“Rebahir, the essay you recently posted reminded me of a question I’ve been wondering about for a while (and which is also touched upon in the essay that you sent me on afterlife). Effectively, it’s this – do you think that goodness during life is judged on your actions relative to your position in the world? Basically, is the President “graded” on a harsher scale than Reb Zusha in your essay?
In your essay on the afterlife, the versions that I gravitate towards the most are ones which indicate that you’re effectively measured by your impact and experiences in life. They make sense to me. I think there’s absolutely truth to the idea of anonymous immortality – to me, that manifests itself as your imprint in the world passing on indefinitely, albeit in a more diluted form for subsequent generations. (As an aside, I once watched a documentary on the origin of General Tsao’s chicken that dealt with this point.) I think that is what you are saying as well in this idea of the pool of soul. For what it’s worth, though, in my imagination, the pool probably grows as well so that it no longer fits in one cup. Or perhaps it becomes more concentrated?
The problem with these interpretations for me are that 1) they don’t resolve what happens to my consciousness after I die (though I realize that some of the other interpretations you’ve shared do address that question, and I need to think about them further) and 2) addressing my question above, they seem to favor people who have more opportunity for impact. At the most basic level, an adult who lives to old age and has kids would seem to have a more tangible impact than an orphan who dies young. That’s putting aside thornier considerations like race, gender, wealth, etc. So I guess that’s back to my question for you – are we judged on a sliding scale? I suspect your answer might be that the answer doesn’t really matter, and we should all do our best to be good regardless, but I’m curious for your thoughts nonetheless.”
B’H You offer a fine set of questions.
In a world with a set of scales held by G, I would hope that we would be graded on a curve. As a matter of fact we have stories of that sliding scale. The most memorable story is that of Moshe (Moses) not being allowed into Eretz Yisrael (the Holy Land) because of a seemingly minor offence. The story goes that Moshe was told to speak to a rock and G would make water flow from it to quench the thirst of a bunch of whiny Israelites. Instead, he strikes the rock and says (paraphrasing here): “Do I have to do everything for you!?!?!” For that he was forbidden entrance into the Land of Israel. Yet the Israelites did far worse and still were allowed into Israel. This would intimate that there is a sliding scale. Your question and comparison of President to Reb Zusha begs another question. Do you think that the President of some country is held to a higher standard than a great Rebbe?
And while we are on stories of Zusha…
When he was dying, Reb Zusha began to weep in front of his students. His students began to console him and asked: “why are you weeping, Rebbe?” He responded: “I know that I am dying and I know that when I appear before the Beit Din Shel Ma’alah (the Heavenly court), I will not be asked why I was not like Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses). I know that I will not be asked why I was not more like David HaMelech (King David). But I weep because I know that I will be asked: ‘Zusha, why were you not more like Zusha.?’ Oh how will I answer that??” He was, in my opinion, agreeing with your question. There is a sliding scale. At the same time, that sliding scale is of little comfort to me. There is a story told of W.C. Fields on his death bed. His friends came to visit him and were shocked to see the famous atheist reading a bible. They laughed and challenged him asking what he thought he was doing. Without missing a beat the raconteur responded: “Looking for loopholes!” Reb Zusha’s story does not console W. C. or me or any of us who are ‘looking for loopholes.’ For, even though tradition offers us a sliding scale, a bell curve, the question remains the same. Why was I not more like my authentic self?
I too gravitate to the Pool of Soul concept. As part and parcel of that, the idea of anonymous immortality fits smoothly. As to it growing or not, I feel that since souls are infinite they do not grow or shrink, they simply fit. But in an expanding universe that is infinite, why not have an ever-expanding Pool of Soul.
Your third paragraph is most interesting and it touches on more than life after death. It touches upon the worth of life itself. First let me address the consciousness issue. How do you do, consciousness issue? (sorry, I am being a little silly). But seriously folks…
There are many “World to Come” concepts that grapple with whether or not there is consciousness after death. We have all wondered if our loved ones are looking down on us and looking out for us. There was a book, that I read when the world was young called “Stranger in a Stranger Land.” That book intimated that there was consciousness after death but that it faded with time. There is a similar theory in Judaism. In this theory within Judaism, there is not heaven and hell, there is, for a limited time, memory. For some set period of time after we die, we remember only the bad, the misdeeds and mistakes that we have made in life. Then there is a set period of time in which we remember only the good that we have done. Can you imagine how long that first period of memory and guilt would be for and evil person and how quick and sad would be the second half of hir memory period? On the other hand, for the ‘Dudley Do-Rights’ of the world, the whole experience could be relatively pleasant. And after both sets of ‘time’ have expired, consciousness fades. That concept is rather palatable to me.
I have saved the most trying for last. What impact do we have on the world. I recall my father (zt’l) telling of a man who was going off to war. As he was walking to join his outfit he was hit by the first bullet of the first battle of the war. And if anyone had noticed, that would have been his epitaph. But what no one knew was that this man on his way to his untimely death met a sad young girl weeping by the road. Her father had gone off to war and she was scared and worried. He sat with her and comforted her and gave her hope, even though he knew that her father was fighting for the other side. If they would see each other they would try to kill each other. Yet he sat and consoled her and helped her look to the future with optimism. What was the worth of this man’s life; this man who died from the first bullet of the first battle? And what of a child (G forbid) who passes away.
In New Age philosophies all people are born good. In Christianity all are born in sin. In Judaism we are born innocent. How we will turn out depends upon us and our environment. So if a child passes on (G forbid) he is innocent. This in no way mitigates, in my mind, the tragedy, but for the purposes of your question s/he will have no negative repercussions after death. But I cannot end our discussion with the death of a child.
Let me end with a story by I.L. Peretz of an orphan (again this is me paraphrasing and summarizing. You should find and read the story. It is beautiful:”Bontsha the Silent”). His name was Bontsha. Bontsha lived a life of silence. He was born in silence into an unloving family. In silence he was thrown out of the family. He struggled in poverty in silence. Even when he had a job, eked out a wage that would not even feed him, and he was silent. Then one day a majestic coach careened around a corner out of control. Bontsha, again in silence, leapt out to save the opulent coach and its occupants. The rich owner was so grateful that he hired Bontsha as his coachman. And Bontsha was silent. He was silent when the rich man married him to a woman of the rich man’s household. He was silent when the rich man supplied Bontsha with a child, through Bontsha’s wife. Bontsha remained silent when the rich man went bankrupt and neglected to pay Bontsha for all his work. And again he was silent when his wife left him and the infant whom Bontsha raised. And when the infant became a strong young man, he threw Bontsha out and yet Bontsha was silent. Then one day that same rich then bankrupt and then rich again man was riding recklessly in his carriage and ran over Bontsha, who died in silence.
Now Bontsha is hearing his life story retold in the Beit Din Shel Ma’alah, the heavenly court. He does not even look up. The defense attorney goes into great detail on the travails of Bontsha’s life. He demonstrates no wrong doing on Bontsha’s part. And finally he finishes and sits down. The ‘district’ attorney no less than the accuser, Satan (pronounced SahTahn) stands as Bontsha trembles. The accuser points to Bontsha and says: “All of his life Bontsha has been silent. Now it is my turn to be silent!” And with that he sits down. Now the Judge of judges looks down on Bontsha and speaks, saying: “In the world of what is, you were silent. You were not understood. You suffered. But here, we understand and you are to be rewarded with anything that would please you.” Bontsha looks around and for the first time speaks. “If, sir, it is not too much trouble, may I please have, every morning, a hot roll with butter?” And now the entire Court fell…silent.