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5 Surprising Facts about Judaism
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5 Surprising Facts about Judaism

Including you don’t need to be Jewish to get to Heaven.


1. We are meant to savor the pleasures of the world:

The Jerusalem Talmud says that God will take us to task for not partaking in permissible pleasures of this world (Kiddushin, 4:12). God didn't put the delights of this world here to tease us. Enjoy that hot fudge sundae, but do it mindfully, like a connoisseur, savoring each mouthful. That way you’re controlling the physical and it’s not controlling you.

Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, the great 19th century German rabbi, asked his students to accompany him to the Swiss Alps. He wanted to make sure that when he goes to the Next World and appears before the Creator and He asks, "Samson did you see My magnificent Alps?" he'd be able to answer in the affirmative.

It is not a Jewish ideal to divorce oneself from the material world. In fact, holiness can be attained only by properly using the physical world. Think of all the Hebrew words related to kedusha, holiness: kiddushin (marriage) that brings a man and woman together, Kiddush over wine, Shabbat Kodesh, the holy Sabbath when it is a mitzvah to eat delicious food and sleep a little extra. They all center around physical activities because according to Judaism, holiness comes through elevating the physical, not denying it.

2. Judaism believes in Heaven and Hell:

But probably not the version you're imagining.

The Afterlife is an expression of the relationship to God and spirituality that we have nurtured and developed in this world. The way one experiences the Afterlife is totally dependent upon his preparation beforehand. Each choice in this world shapes who we are and creates either connection or disconnection to the Next World.

Imagine two people listening to a concert. One of them studied music composition, read about the composer and is highly attuned to all the details involved in creating this symphony. For him the concert is a rich and deeply fulfilling experience. The other person was dragged along and hates classical music. For him the concert is boring, even painful.

One concert, two very different kinds of experiences.

Our essence does not undergo a major transformation when we leave this world. It’s just the opposite. Our essence is fully expressed in the Next World. The pain of disconnection and the acute awareness of what we could have been if we would have chosen differently is the Jewish view of Hell.

3. You don’t need to be Jewish to get to Heaven:

Contrary to popular belief, a non-Jew can be spiritually fulfilled and even merit a place in the Next World. The obligation to observe the mitzvot of the Torah is upon Jews only. The Torah prescribes seven commandments for non-Jews (click here for the listing) and Maimonides states, "Whoever among the Nations fulfills the seven commandments to serve God belongs to the righteous among the nations, and has his share in the World to Come."

4. Jewish beliefs have a rational basis.

The first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments is to know there is a God.

Some religions demand a blind leap of faith – assume something is true because emotionally you wish it to be true. The Torah commands us to build a rational basis of belief. Believe in God because you have enough compelling arguments that lead you to conclude that God actually exists. Use your mind, not your heart.

You may have questions and doubts, you may never reach 100% knowledge, the mitzvah “to know there is a God” is telling us don’t be complacent with your belief. Confront your questions, gain clarity and strengthen your basis of belief by getting more information and facts. Know there is a God; don’t just blindly assume it.

5. It is a mitzvah to be healthy:

Mezuzah? Check. Kosher food? Check. Running shoes? Huh?

Living a healthy spiritual life requires living a healthy, robust physical life as well. Maimonides, the great philosopher and physician, wrote in the Mishne Torah, "Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God – for it is impossible to have any understanding and knowledge of the Creator when one is sick, it is a person’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and to cultivate habits that promote health and vigor" (Laws of Character Traits, 4:1).

He is also a strong proponent of exercise: “As long as one exercises, exerts himself greatly, does not eat to the point of satiation… he will not suffer sickness and he will grow in strength… Whoever is idle and does not exercise…even if he eats the proper foods… he will be full of pain for all his days and his strength will fade away” (ibid, 4:14,15).

So put down the leftover cholent and go for a run. Your body will thank you. And so will your soul.

July 15, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 12

(5) Yehudith Shraga, July 18, 2014 2:43 AM

To be a Jew is to be first of all an optimist and humanist!

All the theories of positive thinking,creative imagination, etc. have their roots in Judaism, because these're the tools which let us survive for thousands years.No matter how hard some periods were for us,especially at the times of Exiles,the Optimistic essence of our Faith gave us endless support and hope for the better world to come.With all the hardships we're ascending to the Purpose of Creation-to make the world the dwelling place for the Divine Presence.It's a pity,that the world, owning the Jewish Torah and Faith all the human qualities of mankind, still haven't learned well enough to differ between correct and incorrect. But there's a bit of our fault too. We have to speak as often as possible about the Merits of Israeli People .
Thank you to the author of the article for making such an important step in the time when most of the world is staring at us with the "looking-glass" and count each and every even smallest mistake of ours, exactly at these times it's most necessary to speak out loud about all the merits and our outstanding efforts to advance the humanity to the most civilized level ever known to the world community.
Right now, we have two most prominent conflicts: Israeli-Palestinian and Ukrainian-Russian ones, and look what a tremendous difference the Israel shows in the days of WAR! It seems that the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT SURPRISING FACT about the Judaism is Its Commandments for the times of WAR. No doubt, there are other religions,which have positive sites and teachings, but the essence of any religion is its attitude to the possible victims:be it people, animals or even trees at the TIME of PEACE and WAR!
In the present world, there's no more humanitarian Army than the Israeli Army is.We're proud about the highest values of Judaism, as well as of their implementation in our Army, which actions directed at saving any possible life, be it the Life of the people of Israel or those of the enemy.

(4) larry babitts, July 17, 2014 3:07 PM

You gotta wonder

You really have to wonder why our Greatest Leader Moshe Rabbenu never mention either heaven or hell? Do you think that maybe because both places are prominent in Egyptian tradition he dropped it - or didn't think it was important enough to mention? hm-m-mm?

Daniella, July 23, 2014 6:37 AM

The reason why the World to Come isn't mentioned in the Torah at all is simply because we don't live with death in mind. Death may be a part of living and but Judaism is structured around life. Although we care about the World to Come, Jews focus much more about coming close to G-d in the this world before worrying about the next. As you pointed out, this is in direct contrast to ancient Egyptian beliefs, which were wholly obsessed with death. We have no Book of the Dead; the Torah is about living life in this world.

(3) Frantz, July 17, 2014 2:21 PM

In every nation the man and woman who fears G_d and does what is right is acceptable to G_d

Rabbi Coopersmith wrote an excellent article. In it he writes: "You do not need to be Jewish to get to Heave." It reminds me the words of Shimon bar Yonah: "I understand now that G_d is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man and woman who fears G_d and does what is right is acceptable to G_d.".
The Rabbi also wrote: "The obligation to observe the mitzvot of the Torah is upon Jews only." There are mitzvot that are only for Israel, mitzvot only for the Family of Levi and within that family there are mitzvot only for the Kohanim. There are mitzvot only for men and those only for women. However, the mitzvot on moral values and any that are intended to keep us healthy both physically and spiritually must be practiced in one form or another by all of humanity, so we keep a good relation with both G_d and other humans. Desobedience hurts this relationship, causing trouble within ourselves and with others. Ancient Israel was called to bring this message from G_d to the rest of humanity. A Rabbi, whose name I cannot remember now, wrote: "G_d's intention is that all of humanity become part of Israel." This was quoted by Rabbi Arye Kaplan, z"l, in on of his great books.
שלום וברכה

Anonymous, July 17, 2014 10:53 PM

I agree that G-d would want all humanity to become part of Israel which is why my family converted. We now know the truth of G-d and want to be apart of the family and join of fates with those of the Jewish people. I feel honored to be able to do so.

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