Q. Why aren’t religious Jews generally unconcerned with whether there is an afterlife or not? Don’t they care what is going to happen to their souls when they die?
A. In general, the Torah does not want us to preoccupy ourselves with questions pertaining to the existence of an afterlife. Living the holy life is more important than dreaming about an ethereal life that awaits us beyond this ephemeral world of existence. The Torah’s comments here are significant:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to usand to our children forever,
to observe all the words
of this Torah.
Your question also reminds me of a personal experience I had many years ago. Sometime in the 70’s, I was once working on a mobile Sukkah with one of my favorite Lubavithcer teachers, Rabbi Avraymo Levitanski. It was a hot day in L.A. and before we knew it, a group of Christian missionaries came up to us and engaged the short-jolly rabbi in a religious debate. The leader asked: ARabbi, if an atom-bomb were to destroy the city of Los Angeles, do you know where your soul would be?@ The Rabbi, stopped working for a minute and replied. AI don=t know and I could care less!@ Puzzled and disturbed, the missionary persisted “How could a religious man like you be so indifferent to your=s soul status in the next life?@
The Rabbi replied in a Talmudic melody, AI worry about what God wants me to do in this world. What will be of my soul in the next world, is not my concern, that=s God=s problem to worry about!@
I was quite impressed with my teacher=s wisdom, for it probably is a good summary of how Jews have thought about this subject for a long time. Pious Jews generally worry about realizing God=s kingdom in this world, what will happen to us in the next world, is not something anyone can frivolously speculate about. I think the world would probably be a lot better place for all of us if we all concentrated on living a decent and holy life in the here and now. Lastly, the real meaning of salvation is as its Latin root salvos “healing” indicates: a healing of the soul. The process begins with all each of us lives the moment that is before us. It begins with a decision to live with personal integrity, kindness, and a love of all of God’s creation.
Rabbi Michael Samuel