Catechism For Jewish Children
By Isaac Leeser.
The Life After Death
1. What is the third article of the Jewish Faith?
I believe firmly and truly, that the Lord God has made the soul which He has placed within me a spirit like himself, and it is therefore not mortal; but that He will call me anew into life after the dissolution of the body, and restore me again, after death shall have severed the connection between the flesh and the spirit, and the grave shall have received the part of me which is of the earth; farther, that He will judge me after my departure out of this life, according to the good or evil which I may have done on earth; reward me with inexpressible happiness and grant me everlasting life, free from pain and sorrow, if I have merited his favor; but punish me according to his wisdom and justice, if I have been forgetful of his law and followed the evil inclination of my heart.
2. How do you classify what you have been saying?
Into the RESURRECTION of the dead, and REWARD and PUNISHMENT after death.
3. Why do you think that there does exist a reward and punishment after death?
Because, in viewing with attention the present state of the world, we often see that the virtuous are poor, oppressed, and suffering, whilst the wicked are wealthy, prosperous, and powerful. Could therefore the good have no farther hope than here on earth, there would evidently be injustice in the holy One above, in whom there is no evil or perversion of justice, but all whose ways are just and true. I therefore must believe that there will be a state after this, where the just will meet their reward, and where the wicked will receive their deserved punishment.
"There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that liveth long in his wickedness." Eccles. vii. 15.
"Because sentence is not executed speedily against deeds of evil, therefore the heart of the sons of man becometh careless in them to do evil. But let the sinner do evil a hundredfold, and God withhold long his anger from him: yet am I convinced that it will be well with them that fear God, whilst they fear Him. But it shall not be well with the wicked; and like the shadow he shall not prolong his days, because he feareth not before God." Ibid. viii. 11-13.
4. What do we derive from this article of our Faith?
We should persevere in doing good, and be zealous in the discharge of the duties which our Maker demands of us, and endeavor to practice virtue, even if no man will approve of our conduct. It should be satisfaction enough for us to know that God watches all our actions, and that He will carefully weigh them and give to us all the reward which we deserve, and always show us mercy far above what our little merit can with justice lay claim to.
"And unto Thee, O Lord! belongeth mercy; for Thou wilt render unto every man according to his deeds." Ps. lxii. 13.
"For every deed will God bring into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil." Eccles. xii. 14.
5. But suppose, as you said just now, that virtue be not rewarded on earth, then indeed would we have cause to despair of happiness, if we take riches, honor, and power as the chief objects of our being here. But there are joys, even on earth, beyond the things which men so much desire to possess; and a man poor, unhonored, and subject to the will of others, can be much happier than those who rule over him, provided he be content with his lot, and obedient to the will of God.
"Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right." Prov. xvi. 8.
6. This idea is correctly expressed; please to continue.
It is thus that we can learn to be content with whatever we receive, if we but consider that it is the will of God which gives us our portion on earth; and He therefore must think that we are better as we actually are, than we could be under different circumstances. But if we look farther into ourselves, and reflect that our soul is immortal, that it is the undying image of the holy One within ourselves: then indeed have we cause for joyful hope; because in the life after this the pleasures imparted by divine grace far outweigh all the joys which can be sent us here; for they are like our future existence, undying, unchanging, coming directly from God, and all depending on his favor; and the righteous will enjoy them without fear, without being disturbed by the wicked, who then cease from troubling, whilst the weary pious ones are at rest.
"My heart therefore is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in safety. For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to hell, neither wilt Thou suffer thy pious servant to see corruption." Ps. xvi. 9, 10.
"There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. Together repose in peace chained prisoners, they hear not the task-master's voice. The small and the great are there; the servant too, now free from his master." Job iii. 17-19.
7. Are you convinced of the truth of this belief?
Yes; for both reason and religion unite to demonstrate the immortality of the soul.
8. How does Reason alone prove it?
God is the most beneficent of beings; all his intentions are pure and never fail to effect a good end. We see, however, that this life is short, and is constantly exposed to be ended by death arising from accidents, sickness, or the violence of wicked men; besides this, whilst we live, we have to submit to sorrow and suffering of every kind; and no man, if ever so great, can escape these sorrows, nor the death which awaits all. We therefore must judge that we were not created for this state of being alone; but that another, and a better, and a happier, and a more durable life awaits us, when our present state of existence has passed away, and our body has been laid to rest in the grave.
"The days of the years of our life therein are seventy years; and if by extraordinary vigor we see eighty years: yet is their essence labor and sorrow; for our life is soon cut off, and we flee away.--O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." Ps. xc. 10-14.
9. How does Religion teach the same?
The holy Scriptures teach us that God has created man in his image; the body of man we know to be mortal, and, unlike the being of God, it is subject to decay, sorrow, and death; but the true divine image is the soul, which has reason, and is spiritual, and enables us like Him to judge between right and wrong, though at an immeasurable distance and with the greatest difference between the creatures and the Creator; and this spirit therefore must be like the great Spirit, undying and incorruptible.
"For this God is our God for ever and ever. He will guide us even beyond death." Ps. xlviii. 15.
10. What is death?
Death is the separation of the soul from the body, of the spirit from matter; by it the body is rendered no longer fit for service, but is made immovable and corrupt; and the spirit is set free to return to the presence of the Creator.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Gen. iii. 19.
"Then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Eccles. xii. 7.
11. How should we therefore look upon this state of being?
This life is but a preparation for the life everlasting; this is the time for action and labor, that, the period of enjoyment and repose. Thus also teach our wise men in their Proverbs of the Fathers: "Prepare thyself in the outer hall, that thou mayest be worthy to enter the palace."
12. What actions and labors are they which will fit us to enter the palace of God?
Not the pursuit of wealth, and fame, and power, for they, like our life, must soon pass away; but the riches of the soul are the knowledge and the fear of God, the sincere and humble pursuit of his law of truth; for such conduct will always give peace to the mind, and will leave fruits which will, like the everlasting life of the righteous, be always undying, never ending.
"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, who exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord." Jer. ix. 22, 23.
13. Is the other world preferable to this?
Yes; because there are the everlasting life in God, and the permanent happiness. For the righteous, when their labor on earth is done, return to the Lord where their souls are to dwell for ever, enjoying the delights and blessing which their obedience has obtained for them from their Maker.
"Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is the fullness of joy; at thy right hand are everlasting pleasures." Ps. xvi. 11.
14. Is it therefore right to grieve unbecomingly long for the death of a friend?
No; whenever any of our friends are taken from us by death, we should reflect that it is the Lord who thought proper to afflict us in this manner, and that to his decree it is our duty to submit with fortitude and resignation. Farther, that sooner or later we ourselves must follow them, and that the grave will receive our bodies likewise: the same lot awaits all men. Whilst, therefore, it is but proper to feel deeply our loss, we should bear it as becomes the servants of the Most High, who know that they are always in his power and care, whether in life or in death. But rather than grieve inordinately it should be the means of making us reflect upon our conduct, and of inducing us to look upon it as a warning sent from God, that we may return to Him with sincere repentance, and thus stay the anger which might be poured over us if we continue obstinate and sinning.
"What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall deliver his soul from the power of the grave?" Ps. 89:49.
15. What else do we learn from the nature of life and death?
Every thing earthly is vain and perishable; riches will not assist us on the day of wrath, but virtue alone will save us from condemnation.
"When thou goest, it shall lead thee, when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee, and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee." Prov. vi. 22.
"Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Eccles. i. 2.
16. What do you understand by "the day of wrath?"
The great day of the Lord, or the day of the universal resurrection of the dead.
17. What is the Resurrection?
The reunion of the souls of the departed with their bodies.
"Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs; and the earth shall cast forth the dead." Isa. xxvi. 19.
"Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost, we are entirely cut off. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves. And I will put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord." Ezek. 37:11-14.
18. Why do you call this great period the "day of wrath?"
Because at the time of the resurrection the Lord God will hold judgment over all the children of man, and award to each eternal reward or punishment according to his good or evil deeds.
"For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.--And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted on that day." Isa. ii. 12, 17.
"Therefore wait ye for me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them my indignation, all my fierce anger; for with the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be devoured." Zeph. iii. 8.
"For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall not leave them root or branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." Mal. iii. 19, 20.
"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the expanse; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." Dan. xii. 2, 3.
19. Do you mean to say that any person will be punished everlastingly?
There are some who deserve everlasting condemnation; and they are those who, knowing the law of God, reject it scornfully, and, so to say, rebel against the Lord, and die without repentance. Such persons cannot hope to receive that pardon which we are taught will be extended to those who have sinned by being misled by worldly desires and enticements, and who in this life return with sincere repentance to the Most High. For these last the prayers of the living, we trust, will be of avail; but for the first there is no hope save the undeserved mercy of God.
"The Lord killeth and maketh alive, He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." 1 Sam. ii. 6.
"And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the man that have transgressed (willfully) against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." Isaiah lxvi. 24.
"Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine, the soul that sinneth, that alone shall die." Ezek. xviii. 4.
"Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." Ibid. 27.
20. When is the time of the Resurrection?
This has not been made known to us; but we are given to understand that the resurrection of the dead is connected with the kingdom of the Messiah, and will not take place till this has first been established.
"And he said, Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked will do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.--Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. But go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." Dan. xii. 9-13.
21. What changes will take place in those days?
Scripture teaches us that the present form of the earth and of the universe will pass away, and that a better form, and one better suited to the altered state of man, will take its place.
"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." Isaiah lxvi. 22.
"The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord; bitterly shall cry the mighty man. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasting and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy; for He will make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell on the earth." Zeph. i. 14-18.
22. What will then be the condition of the good?
The pious ones, they who feared God, will receive an everlasting happy life in the Lord; and they will enjoy heavenly delight and unceasing pleasures, and dwell with Him in the utmost purity of the spirit, and in entire love and faith.
"Yet in righteousness shall I behold thy face, and be satisfied at awakening from contemplating thy countenance." Ps. xvii. 15.
23. What will be the state of the ungodly?
Those who have forsaken their Maker will be condemned to utter darkness, and will be excluded from the communion of the righteous, who, as said, will be united to the Lord.
"Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." Ps. i. 5.
"As wax melteth before the fire, so may the wicked perish at the presence of God. But the righteous shall exult, they shall rejoice before God; yea, they shall be exceedingly joyful." Ibid. lxviii. 3, 4.
24. Have we any distinct idea of the nature of the reward and punishment after death and at the resurrection?
No; we can form no clear idea of the state of the spirit unconnected with the body; but we have every reason to suppose that the reward as well as the punishment will be essentially spiritual, unlike any bodily joy or sorrow: still, the extent and nature of both are known to God alone, for no human eye has ever seen the reward which "He treasures up for those who wait upon Him" with hope and devoted faith.
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