Defining the Near-Death Experience
The phenomenon of near-death is the most extraordinary experience a human being can undergo. An event wherein the individual has died or been killed, the near-death experience is, clinically, the point at which a person is evaluated as dead, but then, somehow, survives to describe what they encountered in the state of death.
It is important to understand that these experiences are near–death, not after-death. By definition, death means the point of no return. Those who went through such experiences were in the process of dying, or perhaps were declared dead, but they did not in effect literally die. What precisely constitutes death, and what the criteria are for declaring a person dead, is greatly debated.
Today, in most modern societies an electroencephalograph or EEG, which amplifies and records even the minutest of brain electrical activity, is used to identify death. When the machine shows a flat line in its readout, death is established. Yet even in a case where someone was clinically dead, only to be revived later, this clearly indicates that the body was not completely lifeless. In fact, some people who experience hypothermia, which is a dramatic lowering of the body temperature but not death, can show no sign of brainwave activity whatsoever, until later, when they are warmed up and resuscitated.
While the actual phrase “near-death experience,” otherwise referred to as NDE, is a relatively modern term, the phenomenon itself has been reported throughout the ages. Reports of such experiences date back thousands of years. There are cave paintings found in southern Europe that seem to depict afterlife scenes, images that appear similar to cases documented in our times. The earliest Western, secular description of a near-death experience is found in Plato’s Republic. In that work, a story is told of a Greek soldier named Er, who was taken for dead, only to awake and tell of his journey to another world. In the narrative, Er is killed and, as he is about to be cremated, he awakens and tells a story of leaving his body and traveling with others to a place where he is to be judged.
Today, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, this occurrence and the reports of experiences such as Er’s seem quite widespread. According to some recent reputable polls in the United States alone, over thirteen million people have reported that they have gone through a near-death experience. Such experiences appear to have no relationship with one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. Proportionately, the frequency of these experiences occur the same across cultures- whether one is devout and spiritual, or agnostic, atheistic, and materialistic. Age, race, gender, and social status also seem to make no difference in a person’s susceptibility to these experiences. ·
Many who report experiencing near-death describe similar encounters with another world. There are many ways to divide these experiences, but to serve our immediate purpose and make the issue more comprehensible, the description will be divided into ten progressive stages.
Ten Stages of the Near-Death Experience
At first the individual may experience a simple sense of no longer being among the living. Oddly, the person may even overhear other people pronouncing them dead.
In stage two, the person enters a state of extreme tranquility, peace, and the absence of any pain or anguish.
Third, a person may begin to hear an unpleasant noise, occasionally described as a buzzing or hissing sound.
In the fourth stage, one experiences an awareness of separation, separating from the body, divesting oneself of physical form. Consciousness seems to separate from the body at this stage, appearing to acquire the ability to perceive surroundings without the mediation of the senses. Although consciousness lacks physical form, the person still feels implicitly or explicitly hound within a kind of phantom body. There is nonetheless some form of “body,” albeit not in the corporeal or physical sense. Some describe this body as an energy field, or a type of cloud, a form of light, a swirl of colors. The body the person assumes is felt to be light, a form that can go through rocks and travel instantaneously to great distances. Within this “body,” the person has an expanded awareness of everything, but it appears that no one else notices him or her.
At the fifth stage, one senses the self passing through a dark passageway, a kind of tunnel or burrow. Then, in the sixth stage, one encounters ethereal, lightweight “entities,” who upon reflection seem quite familiar. Sometimes they are family members or previously deceased friends. It appears that they come to help the soul. Angelic figures can also make an appearance at this stage. All these “entities” appear to be enveloped in a kind of glowing, radiant light.
Soon thereafter, in the seventh state, a person may have an encounter with a Being of Light, which one understands to be God. This light emanates a vibration of powerful and unconditional love.
Often in the order described above, as well as in the eighth stage, the person experiences a total review of life and a sense of self-evaluation. This is not the recall of life details in any systematic, orderly fashion; rather, it is a panoramic, instantaneous review of one’s life. Additionally, even the emotions and feelings associated with each particular moment recalled are relived and re-experienced. It is a passionate, deep recollection of life.
Throughout the experience, in the ninth stage, one strongly senses an absence of time, a sense of timelessness and even spacelessness. However, the notion of compression or restriction has no bearing on the experience, since it occurs fully to the individual.
Ultimately, in the tenth stage of near-death, the person comes upon a kind of barrier, whether as a door, a bridge, or some other hindrance, which apparently separates life in this world from life in the next.
This is the overall picture depicted. To be sure, not every person reporting a near-death experience encounters all these stages, and certainly they do not always occur in the same sequence. Some experience one or two of the events, and some encounter more. Not a model per se, these stages form more of a general template. How far a person goes into the experience depends on whether the person experienced clinical death and, if so, for how long. The longer one was assumed dead, the deeper and further he or she seems to travel.
Additionally, there is another phenomenon called “empathic near-death experience,” where a person who is close to someone nearing death senses a separation from the body, in a sense accompanying their loved one’s soul on the journey into the afterlife. For some people, this occurs as a growing awareness of all-embracing and loving light encountered in the seventh stage. Others speak of sensing the presence of deceased relatives or friends who come to greet the soul as it drifts away.
The Interconnectedness of All Realities: Meditations & Dreams
Before these possibilities are explored according to the perspective of the Torah, bear in mind that, while simple speculation is for the most part meaningless, save as a mental exercise, there are many who find exploring these issues intriguing and even comforting. In times of deep mourning, many people find that the knowledge of what occurs to their beloved’s soul is valuable information and suitably soothing.
To the finite being, the perception of reality—physicality and spirituality—operates on a completely different plane from that of the ethereal, and the chasm dividing the two worlds is irreconcilable and impossible to bridge. There is much validity to this assumption, and precisely because of this no living being, no matter what his or her expertise or genius, can truly approximate what the afterlife is really like. Even Moses, the greatest of the prophets, declined to offer details regarding what awaits man in the hereafter. Yet, it is also true that creation was originally patterned in a way that allows the divide to be traversed and the partition to be overcome, albeit for a short period of time.
All reality is one, all universes are interlinked and interlaced. What begins as lively spirit manifests later in the process of creation as lame matter. Reification is merely a culmination of the processs that starts with pure, divine energy; later, souls become constituted within three-dimensional, concrete objects. Upper/inner realities and lower/external realities become seamlessly interwoven and symbiotically interconnected.
Revelation is a means through which the transcendent becomes available to the living. The Torah, which was offered at Mount Sinai, is revelation par excellence. Through Torah meditation we are empowered to pierce the veil, lift the screen, and take a peek into a reality that is far beyond and deep within. The transmission of divine wisdom is available through the Torah, accessible for all who will to fathom.
Throughout history there were, and there always are, highly sensitive and spiritual individuals who are able to tap into realms of existence that are beyond the immediate. Quite frankly, the echo of Sinai has never ceased- it is only humanity who has distanced and alienated themselves from this experience, to a point where he is no longer able to hear the voice. Some evolved, extraordinary souls, and occasionally some ordinary souls in extraordinary moments, are able to relive Sinai through being receptive to the deeper truths that are otherwise unnoticed and undetectable- they can perceive the deepest aspects of creation.
Dreams provide another means, though these provide a more obscured mood for acquiring transcendent insight, particularly with regard to the soul’s journey in the afterlife. Death and sleep are closely related, two states of being allied with each other. Ancient Greek philosophers referred to sleep as death’s sister. The sages of the Talmud teach that sleep is a sixtieth of death. In this sense, sleep is a mini form of death. While the person sleeps, major aspects of soul depart the body and may roam into deeper/higher dimensions of reality. During these nocturnal journeys, it is possible for the higher levels of the soul to inform the lower ones that remain earthbound.
Whether the dreamer registers and becomes aware, consciously or subconsciously, of the wisdom imparted depends on the dreamer’s spiritual development, how integrated he or she is with the various aspects of self. For those who are entirely integrated—aligning the most external of personality with the most internal, those whose outer will expresses their inner will, whose thoughts, speech, and actions are in sync with their innermost soul desires—such people will have a conscious awareness. Others may also become aware without understanding higher dimensions more intuitively and less consciously.
Collective and individual revelation at Sinai—and throughout the ages, whether through prophecy or ruach ha’kodesh—”divine intuition,” inspired dreams—is the foundation of Torah’s view on the afterlife. Evidently this body of knowledge is not merely folklore or hyperbole, suggestions or speculation. Instead, these are teachings that have been verified by the direct experience of the transmitter, only to be later transcribed and documented as written testimony.
The Ten Stages in Traditional Torah Sources
Incidents where on returns to life from “death” are found sprinkled throughout the Torah. There are number of descriptions in the written Torah, and later in the Talmud, which recounts tales of “resurrection.” In these events, prophets and sages perform the impossible, resurrecting those who have already passed on. While there is the possibility to interpret these incidents as cases of resuscitation as opposed to resurrection, reviving as opposed to offering new life, traditionally many of these events were viewed as literal resurrections, returning the dead to life.
Beyond resurrection people have been described as undergoing what can be said to be a near-death experience. In one Talmudic story, a sage was so deathly ill that his soul departed his body, though he did not actually “die.” Later, when he resumed consciousness, he recounted what he saw. He spoke of an inverted, reversed universe, where everything appeared to be the opposite of what reality seems to be here on earth: humble people were placed on pedestals, while those who formerly considered themselves superior were seated below. At this point, the sage heard a heavenly voice declare, “Honorable is one who enters these realms of existence with Torah wisdom at his dispense.”
Rabbi Yosi once paid a visit to his sick neighbor when he heard a voice proclaiming, “A soul has come in front of me prior to its destined time; woe to those neighbors in his village who have not done anything to help him.” Sensing the truth of the message, R. Yosi hurried and placed on the sick man’s lips the juice of a gerogerot, and slowly the man was nurtured back to life. Upon his recovery he told R. Yosi that his soul had in fact left his body, and was brought before the throne of the King. “I would have stayed there,” he tells R. Yosi, “but the Master of the Universe desired that you be given the opportunity to have the merit of restoring my health.”
Once the soul leaves the body, it experiences tremendously heightened awareness, both of self and of everything else that is going on near the body. Even if the near-death experience is not an indication of an after-life, there is still a peculiar phenomenon that science cannot adequately explain.
One would expect consciousness to slow and shut down as the physical brain increasingly deadens and unravels-but amazingly, the exact opposite occurs. Reality appears to be more real, perception more vivid, and there is a total expansion of consciousness. On a metaphysical level, this can be understood as a result of the soul unhinging itself from the constriction of the material brain. When the soul leaves the body, the expansion of awareness is no longer filtered through the ego or the sensory functions, hence awareness is completely lucid and transparent.
The soul perceives everything that is spoken in front of the lifeless body. The soul in a sense watches and surveys what transpires from a distance, as if viewing another person’s body. Even after burial, for the first three days the soul hovers over the body and observes.
In the second stage, as the person realizes that he is no longer among the living, a sense of ease, peace, and painlessness sets in. Even if, up to the point of death, fear or apprehension were experienced, the moment a person senses the soul leaving the body there is a complete absence of any anxiety, fright, or panic. “Like removing a strand of hair from a cup of milk,” as the Talmud describes the soul of the righteous leaving body. Yet this is not always the case.
Occasionally, the process of the soul exiting the body is similar to trying to pull a tangled rope through a narrow opening, or to withdraw embedded thistles from sheep’s wool. This depends on the level of spiritual integration a person has attained in the moment of death. Later we will discuss why some—though, optimistically speaking, few in number—experience fear and anguish while their soul wrestles itself out of physical form. For the most part, the transition from one life to the next is smooth, painless, and utterly peaceful.
In the next stage many report hearing an uncomfortable hissing sound. Undoubtedly, however this noise is explained, it has no physical resonance; otherwise everyone around would also hear it. Pleasant acoustic sounds and harmonies appear to represent a sense of cosmic order universally; conversely, acoustic dlssonance and disharmony symbolize an atmosphere of chaos and agony. While explicit coloration of this experience is not found in its pages, the Talmud does mention sounds that the soul generates when leaving the body, and also speaks of the cosmic noise created by the movement of the celestial spheres.
The hissing may be somewhat related to this cosmic sound, and whether it is heard as pleasant or annoying depends on the spiritual stature of the individual.
Guf Dak-The Mental Body Double
As the physical body lies lifeless, the person undergoing a near-death experience may feel that he or she is assuming another form, a more refined, translucent, and non-material type of “body.” Every human being possesses both a guf gas, “dense body,” and a guf dak, “ethereal body.” The guf dak is a distinct, “spiritualized,” luminous configuration, which parallels the opaque physical form and holds together consciousness and body.
There are various names for the guf dak: it is called chaluka d’rabanan, “garment of the sages”; malbush, “garb”; tzelem, “shadow,” otherwise known as aura; or simply ruach, “spirit.” The guf gas formation we inhabit on this realm of existence is physical in shape and form. The more distilled, transparent version of the body, which is the guf dak, is the body prototype, the prefiguration that existed as primordial form prior to the emergence of our physical bodies.
A person’s relationship with his or her “angel-like” double, so to speak, is symbiotic and reciprocal. It is the means through which the body expands and develops, and conversely it is also sustained throughout life by the person’s own projected mindset and behavior.
Everything a person performs-thoughts, feelings, or actions-has multi-layered and multi-dimensional effects. A mental manifestation, a projected image, is exuded through every action a person does or does not do: positive vibrations emit positivity, while negativity ejects negativity. Mitzvot create a refined ethereal form, while transgressions produce negatively charged energy that infuses the soul and its garments. The nature of the “afterlife body” the soul assumes is a direct reflection of the person’s performance here on earth. These outer projections are the person’s “spiritual” body in the afterlife.
When people who have experienced near-death speak of an ethereal body that is perfect, without pain or handicaps, it can be assumed that the creator of this body was a good person. Once the soul divests itself of corporeality, it enters this insubstantial form, journeying on with this “body” in the initial stages of the afterlife.
Guf dak has no coarse representation and is therefore barely discernible in physical terms. Some suggest that this body is a discernible wave, a kind of energy that has not yet been detected, composed of units called positrons or “theta agents.” These units of energy have never been detected or seen, and in fact simply giving such entities names does not make them any more real from a scientific vantage point. Whether scientifically observed or not the guf dak, is for the most part undetectable to the physical eye. Sometimes, though, people do get a glimpse of their reality, and occasionally they receive a good deal more than a glimpse.
It is said that, after he passed away, Rabbi Yehudah the Prince would appear every Friday evening in ethereal form and recite kiddush, the preliminary blessings over a cup of wine before the Shabbas meal, for his family. The physical act of saying kiddush involves standing with an overflowing wine cup in one hand, over which blessings are pronounced; the person saying klddush then sits, passing the cup to the other hand and taking a full drink of the wine, before distributing what remains in the cup to the others at the table. This action is tangible, witnessed by all present, so it would be assumed that R. Yehudah was in some way physically real enough to perform the ritual. The story of R. Yehudah’s appearance indicates that, for souls to become apparent in three-dimensional reality, they must conform on some level to the rules of dimensional existence—this allows them to enter a kind of body in order to interact with physical human beings.
Many perfectly sane people report sensing the presence of someone who has passed on; some even tell of “seeing” a deceased person. It is difficult to define what “seeing” is in this context, though occasionally, if the apparition possesses a human form, it can be perceived as if the “dead person” were suspended over a gathering, even over his or her own funeral. Some, though not all, phenomena of this nature can be scientifically explained and substantiated. Alternatively, it may also be a case where a soul-or in some instances an angelic figure descends and enwraps itself within a guf dak or a malbush, becoming noticeable to those who experience heightened awareness. By embodying the guf dak, the departed person’s soul becomes apparent, so much so that their appearance seems as real to the observer as the floor they are standing on.
Inevitably this topic opens the door to discussing the general idea of ghosts, spirits, apparitions, phantoms, and all the invisible entities or energies that many feel permeate our own sphere of reality. Those who profess a belief in such entities speak of a sixth sense that resonates and picks up vibrations thrown off by these forces. They are experienced as something that is present in a given space, an awareness that comes about through feeling or other sensation. Spirits in this sense are viewed as a presence of the past, specifically expressed. Clearly, these “external” energies cannot be empirically viewed at least in the traditional way of seeing things, yet for those who claim to sense such things, they are as real as anything else that is perceived in the waking world. While the physical eye does not see the spirit it is perceptible by the sensitivity some call the “third eye.”
Centuries ago, prior to the modern revolution of science, any force that was indiscernible but somehow felt was attributed to the world of spirits. To distinguish themselves from such “superstition,” individuals wish to explain away the idea of spirits, illusion, fantasy, as figments of imagination. Accordingly, a fair number of scientifically oriented individuals speak of apparitions as a kind of illusion, a mental image originating in the mind that is projected as an external entity.
Illusory perception is indeed how some authentic interpreters treat a classical biblical tale regarding necromancy. The book of Samuel tells the story of King Saul and the witch.
Before a ruler engaged in battle in Biblical times, he would first ask the prophet whether he thought it was a good idea, and the prophet in turn would enter a prophetic state and seek divine guidance. Soon after the demise of the prophet Samuel, the Philistines appeared to be mustering for war. Saul, having exhausted every possible means to procure divine counsel, felt he was left with no other option but to summon the soul of the Samuel through witchcraft, even though this was against Torah law. Disguising himself as a simple traveler, Saul left his palace and visited a witch. She did not recognize the king, but was able to raise the prophet, and Saul communicated with the departed master. While most traditional commentaries view this episode as a genuine exchange between a deceased soul and a living person, there are some who interpret the incident as a case of elaborate imagination and a piece of chicanery, without a kernel of truth. Saul experienced an illusory conversation, perceiving it as genuine—he was simply fooled by the witch and his own desires.
Besides the work of imagination that may come into play, there is also a rational explanation for sighting spirits, one that is not connected to the supernatural or paranormal. All recordings are made through the imprinting of an image or sound on a certain type of receptive medium. A visual image, a picture is created when light activates the proper chemicals to produce photochemical reactions. In a photograph, the image is transferred to the medium-first the photosensitive film, which is then converted into a negative, and later it is produced on a sheet of paper. Perhaps, as some scientists suggest, seeing “ghosts” is merely the r production of an image that was imprinted long ago and recorded in the fabric of a surface much like a film, by which a recorded image reappears when light shines in a peculiar way on or through its surface. The object appears to be present, when all that is really there is a picture of the object.
In a case where photographic images are not feasible, the scientifically minded resort to the idea of illusory perception as a simple, complete explanation. From a spiritual perspective, however, imagination and reality are not necessarily mutually exclusive. To declare something illusory does not automatically mean that the hallucinated object has no external properties. All illusion can be an unclear, possibly even lucid, vision of something that does in fact exist. Some illusions are internally based, purely figments of imagination, but some “things” may have all external entity. For these externally existing objects, the only way they can be perceived is not through the normative ways of thinking-the way the mind processes three-dimensional realities-but through the more imaginative faculties resident in the human being.
Souls, whether enwrapped within the body or unbound by physical form, tend to sense each other’s presence. The way our consciousness feels this attraction is by sensing a “presence,” something pulling or goading the sentient being in a particular direction or toward a specific person. When people speak of sensing a lifeless soul within physical limits, this is because the soul, even when it leaves corporeal space, is still connected and enclothed within a mass, a weightless translucent “body,” and it is this form that the living perceive.
The next step in the near-death experience is perceived as a tunnel. A narrow place, possibly seen as a gate or a bridge, is a symbolic image of transition, a metaphor for a state of passage, a liminal state—from the Latin term limen, “threshold” or “doorway”—through which the soul moves from one existence into another. The tunnel itself is something of an intermediary stage connecting the two very different fields of reality. Midrashic sources speak of the Machpeila, the burial site of Adam, Eve, the Patriarchs, and most of the Matriarchs. After the soul passes from this world, it journeys through the cave of Machpeila en route to a higher realm of existence.
In the stage that follows, one may encounter family and deceased friends as ethereal, lightweight entities, glowing within a radiant light. Angelic figures also make their appearance at this point. Esoteric Torah teachings speak of close relatives, friends, and occasionally teachers, who come to accompany the soul to the place of eternal rest. They serve as guides to initiate the soul into the universe of bodiless consciousness.
Husbands and wives find each other in the afterlife, and generally families reunite come together within gan eden. It goes without saying that there is immense spiritual excitement in heaven when souls realize that their beloved ones are about to join them.
The Talmud mentions celebrated historical figures coming to greet souls who may have had aspecial connection with them. When the illustrious Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was about to pass on, he said, “Prepare a seat for Chizkiah the King of Judah, who has come to welcome me.” According to other traditional texts, one of the people perceived by the soul in the dying process is Adam, the primordial human being, the root of all souls and the genetic source for all mankind. Interestingly, in various instances throughout the Torah in descriptions of a person passing, the person is said to be “gathered to his ancestors,” perhaps alluding to spiritual reunification.
Angelic beings or “light entities” are another phenomenon often spoken of with regard to this stage. References to angels are found throughout the entire body of Torah. There are arch-angels and there are sub-angels, there are angels that were created at the beginning of time, and there are angels that are continuously being brought into existence throughout the unfolding of time. Some angels were created before humankind, while others are created by humankind.
Angels are messengers and transmitters of energy. An angel is a spiritual conduit, a qualitative reality that receives divine plenty from one realm and transmits it to another, and vice versa. Angels are the channels through which divine energy flows upward and downward, ascending and descending. Essentially, every force of creation is an angel.
Being lodged in a three-dimensional universe, a world apprehended with the five constricting senses, man is unable to perceive what operates on other wave frequencies. An angel may embody and project itself to a human being in a human-like form, or for that matter it may assume a malbush, so that man can recognize and identify its presence. Yet these are only assumed forms, and the true, inner essence of angelic reality cannot be distinguished or detected by any physical instrument or operative system.
Angelic and physical reality functions on two dissimilar wavelengths, with polarized, organizing principles and functional rules. There are classic opinions that speak of angels as a refined aspect of fire; others confirm that angels are comprised of distilled fire and wind; and there are yet others who speak of angels existing in any one of the four basic elements: fire, wind, water, or earth. Still, the majority view holds that angels are divested of all materiality, and all opinions agree that angelic properties, if there are any, are radically different from anything experienced in a three-dimensional universe. For lack of a better way of communicating their characteristics, we may picture the indescribable essence of angels as a pillar of light—for light is the one property that is detectable though physically ungraspable, observable yet elusive and intangible.
After a person passes, the soul is welcomed and joined by angels. In fact, there are two or three angels that travel with us throughout life. These are what we call guardian angels, the angels that walk with us wherever we go. These spiritual manifestations chronicle and retain records of our life, of all our actions, thoughts, words, and experiences. Everything we do, think, or feel creates an energy that assumes an objective reality, and that force itself is an accurate capsule of our life and actions. These angelic figures are replicated spiritual images of the totality of who we are, so much so that they are “shaped” like us, even “speaking” with the same voices as ourselves.
Every thought, action, and experience, on a cosmic level, gives rise to angelic energy. Physical/tangible actions influence physicality and inspire a material transformation of energy, while the intention, focus, and emotions involved in the act create an objective spiritual force, a pure angelic creation. The force that empowered the act becomes an entity unto itself, and that energy is “shaped” as the action. Angels brought into being through positive actions perform with complete mindfulness, fervor, and passion; they are “perfected” energies, imbued with destiny, while an angel created through half-hearted or mindless actions is “imperfect,” incomplete and disfigured.
This arrangement works both ways: positive actions inspire and create positive forces, while negative actions create negative vibrations. The completeness and wholesomeness of an angelic figure depends on the level of intellectual/emotional awareness and involvement of an acting human when he performs an action-being fully present in active life produces developed angels, while disconcerted actions craft disfigured and disjointed ones.
Whereas light is a metaphor for an angel, it too can be a way to illustrate or one’s own higher self. Since angels are identified as light, so are souls. “A candle of God is the soul of man,” say the wise King Solomon. Encountering lights may be the way to depict the experience of revelation or the manifestation of one’s own finer self. Every human being has an individual advocate above, an angelic force that guides, and the image of a person below is a mirror reflection of the angelic image above. In other words, one’s own inner image, and that of his or her angel, are one and the same. To the person dying, radiant lights form a metaphor he employs to express what it felt to experience the full articulation of the soul, unhindered and unrestricted by the body.
Seeing the Light
Besides these ethereal light beings, one of the more prominent experiences of the near-death encounter is sensing the presence of an all-embracing, loving, and warming light-a radiant brightness that many identify with God.
A soul does not leave this realm of existence until God is seen. No soul departs from this world before the appearance of the shechinah, the divine feminine aspect. As a result of the deep longing to reunite with the shechinah, the soul gently passes on and moves onward into the light.
Light is employed to capture the ineffable. The inner core, the essence of the Creator, cannot categorically be contextualized or quantified. No conventional language or poetic imagery can do justice to that which transcends all definitions. Yet, for the lack of any better metaphor, divine emanation is referred to as or, “light” which we have encountered in Chapter 1 as the or ein sof; “the endless light.”
Universally, light is used as the image for enlightenment, wisdom, and warmth. Seeing the great light may be one way human beings entrenched in dimensionality can describe what is beyond dimensions. To those souls who feel as one with the light, it is welcoming, emanating unconditional love and comfort, while for those souls who feel disconnected, the very same light appears threatening, overwhelming, and blinding.
Panoramic Life Review
At a crucial point, often sometime during the above sequence, the dying person experiences a total life review, where a sort of panoramic view of his or her entire life is replayed.
As we have discussed, nothing-and no things- are ever lost. Everything is recorded, and no experience, impression, sensory intake, thought, speech, or action ever vanishes. All of life is accurately transcribed, and will one day be played back to us. When a soul passes into the next world, all of life is brought in front of him or her to be appraised and reevaluated. Everything resurfaces to consciousness, and at this stage there is an individual assessment of each thought, feeling, or action—and of how they affected the other people around us. Customarily in this life review, everything in life appears at once, without a sequence or progression, and the entire picture of life is on display as one image, as a single snapshot.
Speaking of the life review, one Midrashic source implies that the accompanying angels who travel along with a person throughout life will be the ones to bear witness to his or her behavior. Other sources speak of the soul bearing witness, perceiving a kind of life-trajectory where the soul reviews and estimates its own evolution. Other sources conclude that it is the limbs of the body that actually testify. The point here is that all of life is imprinted on the psyche of the human being: either the encoding is in the surrounding aura, the angel-like energy enveloping us, or in our soul, or perhaps even within our limbs. Nothing is ever lost, and one day all of life will reappear and once again become manifest.
All our memory is received, recorded, and retained in a spiritual place, and perhaps the material brain is nothing more than an antenna that beams and transmits to consciousness selected memory. Everything is registered, and then the brain selectively funnels through and allows to pass only the critical information that it deems essential for our own survival. Once, however, the human spirit is no longer restricted by the limiting apparatus of the brain’s mechanics-once the jamming device of the brain ceases to function, and there is no ego to secure-the mind/soul now joined with the “mind of God” is completely expansive, open, and transparent.
As the limiting brain is no more, there can be total recall and a unified measure of consciousness. In a clear state, as such, all of life becomes crystallized, and one is allowed to observe and remember the entire life, the good as well as the opposite: whether the viewing is a pleasant event or not essentially depends on what is being shown.
In the course of experiencing a life review, many report appearing in front of something like a board of judgment. Traditionally, this is referred to as “the heavenly tribunal.” Once a soul leaves the body, it must look deeply into the proverbial mirror of truth and face its reflection. If negativity shows up in the image, a process of cleansing is in order. This is not revenge or payback, but a function of the soul’s desire to undergo purification, realizing that the procedure enables it to once again glow brilliantly. The light within can only merge with the “light without” when there is a total level of integration and oneness, after scrubbing off the “dirt” that allows it to reach this ultimate goal.
Life and the hereafter are one seamless whole. What occurs in the afterlife is an extension of what occurred in life. Negativity in this life, whether by omission or commission, by act or by attitude, disconnects the doer from his inner self, and the effects, which are carried over into the next realm of existence, do not allow for soul reengagement and its return to Source. The force that holds the soul from soaring upward, the power that weighs the soul down instead of surging higher, is the gravitational pull of negativity. Our actions or inactions themselves allow us to fly up or sink us lower, in this life and in the next.
In the descriptions of this process found in the Talmud, the process of the future life-review is said to occur first by means of din, “judgment,” followed by cheshbon, “accounting.” Though the order seems to be in reverse, since typically there is an accounting and then a verdict in most earthly trials, the wording and order here are precise and intentional. Following the journey through life, one is shown a recording of his or her life, as if watching a film, and then is asked to pass a judgment. Since the ego and its appendage, the internal defense mechanism, are fading at this point, the dispensed judgment is objectively offered with openness and fairness. Once judgment is given, the soul is informed that the vision was a reflection of its life. The verdict is given by the person, albeit unaware that its verdict was a self-judgment.
The moral of this is, tutor yourself to be less judgmental and it will serve you well, in the present and in your afterlife. If you are in the habit of being non-judgmental, when you do pass judgment here, if you do so fairly, in the afterlife you will appraise yourself sympathetically.
Overall, though the experiences reported above are of near-death experience, not after death, and the traditional life-review is an after-death occurrence, still, on the day of a person’s passing, a vision is granted of what was otherwise unavailable. There is a life-review after death and before death, during the moments when a person is moving on into the next world.
Timelessness is felt throughout the near-death experience, where everything appears to occur instantaneously. Everlastingness is not felt- rather eternity-and there is a marked distinction between the two. Everlastingness is the sequence of time itself, forever unfolding, while eternity lies outside the realm of time. The experience of eternity, as timelessness and spacelessness, is appreciated as a sense of operating in a universe that is unrelated to time or space.
Ultimately in these near-death experiences, a divider or gate is reached, and the soul then returns to the body. A deep yearning and longing to reunite with the universal oneness takes hold in the initial stages, and the soul desires to be lost in the light. At this point the radiance of the universe is shown and the accomplishments that can be achieved via embodiment are revealed, after which the soul gradually once again manifests in its bodily form.
In conclusion, though many of the issues raised and texts explored here referred to the “after-life” and near-death experience as “near” and not “after,” yet, as the righteous are about to depart this world, their due spiritual reward is shown to them and the vision arouses within them great joy. The enchanting image that appears during the dying process offers the soul a chance to leave the body pleasantly and at ease.
Arguments & Counterarguments Supporting the Authenticity of Near-Death Experience
What remains an open question-and perhaps one that can never be fully answered—is whether these reported near-death experiences are in fact genuine. One thing is certain, however we choose to understand the experience of reality after life: the potential for authentic experience is real.
As in every other facet of life, there are always several ways to interpret the experiences described above. Some people adamantly view near-death visions as proof of an afterlife. Others are more hesitant to draw this conclusion; though they can agree that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, the issue they have is whether it is scientifically grounded or not.
To present a comprehensive overview of the subject, it behooves us to give voice to both opinions, the arguments and counterarguments, the supporting opinions and refutations.
A basic contention for the skeptical is that the description given for the near-death experience is fundamentally the same that is offered by those who hallucinate by means of narcotics or other external, invasive stimuli. Their argument is that the experience is purely a chemical reaction, causing illusions, and not a vision that arises from bodiless consciousness. In a dying patient, they may contend, oxygen deprivation gives rise to fantastical images, and what is perceived is not some spiritual out-of-body phenomenon at all.
Those more psychologically oriented than scientific may argue that the myriad of delightful visions that appear at death are conjured up by the dying person himself or herself, as a self-protective mechanism to uphold and push aside overwhelming fear. In effect, it is the dying person who produces the image of an afterlife, in order to tame the distress over Impending, absolute extinction.
Earlier in this chapter, we divided the near-death experience into ten progressive stages. The first stage is initiated upon hearing oneself declared dead.
Hearing others pronounce a person dead while he or she is unconscious is the first experience of the near-death state. Notwithstanding their apparent lack of awareness, people who appear to be unconscious still register information in the brain, according to speculation by some. Such awareness may be coherent enough for many people to recall what occurred around them, though they were at the time unconscious. Lack of consciousness should limit a person’s recall of what was said and done in the room during this period, yet they still provide testimony that, assuming they are trustworthy, confirms that they perceived activity and discussion that took place, even in rooms far removed from the unconscious person. In some cases involving blind subjects, the person can describe details about the room’s shape or color. Here, the physical receptors of the brain are unlikely sources for the information given, and the knowledge must be attributed to some other source.
A sense of peacefulness, tranquility, and total serenity, which is the second stage of near-death, can be explained away rationally, without reverting to the supernatural. The body, we have come to learn, produces natural painkillers called endorphins, which are pumped into the bloodstream in a time of bodily crisis. Endorphins are internally created, morphine-like chemicals, among whose effects are pain reduction and feelings of euphoria. The body protects itself from danger, and in moments of extreme trauma it will naturally produce these painkillers to eclipse pain or distress.
Pain in general is not a bad thing, for it is the way the body informs the mind that danger is present, forcing the person to go and find help, or to overcome the danger in some manner. When too much pain is experienced, however, such as when the body is dying, the brain ca n become overloaded, which leads to counterproductive actions or mental patterns—for this reason the brain produces pleasant painkillers, giving the body a better chance of recovery. These “calming chemicals” are one way to explain why a dying person feels serenity and peacefulness.
There are those who speculate that the near-death experience is due to anoxia, which is a lack of oxygen reaching the brain, which portends an effect similar to seizures of the temporal lobe. Others argue that it could be the result of hyperoxia, an overabundance of oxygen, which could explain why the subject would feel quite peaceful and at ease. These rationalizations are somewhat flawed, however, simply because, as research has shown, many who have had a near-death experience were neither anoxic nor hypoxic.
At some point the dying person senses a separating from the body, and views the body from above. Since our nature is to focus on survival, people will conjure up anything that might help them survive. Psychologically there is ample reason why a person would want to feel distance from the injured body—by becoming emotionally detached from a body that is wounded, observing the body from above, the person becomes more equipped to handle the situation without panic, which affords him or her the ability to call forth new life-saving measures from within.
As a matter of fact, all our memories entail remembering what occurred to us as though we were viewing ourselves from a bird’s-eye perspective, from another location: we are always somewhere in the background of the event we recall. We remember ourselves doing something, but it is as if we were a separate entity, a third person, looking at ourselves performing that act or experiencing what occurred in that past moment.
Wishful thinking is another argument against the authenticity of the near-death experience. This hypothesis holds that seeing one’s body detached from the location of trauma is simply a kind of fantasy. A deaf, blind, or handicapped person may project a desire and visualize himself or herself as possessing a flawless body. The same is true for those who experience an accident that severs a limb: having been knocked unconscious, they may observe their physically ravaged bodies lying on the ground and, simultaneously, wish into existence an ethereal replica of themselves that is perfect and whole.
Autoscopic vision- that is, self-produced hallucinations— reveals another issue to be discussed here. An autoscopic hallucination occurs when people see a reflected image of themselves as an external entity. It may occur when a person suffers from a brain tumor, stroke, migraine headaches, or epilepsy. Or the perception may occur when a reflection of the self is seen elsewhere, which is a psychological disorder, referred to as derealization. This phenomenon has been recorded throughout the ages: in the fourth century BCE, Aristotle spoke of a fellow Athenian who would walk the streets of Athens and see himself in a crowd.
All the same, autoscopic hallucination and body vision in the experience of near-death are quite different. In an autoscopic vision, the person sees the body alive and vibrant, perhaps even communicating with him or her. In the near-death experience, however one sees the body as a lifeless, unresponsive corpse. What’s more, in an autoscopic hallucination, awareness occurs from within, observing the self from one’s own eyes, as it were a projected image of oneself. Conversely, in the near-death experience, the center of awareness appears to be “outside” the body- one sees the body as if from another location unrelated to the body.
Tunnel vision is one of the best known phenomena in the near-death experience. Precisely because of its popular familiarity, there are numerous theories and countertheories regarding its validity and authenticity.
Eye deterioration, which occurs when the brain begins shutting down, is one professed hypothesis for tunnel vision that is quite commonly cited. Some scientists speculate that tunnel vision originates from a dim “birth memory,” when the person as an infant passed through the birth canal. The following phase in the progression of near-death is that of seeing “light entities,” perceived as family, angels, or even as God, but in terms of birth this encounter is parallel to the next stage of life: after the infant passes through a dark birth canal, light appears and family become visible to the newborn infant. Essentially– almost comically— the light entities become nothing more than birth memories of coming forth into the sunlight, or at least into the overhead lights in the delivery room.
Most researchers today dismiss this theory for various reasons. First of all, we now know that the eyesight of a newly born child is too underdeveloped, if there is eyesight at all, to perceive the birth canal visually. Besides, infants are usually born with their heads pressed down on the canal and their eyes are tightly closed- rarely is a child born looking forward, with eyes wide open.
What’s more, according to this hypothesis, those who were born via caesarean procedure would not experience this “birth canal” vision during a near-death encounter, but this seems to be neither the case nor the criterion. This should lead us to dismiss the case for the rational theory. In addition, birth can hardly be considered a peaceful experience: being pulled or pushed into cold, unfamiliar world, out of the womb’s warm security, cannot register as pleasant, yet the near-death experience is most times utterly peaceful and beautifully pleasant.
Others explain away the sensation of passing through a dark tunnel as cerebral anoxia—oxygen deprivation. Some researchers also conjecture that a mixture of neural activation and inhibition produces labyrinthine patterns in the cortex of the brain, caused by what is called “retinocortical transformation,” which manifests as tunnel-like images within the field of vision. The trouble with the cerebral anoxia theory is that there are many people who have experienced tunnel vision in near-death encounters, yet they have not suffered from any oxygen loss.
Oxygen deprivation is also used to explain the resurfacing of old memories. Here, the problem is that oxygen deprivation is known to ca use dizziness, fuzzy thinking, and vagueness- nothing similar to rematerializing and revisiting memories as they occur in the near-death experience.
Various kinds of chemical conditioning are also employed to explain the encounters with loved ones. When the brain becomes overloaded and is in disarray, it may force up to the surface old memories, or else project internally sourced dreams. Meeting one’s closest acquaintances in this visionary state, according to the rational explanation, occurs when the brain reproduce the memory of the loved one; in the same way, seeing God, angels, old mentors, or religious figures is the mind clinging to its most secure and fantastic dream and image in it time of devastating crisis.
Intellectually this theory of clinging to positive memories may resonate, but empirically it is quite refutable. Some noted researchers have testified that, from all the children who have reported experiencing a near-death experience, not one of them saw their mother or father during their experience, unless that parent was no longer alive. This apparently shows that the idea of hanging on to our best memories to help alleviate a life-threatening situation cannot be the source of the memory. More shocking is the fact that some people come to see relatives that they did not know, and could not have known existed, such as a brother or sister, uncle, or aunt who had died long before and were never spoken of by living family members.
Following these ethereal light “entities,” whether they take the form of previously deceased relatives bathed in light, angelic figures, or for that matter God, the life-review appears to be an authentic, “real” experience for the person undergoing the near-death encounter.
A number of logical ways are available to explain this most fantastic of phenomena. For instance, the neuro-physiological explanation indicates that, through the gradual depletion of oxygen occuring when a subject is near death, minor seizures of the temporal lobes may occur, resulting in the experience of old memories. In fact, probing the temporal cortex and stimulating it with a mild electric shock brings to consciousness previously lost or “hidden” memories.
When in the 1950s a Canadian surgeon passed a mild electric current through electrodes taped to certain regions of the visual cortex, patients began to remember events and occurrences from their past, in detail and as if they were reliving those events with all their sights, sounds, and smells intact. Once the current was shut off, the induced memory was lost instantaneously. Every time the region was again stimulated, the entire memory came back, and interestingly it did not continue from where it had left off, but started all over again. It was as if a place in the brain were recording incidents as they occurred, which could then be tapped and made to replay the incidents whole. This was referred to at the time as “experiential response” a full reenactment of a previous lived experience.
As much credence as this study may give the scientific theory for life-review, there are some loose ends that don’t hold up. Researchers contend that the images conjured up through seizures are not recognized as occurring in a chronological order—they do not appear in the mind in the sequence they were experienced in life. On the other hand, those who experienced such images during a near-death encounter state that the order of events seen was chronological.
Beyond the physiological there are also psychological reasons offered to explain the life-review vision. As we have already noted, this theory postulates that the mind, in order to help the conscious mind escape the horrible reality of death, automatically reverts and revisits old childhood memories. Again, the issue this explanation does not clarify is why the mind would produce images in the same order as they occurred. If it serves as a way to d ea l with the pain, why would the period of life as a two-year-old resurface before one recalls being three years old—in other words, the preference should be the pleasantness of the memory, not its chronological sequence.
Beyond the appearance of a true-to-life sequence of events in the life- review, the sense of time or space seems to be lacking throughout the stages of the near-death experience. In this process, one appears to operate within a dimensionless, eternal reality.
This concept of spacelessness and timelessness can also be explained scientifically, at least in part, without resorting to the paranormal. The premise here is that, once certain regions of the brain begin to deteriorate and cease to function properly, the perception of time and space becomes Iess pronounced to the individual.
Certain studies provide a perfectly rational explanation as to why, when people enter deep meditative states or prayer—even in deep thinking—they sense spacelessness or oceanic boundlessness; a sensation, as Einstein said, of “the universe as a single significant whole.” Or as the quantum theorist Edwin Schrodinger wrote, “you—and all other conscious beings as such—are all in all.”
In pursuit of a more clinical method for analyzing brain’s activity it goes through different states, researchers have developed a technique that maps the brain before and during meditation. This procedure, using a computer scan to portray in red and yellow colors, has revealed a striking color change in a certain part of the brain during peak moments of meditation and relaxed focus.
On the left side of the cerebrum, right behind the crown of the skull, lies a region in the brain that is called the posterior superior parietal lobe. When a person is in a regular state of consciousness, this part of the brain appears on the computer as flaming red; however, during peak moments of meditation, this area becomes deep azure, which shows that there is a substantial decline in that region’s activity. This is the part of the brain that helps us orient ourselves in time and space, giving the body a sense of physical limits. It is precisely this parietal lobe that helps us locate ourselves in space, assisting us so we do not walk into doors or get tangled up with other obstacles. When there is a substantial decrease in that region’s activity, with lack of vital sensory stimulus to clearly define the borders between us and elements within the world around us, the brain perceives no limits, with the result that the self seems endless, interwoven with everyone and everything.
However attractive the theory is that the boundless, paradimensional experience of reality in near-death is simply due to a decrease in parietal lobe’s function, the issue remains unresolved be science and is still open for further explanation. The question that can never be truly answered is whether this si a physical manifestation of a spiritual occurrence or merely a physical phenomenon that is interpreted by the subject as a spiritual event. In other words, is the physical experience in the brain the cause or the effect? Is it simply an external symptom of a spiritual phenomenon, or is the external stimulus the source and generator of the experience?
Issues such as these must be left for each individual person to decide on his or her own. To some extent, a person’s interpretation will be based largely on his or her own predisposition and inclinations. However intensely some may feel about the near-death experiences, it is a subjective matter. This issue can never be fully resolved by a consensus among all people, and it must be decided by each person individually.
When all the evidence is absorbed, it is difficult to dismiss the near-death experience as illusory and a figment of the dying person’s overactive imagination. There seems to be a profound difference between schizophrenia and other related psychoses and the phenomenon of near-death experience. The former conditions generally produce a negative state of being, with a great chance for bringing a person down or unleashing an unrealistically high self-opinion; while the near-death experience provides a positive, level-headed, and empowering worldview. Illusory perception evokes extremely negative images of self or else a quixotically positive self-opinion, such as those who believe they are Alexander the Great or Napoleon—the end result of these latter cases is often despair and depression. The near-death experience, conversely, tends to inspire, making the person a healthier, higher-functioning human being, kinder, nicer, and ever more loving.
In absolute contrast to psychotic experiences, people who undergo the near-death experience have quite a good handle on life, and are in no way out of touch with reality. To the contrary they observe and report details that are otherwise overlooked. These people, unlike sufferers of distorted perception, seem to operate with a heightened sense of awareness, utilizing a keen and focused take on reality.
On a more scientific note, attributing the near-death experience to mere hallucination is equally problematic. In order to hallucinate there needs to be some level of brain activity, yet people who have experienced near-death encounters exhibit negligible brainwaves when they are connected to an EEG, and some, throughout the experience, show no signs of any brain activity whatsoever.
Having explored the particulars of the experience from a scientific perspective, its arguments and counter-arguments, one more principle issue must be broached. Upon closer examination it becomes fairly obvious that there is a major inconsistency regarding the details of the near-death experience: though as a whole the experiences recorded throughout history are similar, the details of the experiences are widely divergent from one case to another. In fact, the entire experience appears to be culturally conditioned. What is encountered varies from one place and time to the next, depending on the location, time, and the worldview of the people experiencing near-death.
From the little evidence we have of pre-modern near-death experiences, we find descriptions that are quite different from those who encounter it today. In antiquity, people spoke of first undergoing a series of trials, judgments, and tests before they were allowed to enter heaven. Surviving texts speak of passing through a gate or over a bridge, with a powerful beast protecting the entrance to the other side.
A hell of dangers, teeming with brimstone and fire, is another phenomenon that seems to have been quite widespread in early human civilizations. In these societies, the soul requires a guide, or psychopomp, to lead the deceased safely into the kingdom of death. For the ancient Egyptians, this is Anubis, a dog-headed deity who escorts the soul on the journey to the afterlife. In Greece, Hermes brought the soul over into Hades; sometimes he appears with a dog for a companion, or else he is shown as taming the terrible three-headed Cerberus, the hound who guards the underworld. Still other cultures tell of barking dogs that do not allow the soul to enter the world beyond. Many ancient people depict the soul of the deceased crossing a river with a boat, or journeying over a bridge.
In addition, we find a significant absence of the vivid “tunnel” image in ancient records, though the broader concept of transition does occur throughout these texts. This is an indication of the topical nature of these visions, since the experience of passing through a d ark tunnel was common in medieval times, whereas today less than ten percent of people interviewed say they encounter a tunnel on a regular basis. All in all, many symbols spoken of today are not found in the literature of times past, and the ad ventures found in the writings of yesteryear do not reflect experiences relevant to us today.
Even in our current age, what is experienced varies from one people to the next. People from different parts of the world are exposed to diverse experiences. Most research on near-death experiences has been performed in the West, where people tend to think similarly; the little research that comes out of the East is, unsurprisingly, different. In eastern countries, people reporting near-death experiences first tell of being escorted by a spirit messenger or departed relative, and later in the process they speak of encountering a “man with a book.” Once the book is consulted and it is discovered that a mistake has been made, that the person’s time has not yet come, the person is sent back down via a messenger or departed relative. The idea of viewing the body from another location, seeing the body from “above,” is very rare in the East, and the panoramic life-review is completely unknown.
Within each culture, as well, the experience varies from one person to the next. No two people describe the same experience alike. Such incoherence and apparent discrepancy have been a major challenge to authenticating near-death experience, since Western science demands evidentiary consensus in order to prove something as fact. In defense for the legitimacy of the experience, it is important to keep in mind that not every near-death experience is genuine, and it may indeed be a product of imagination or fantasy. More important still, we must remember that people see in their dreams what they are accustomed to seeing during their waking hours, and the dreamlike vision of near-death is no exception.
For instance, the concept of going through a dark tunnel appears in scores of medieval and Renaissance depictions, where the journey to the afterlife is shown as passing through such a tunnel. Among the more famous of these is “The Ascent into the Empyrean,” a painting by the Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450?-1516). Whether subconsciously or by osmosis, near-death visions in the pre- and the early modern West were almost always accompanied by tunnel vision. When such an image no longer captivates audiences, the vision subsides and other metaphorical images arise. Essentially, then, images and metaphors are a reflection of their times, though what they represent is actually a truth that lies beyond any single period or culture.
What’s more, even authentic revelatory experiences are funneled through the consciousness of the human being. As long as there is some measure of “ego” and “self” involved, perception, no matter whose, will be bound to physical senses and associated with material structure. Every experience, even genuine perceptions anchored in one’s personal understanding, is conditioned according to each person’s discernment, proclivities, and bents.
For this reason, even among the master Torah prophets, no two experiences are alike, and they all speak of sensing alternative spiritual realities. Isaiah had one set of visions, while Ezekiel saw another. Both are true and valid expressions of divine, yet both prophets observed according to their own level of being, consistent with their own set and setting, their prior mindset and culture/environmental conditioning. Incidentally, what they describe in “conventional,” transmittable language, replete with physically related imagery, must pale in comparison to the actual prophetic experience that took place in extradimensional visions of reality.
How people observe life depends to a large degree on their biography, education, and environment. Certainly the varying descriptions and imagery of “otherworldly” realities are grounded in the manner each person navigates within this time-space realm of existence. The “light” that awaits a person shines through the various images one holds dear. Expressions of such experiences are channeled through the cultural structure recognized by the experiencer.
The world is full of mirrors: we see in others images of we are. This is true not only of other people, but also of the divine. God appears individually and differently to each person. “God is man’s shadow,” the Psalmist says. As a shadow each person experiences the divine according to their own internal paradigm. When we run across inconsistency in near-death imagery, this only reinforces the beautiful truth that each soul is different and unique-each person operates with a distinct mind and unique power of imagination; each individual, finite soul is simply another facet of the Infinite’s oneness.
Ultimately, all opinions agree that, at the time of death, many people undergo a promising and pleasant experience, one that is true to the experiencer. The authenticity of these experiences shows forth in the way they enhance and change lives for the better. Indeed, in this context that is what really matters.
Jewish Wisdom on the Afterlife: the Mysteries, the Myths, and the Meanings [Q&A Books: New Jersey, 2006], pp. 63 – 98
Reprinted with permission of the author