What is Your Concept of Soul and Afterlife?
As we ask big questions during the High Holy Days, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, presents a range of Jewish responses to both theological and philosophical questions pertaining to God, humanity, and the Jewish people. In the spirit of the High Holy Days, we would like to share some of the inspirational responses included in the book, for a thoughtful and meaningful New Year.
In yoga class we do an exercise where we imagine holding a basketball in our hands. With minds focused on the present, feet planted, and hearts lifted, with our hands we trace the shape, push against the edges, even toss it into the air and catch it. We can feel the ball even though we can’t see it; we interact with it even though it is not there. The same is true of the souls of our loved ones after they have died.
At the first Yizkor service led by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, nearly twenty-five years after my mother died, he taught something that has taken me twenty-five years to understand: “Our relationships with our loved ones continue even after they are gone.” Like the basketball at yoga class, we can’t see them or feel them, but we can hold them, and our relationships with their souls, with our own souls touched by them, continue.
For many years I thought my soul, the sparkling sacred essence of who I am, was a response to my mother’s death, that I am who I am because she died, that I took on her soul when we buried her young body. But now I know that isn’t entirely true. I have my own soul, formed and shaped, expressing my own values, dreams, and personality, breathed into me by God on the day I was born, not on the day she died. I am a wife and mother, a friend and a rabbi, not only because my mother died when I was a child, but because in the eleven years that we had together in this world, she shared her soul, her passions and commitments, with me—and because in the years since I have made them my own. She was clear and consistent about her core values, and they endure and find new expression in my life: hospitality, Jewish life in America and Israel, teaching and learning, nurturing friendship, being part of a complicated family, expressing creativity, being organized and in charge. With my feet planted, as I breathe deeply, focus quietly, lift my heart, feel confident and supported, I can see her soul and my own. I feel and embrace our ever-evolving and deepening relationship, life and after-life, breathing together for eternity.
Rabbi Debra J. Robbins serves Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX.
Excerpted from Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin and published in 2015 by CCAR Press.