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Before You Die, Your Life's Movie
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Before You Die, Your Life's Movie

The surprising findings of a new Israeli study echoes Jewish mysticism.


What happens to us when we die? Is death the end or a new beginning? In the twenty-first century we still can only rely on faith rather than scientific findings to give us insight into the final end of our journey here on earth.

But a fascinating new Israeli study may reveal part of the puzzle. Conducted by researchers from Jerusalem’s Hadassah University and published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, the study mirrors details that we have received by way of Jewish mystical tradition.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who dedicated her life to studying death and the dying, wrote that in her many years of being present at the moment when life slipped away what most moved her was the sight of the sudden serenity and peacefulness that invariably accompanied the passage from one state to another. She has chosen to describe death as "breaking out of a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly." Our bodies during life represent physical limitations. Without them we are for the first time able to soar to heights previously unattainable.

While Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, filled in some of the gaps in our knowledge with esoteric descriptions of death and the afterlife, mankind struggled with the mystery of death without benefit of personal testimony from any of its victims. No matter how much we wanted to pierce the veil of secrecy that blocks our view of the beyond, we recognized our human limitations. Death is a one-way trip that doesn't allow for a return visit to earth to reveal its secrets to the living. Even if we accept the idea of survival in another form after our bodies cease to function, we've been stymied by the lack of any real evidence simply because the dead cannot speak.

But in the last half a century something dramatically new has been added to the equation. While there are many who still dismiss it as unverifiable, life after life is slowly gaining ground even among those who've never identified themselves as particularly religious or spiritual. There have been countless cases of testimony from people who have died and been brought back to talk about it, thanks to breakthroughs in increasingly sophisticated resuscitation techniques.

Professionals who have done groundbreaking work in the field, such as Elizabeth Kubler Ross and Raymond Moody, have come up with the name NDE – "near death experience" – to describe the phenomenon.

We may argue - and many have - that anyone now alive by definition really didn't die. But what allows us to think of those who have gone through this experience as having been closer to "the other side" then to what we call life is the fact that they were clinically dead. Their brains didn't show even a flicker of activity. Their hearts had stopped beating. There was no way for sensations to register, for sights to be recorded, and for sounds to be heard. And yet these people were able to "recall" what happened in the rooms in which their bodies rested, to describe who came and went after they heard themselves pronounced dead, and even to repeat conversations that took place in the presence of their "dead" bodies in minute and accurate detail.

With which part of their nonfunctioning brains did they remember, and how could they possibly see and hear? Their physical bodies were no longer capable of performing these tasks. Small wonder that almost everyone who went through an NDE experience, whether they initially were believers, diehard skeptics, agnostics or atheists, came to an unshakable belief in the existence of a nonphysical soul that survives the death of the body.

Death is accompanied by an all-important life review which gives us a full perspective about the life we lived.

Rabbi Hayim David HaLevi, prominent Sephardic former chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, in his classic masterwork Assey L’cha Rav, wrote a lengthy comparison between traditional Jewish belief as found in Talmud, midrash, and Kabbalistic works to the more recent reports of NDE experiences. In his eyes, there’s profound significance to the secular world’s awakening to a most powerful spiritual truth – the existence of the soul whose continued existence cannot be negated with the passing of its corporeal body.

And now another part of the story is being uncovered. Jewish mysticism also taught that death is accompanied by an all-important life review. As we approach a non-terrestrial existence, we are permitted a flashback which finally allows us to gain a full perspective on both our sins as well as our achievements, our failings as well as our accomplishments. Before we leave this earth we are given the opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of our past lives and the legacy we pass on to those we leave behind.

Interestingly, the new study by Hadassah hospital, led by Dr. Judith Katz, a neurologist at Hadassah University in Jerusalem, found that life reviews experiences (LRE) accompanying the dying process were frequent and shared numerous common elements.

People saw their past lives as if watching a movie, but the order of events they recalled did not follow chronology. As one participant put it:

‘‘There is not a linear progression, there is lack of time limits… It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time/space so this question also feels impossible to answer. A moment, and a thousand years… both and neither. It all happened at once, or some experiences within my near-death experience were going on at the same time as others, though my human mind separates them into different events.”

Profound empathy for people with whom they shared significant moments during their lives was also recorded by almost all of the participants in the LRE research. A common element of LREs was the inclusion of deeply emotional experiences from the perspective of others close to them. Here’s what one participant had to say: ‘‘I could individually go into each person and I could feel the pain that they had in their life … I was allowed to see that part of them and feel for myself what they felt.”

Another one: “I was seeing, feeling these things about him [my father], and he was sharing with me the things of his early childhood and how things were difficult for him.”

Perhaps the most significant conclusion was that “all interviewees in the study said after their LRE, they had experienced a major change in perspective regarding significant people in their lives or important life events.”

The researchers who reported their findings chose not to assess them from a spiritual perspective nor to link them to age-old rabbinic insights into the soul as well as the religious explanations for our final journey. Scientists hesitate to make science subservient to traditional belief. Instead they tried to offer other explanations for their findings – how the prefrontal, medial temporal, or parietal cortices, all “happen to be particularly vulnerable to hypoxia and blood loss resulting from traumatic near-death experiences.”

Of course that is possible. Far more probable to my mind though is what the wisdom of our tradition understood for thousands of years. Death, as the Rabbi of Kotzk put it, is “nothing more than moving from one room to another, from a comparative hovel to a magnificent domicile in heaven.” And as a final courtesy, before we leave for that trip God allows us a look back, to see the movie of our lifetime.

We may then be filled either with regret or with joy. To know that in advance is perhaps the greatest inspiration to lead a life filled with meaning and purpose.

Click here to download a free ebook about Jewish perspectives on the afterlife.


February 18, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 11

(7) Tone Lechtzier, March 29, 2017 12:21 AM

Desire to die...

Shalom, the pain was so severe, narcotics had no effect. It was a hot summer night, as i lay on my bed, without covers. Reaching the point of where I could not bear the pain, or go on. I wanted to die, and could have, by taking more of the narcotic.

I chose to ask Hashem to take my breath, or the pain away. And should He choose me to live, to free me from commerce, so that I may serve Him only.

Instantly I was in florescent white environment. I could see, hear, think, and talk, with no body. I saw my lifeless body laying perfectly still on my bed.

I yelled with joy, "ah ha, I'm out of here."

Hashem said "no, you must return." I put up a trial lawyers argument to stay, but to no avail!

Hashem said it once more, then, absolute black.

Upon waking at 9:03 AM... the pain was completely removed, and remains so, thirteen years later. Also healing from what seems to be a Divine enabled affliction.

In addition, Divine intervention has saved my life from certain death, twenty times I'm aware of, and perhaps more I'm not aware of.

Among my gifts, born conscience of Hashem, Divine Providence vividly illuminated.

Blessings ~ Tone lechtzier

(6) Diana, February 25, 2017 4:50 AM

A visit from my Mom z"l

After my mother died I had a dream about her. She appeared in front of my bed. She looked very good and healthy. I think it was her contacting me.

I was so happy to see her.

She was eating a yogurt and I asked if she was hungry and she said that she doesn't need to eat but I think she liked the flavor.

She played on her piano the Swan Song from Franz Schubert. I think she chose that because I like that piece a lot.

I asked her if she met G-d and she told me that she is not at the right stage yet to meet him but that G-d is a blue entity or a blue energy. She said something in relation to planet earth and G-d and she showed me some kind of a cloud or energy source that was blue.

I also asked her if she is going to reincarnate and she said that yes, that she is coming back as a baby but she didn't know who she was going to be yet.

She also said this: You, Esther and Pedro are the same person. Or you are all the same.

Esther (my sister) was in my dream too but she could not see my mom. She believed me that I was seeing and talking to her and I was telling her everything that my mom was saying.

I think this was an incredible dream and so did Esther.

By the way, the day of the dream was my parents anniversary, so I don't know if there was a connection or not.

When I told my family the dream they all agreed that my mom visited me. The amount of detail and the dialogue that I had with her was amazing. I haven't had a dream like this since then.

(5) Bracha, February 23, 2017 8:43 PM

eternity of the soul after death

I agree with all that has been written. I died in 1986 on an operating table. I will never forget the peace and serenity that enveloped me as I floated upwards following a beautiful light filled with love and warmth. I remember looking down at myself on the operating table in wonder. I saw doctors scurrying and two rectangles being placed on my chest. I wondered what it could be for I did not know of any surgery using rectangles. Then I seemed to be spiraling downwards into darkness and cold. Later I woke up in ICU. I know now that I was with Hashem. I was blessed with a wonderful doctor who did not believe in telling patients what the stage of their cancer was. Mine was a non-operatable, stage 4, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. However, when G_d saves your life, how could you possibly die from cancer. There is a reason for ones blessed life and so began a new beginning.

(4) Ronnie Roltide, February 23, 2017 8:07 PM

Possible confusion of neurology, faith and insight

If "we can only rely on faith rather than scientific findings to give us insight into the final end of our journey," then why does the rabbi bother to cite the study by neurologist Dr. Judith Katz?

Conversely,the rabbi says that faith gives us "insight" into the final end of our journey. Faith gives some people hope; I don't see faith as assuring any kind of insight.

Shoshana-Jerusalem, February 26, 2017 3:34 PM


It says in the Zohar that after death a person goes through a dark tunnel and at the end there is a bright, warm light. Every person who has experienced life after dearth tells this story. I even heard from a nine -year old secular boy who also said that he had seen and spoken to his sister who had died in the car accident that he was injured in.

In the same hospital there was a young boy who regained consciousness and said, "I saw Saba and Savta!"

Many people have returned and said that they had been on trial in the Heavenly Court and they remembered what they were asked there.

It's no joke. We will all be there one day. H-shem, in His infinite kindness, is letting us hear these stories so that we can be prepared before the time comes. Afterwards it's too late.

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