On the Path to the Afterlife

Yael Eckstein  |  November 8, 2020

Cloudy sky with light shining through.

For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light. — Psalm 36:9

In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his lifework helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.

There are many different parables to explain what Judaism calls olam hazeh, this world, and olam haba, the afterlife. The common theme is that this world is a corridor leading to a room. What we do in the corridor affects if we ever make it to the room and what that room will be like.

In one such explanation, the rabbis invite us to imagine that everyone is given an invitation to the king’s palace for an elaborate feast. Enclosed with the invitation is a map with directions to the palace. We are urged to travel quickly because, at some point, the gates to the palace will close and we don’t want to get locked out. Given the map and directions, there seems to be plenty of time to reach our destination.

We wake up early in the morning, excited and with a sense of determination to get to the king’s feast. While we are on our journey, we are surprised that in order to get to the king’s palace, we must first walk through an amusement park. We are beckoned by the lights of the carousel, and tantalized by the smell of funnel cake and hot pretzels. We are tempted by the games that hold a promise of winning big prizes for just a moment of our time and a few dollars.

In other words, we are distracted.

Some people will become so engrossed in the rides and games that they’ll never make it to the palace. Others will hold on to the promise of the feast and not stray from the map’s directions for even a moment. The truth is that most of us will do something in-between. At times we will stray off course, and at times we will stick to the path. Hopefully, we make it to the palace in time to enjoy the banquet that the king has prepared for us — one that makes all the thrills of the amusement park pale in comparison.

This world is like being in an amusement park on our path to the afterlife where everlasting joy awaits us. Will we get distracted and fail to reach the palace, or will we remain focused and stay on our path to our eternal reward?

In Psalm 36, King David reminds us that while we will be tempted to stray, we must remember the truth: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” The best things in life stem from God; it’s not the glitzy lights of this world that will enlighten us. We must follow the directions and stay on the path if we want to reach God’s light in the afterlife.

Let this truth guide us today and every day.

Your Turn:

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