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Is there a heaven? And how do we get there?

In the series, “How to Get into Heaven,” Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis shares how the Jewish faith views the afterlife.
/ Source: TODAY

In the continuing series, “How to Get into Heaven,” “Today” takes a look at Judaism's view of making it through the pearly gates. In “Life Is a Test,” Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis examines the religion's beliefs. Read an excerpt:

Recognize your potential
My husband was a wise and holy man who lived by G-d’s word. His every day was filled with chesed, goodness, and kindness. Now, if he was worried as to how he would answer the Almighty, how should we feel? The question that he posed should challenge all of us, for the confrontation that he feared was one that no mortal can ever escape. And yet we dismiss such thoughts from our minds and we live our lives as if the day will never come when we, too, will have to answer to our Maker for the way in which we lived our lives.

The story is told about the sage, Reb Zeesha, who, like my own husband did, wept and worried over meeting his Maker. “If, on the Day of Judgment,” he said, “G-d will ask me why I was not like our father Abraham, I will not fear. I will simply respond, ‘Almighty Gd, You never endowed me with the ability with which You blessed Abraham, so I couldn’t possibly have become like him.’” Reb Zeesha went on to enumerate our many spiritual giants throughout the centuries, and, regarding all of them, he said, “I shall not fear for I was never given their gifts. But,” Reb Zeesha cried, “if the One above asks me ‘Zeesha, why weren’t you like Zeesha?’ What will I say? How will I answer Him?”

Hearing your inner voice
The very first time the word neshamah — soul, is mentioned in the Torah is where G-d blew the soul, nishmas chaim — the breath of life — into man’s nostrils and he became a nefesh chayah — a living being (Genesis 2:7). The Zohar teaches that the neshamah is part of the essence of G-d, “since one who blows, blows from within himself.”

The nefesh, on the other hand, is that part of the soul which is closest to the body; it is that which even animals possess on their level. The nefesh telegraphs the messages sent by our five senses to us, and dominates our physical choices. Our spiritual direction, however, is determined by the neshamah. The test that confronts every man is to insure that it is his neshamah that shapes his life decisions. It is the nefesh that enables us to witness our own funerals and hear the eulogies. The more attached the nefesh was to the body during its life, the more it focused on physical and material needs, the more painful the decomposition of the body becomes. As the nefesh observes the body disintegrate in the grave, the realization of having made wrong choices, of having wasted a life in futile, meaningless pursuits, becomes a source of anguish, regret, and shame.