Rabbi – I looked at your website, and I think it’s nice, but I have a question, and I hope you can help me. My grandmother who was and is very dear to me just passed away. Where is her soul? Where does the soul go?

– Andrew Feldman, Manalapan, NJ

Firstly, please accept my condolences on your recent loss. I sincerely hope that you and your family will find comfort, and that the noble soul of your grandmother will enter its eternal resting place in peace.

 Your question is quite poignant; it really requires much careful thought and discussion to be dealt with adequately. Perhaps it will be worthwhile, however, to merely mention here some basic, general concepts, in the hope of providing at least minimal elucidation.

 Of the Thirteen Principles of Faith — the cornerstone of Jewish belief, as enumerated by the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, ch. 10) — one deals directly with the notion of reward and punishment. The summarized version states (#11): “I believe with a perfect faith that the Creator, may His Name be blessed, rewards those who observe His commandments, and accords punishment to those who violate them.” As the ultimate source of good, G-d desires that his creations receive blessing and happiness. As such, He bestowed His chosen people with the remarkable gift of the Torah. Those who fulfill its precepts are designated for eternal bliss and reward.

 There is accountability, however. And just as no good deed — no matter how minimal — goes unnoticed or uncompensated, so, too, violations are duly recorded, and redressed. What should be underscored, however, is that the main arena where reward is distributed, or retribution is meted out, takes place in the World to Come.

 What exactly is the purpose of this world of the living? In innumerable places in Rabbinic literature, the Sages make quite clear that this world is a temporary venture, compared to a place of preparation. One is encouraged to take optimal advantage of one’s stay on this earth to serve G-d and perform His precepts. They view this world in a similar manner to the workplace. If one does their job during ‘work hours’, payment is received when the ‘workday’ ends.

 And so, a person who utilized his lifetime to fulfill G-d’s Will, through the performance of mitzvahs (good deeds) and the perfection of his soul and character, will be abundantly rewarded in the afterlife. For adhering to the Torah, his eternal soul — after departing from this world — will be able to journey on to the ultimate happiness in the World to Come.

 It bears mentioning that there is something that a relative can do to assist the departed soul in reaching that blessed destination. There is almost no greater benefit and merit for an individual than to have left behind offspring and loved ones who themselves are upright and meritorious. As mentioned, G-d is the ultimate Bestower of good; He desires that His people follow His ways and receive their reward. When G-d sees that there are children, grandchildren, or others who perpetuate the memory of the deceased by performing mitzvahs themselves, He credits not only those currently living, but the departed soul as well. In this way, the surviving loved ones have endless opportunities to add to the departed’s store of merits, and increase their happiness in the afterlife.

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