 12 '20 at 16:46
  • 1
    A natural death after a productive life was not something to be feared, and it seems this was considered something to look forward to. The fears are of an early death, especially at the hands of others - this was seen as a punishment from God, so there won't be any words of comfort for this - only constant warning that this may happen.
    – simyou
    Feb 13 '20 at 10:25
  • @simyou Excellent point, and in fact Job's friend Eliphaz (5:26) wishes him as much: תבוא בכלח אלי קבר - you will come to the grave at a ripe old age.
    – Meir
    Feb 14 '20 at 15:29

Perhaps you are looking for the wrong words or ideas in the Prophets. Natural death, as you refer to it, is discussed within the Torah and also, as you request, in the Prophets.

Natural death is associated with the term הריסה, which is from the root הרס. It is often translated as destruction, but is more accurately understood as the concept of decay.

Decay, death and destruction are natural parts of G-d's creation as we all experience it now. It is part of the balanced universe and isn't something to fear because as the creation is currently, it is necessary and part of G-d's bestowal of good to all things.

To put that in context, think of any balanced and properly functioning ecosystem. The cycle of destruction and death, meaning predation and the consumption of material food to meet ones needs is normal and necessary. All life depends upon that cycle. When that cycle gets out of balance, meaning excess in one direction or another, then the ecosystem is sick and there is an overall reduction of life.

Like we are all taught by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19, we are always to choose what results in life.

I call as witness upon you this day heaven and earth [(They endure forever, and if evil befall you, they will testify that I forewarned you of all this.)] The life and the death have I set before you, the blessing and the curse, and [I urge you to] choose the life, so that you live, you and your seed.

With that said, it is important to understand that our Prophets teach us that G-d's creation will not remain like this forever. That principle of destruction that we experience now will ultimately be eliminated by G-d. This is associated with the coming of Moshiach and the final redemption. And that is what is found in Amos 9:11 which says:

בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא אָקִ֛ים אֶת־סֻכַּ֥ת דָּוִ֖יד הַנֹּפֶ֑לֶת וְגָדַרְתִּ֣י אֶת־פִּרְצֵיהֶ֗ן וַהֲרִֽסֹתָיו֙ אָקִ֔ים וּבְנִיתִ֖יהָ כִּימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃

In that day, I will set up again the fallen booth of David: I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old.

And this is how Maimonides explains it in his commentary to Mishnah Sanhedrin, chapter 10:1:

"How great is Your good that You have hidden for those that fear You." And so, they, may their memory be blessed, said, "In the world to come there is no eating and no drinking and no bathing and no anointing and no intercourse, but rather the righteous ones sit and their crowns are upon their heads and they derive pleasure from the radiance of the Divine Presence."

Regarding your last question, "Is my fear and alarm regarding said things pathological?", meaning caused by or related to mental or physical illness.

This seems off topic because of its personal nature and would be something you should discuss with your own local health professional.

  • Rambam did not mean that we will sit with drowns, but he did mean what he said when we will abstain from certain activities.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 12 '20 at 23:29
  • 1
    +1, and another relevant verse is II Samuel 14:14: "For die we must, and [are] as water that is spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again; and G-d favors not a soul [to save it from that]..." I also once saw an anecdote where a person complains to his rabbi that he's afraid of death, and the answer was, "Be more concerned about life - about whether you're accomplishing what you need to - and then you won't be afraid of death."
    – Meir
    Feb 13 '20 at 1:50
  • @Meir Good point about Samuel and the rabbi's advice.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 13 '20 at 4:24

Rabbi Ehrlich felt that the ancient Israelites did not believe in heaven or hell. The ancients probably felt that the deceased descended into Sheol, which the Greeks called Hades.

In fact, the Torah does not speak about life after death, heaven or hell. When people die they are sent to Sheol, which means "grave." However, the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b cites Numbers 31:16, Moses will "lie with his ancestors." However, arguably this phrase is an idiom, Moses will join his ancestors when he died as they died.

Additionally, the Midrash says that Moses cried when he was told he was about to die. If there is life after death, and if the Oral Torah emphasized this, and if Moses knew this, why did he cry? Be it as it may, this midrashic tale is not in the Bible.

  • Moses cried because his productive life would be over, and that meant more to him than the promised reward of the next world - "more precious is one hour in repentance and good deeds in this world, than all the life of the world to come;" sefaria.org.il/…
    – simyou
    Feb 15 '20 at 17:26
  • @simyou Yes, there are many commentators who offer different explanations.
    – Jonathan
    Feb 16 '20 at 0:34

You ask a good question, one in which scholars have been asking for centuries. Unfortunately for some, and this will bother many people, the Bible does not mention life after death.

Additionally, the Torah is silent in matters of heaven, hell, or garden of Eden. Daniel 12 does not speak about the resurrection or life after death, but the revival of Judaism. Daniel may have lived around the time of the Maccabean revolt. When he is told to “rest" it means to have patience and the wise are Jews who follow Judaism rather than Hellenism. They are told to “awake,” meaning to rise to rebellion against the Syrian Greeks. He is assured that they will be among the victors in the “end of days.” This interpretation seems more appropriate with the historical context.

The Hebrew term "sheol" means nothing more than the grave. When Jacob cries that the death of his son will lead him into sheol in Genesis 37:35, he is saying that the depressing will kill him. Sheol means a grave, nothing more. Also, the phrase olam haba is not in the Torah.

Similarly, the modern Hebrew word for “soul” is nefesh today, but in biblical Hebrew nefesh did not denote "soul," rather it meant “a person,” or a “life force.” Thus, the Bible is silent about the modern concept of a soul. In his essay called Chelek Maimonides seems to say that God does not reward and punish people after death. Rather, the person’s intellect joins (or gets absorbed into) an active intellect. Thus, there are no souls after death, only intellects.

Although most people feel uncomfortable when they do not know something that is important to them, I think the answer is that we simply do not know and may never know.

  • thanks for this. I was pretty sure that Daniel 12 speaks of the resurrection of the dead, but I will revisit that in the light of what you have said. Even if Daniel 12 is a promise of resurrection for the righteous, my question still stands: why were those in the grip of the fear of natural death not addressed directly - like, say, the ‘storm-tossed, afflicted one’ in Yeshayahu 54?
    – Tom W
    Feb 12 '20 at 16:04
  • Thank you for your comments. Yes, I think a careful reading of Daniel 12 does not speak about resurrection but the need to rise to rebellion against Greeks. For it would be out of context to suggest Daniel to be taking politics, resurrection, and back to politics. I also think that the Torah does not mention life after death but saying that should not be mistaken for a declaration that the after life does not exist.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 12 '20 at 17:04
  • 5
    -1 Just about every single thing in this answer is patently false.
    – user5173
    Feb 12 '20 at 17:53
  • 3
    It also doesn’t answer the question.
    – user5173
    Feb 12 '20 at 17:54
  • @user5173 Actually, everything in this answer is correct. Reread Daniel 12 with this new interpretation, it solves much. A lot of the problem is the way we define words today that are contrary to the biblical text. None of my comments should be read to suggest that there is no life after death, only that there is no proof that it exists in the Bible.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 12 '20 at 17:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .