Research into the realm of near-death experiences points to shared elements reported by millions of witnesses (an estimated 30 million!) from around the globe. The first commonly described experience is that of floating above the physical body. Witnesses describe being aware of all of the events that happened around them. Afterwards, most of them describe finding themselves in a place of light and great inner beauty, and then “gliding” through a dark tunnel towards a bright light. Many describe a voice speaking to them. Disabled people describe a sense of freedom from their limitations, and almost everyone notes the evaporation of human fears from the mystery we call death.
Researchers into the phenomena point first and foremost to the improbability of so many identical elements appearing in the experiences of millions of people, unless they had experienced something real.
A fascinating book entitled Life (Lebeh), published in West Germany, won the hearts of youth and adults alike. It claims that the modern person, child of the twentieth-first century, often asks himself questions such as: “Where do I come from?” and “Where am I going?” Yet, because a person’s perspective on life is mostly physical, he tends to deny the reality of death to the point of developing fears and anxieties about it.
Yet life on earth is only a part of real life, proposes the book. Life is a temporary station in the journey of the soul. It serves as a period of learning for the soul. The earth is a school. The soul enters the physical body at the moment of birth and inhabits it until the moment of death, which is no different to the soul than changing the clothes of the body. Sometimes the soul leaves the body, especially during deep sleep and in times of loss of consciousness. In contrast to death, however, the soul remains then connected to the body by a thin thread of energy. (For a further discussion of this topic, see the article entitled “The Human Silver Spiritual Thread” ). Yohah Shannel, a German therapist, speaks of the numerous deaths she witnessed over a period of twenty years, and claims that she was always able to discern a spiritual presence in human form hovering over the physical body at the moment of death.
The reason for the appearance of many recent cases of clinically dead individuals returning to life are is explained by Professor Kenneth Ring of the Department of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and founder of a center for the study of near-death Experiences. According to Ring, advances in medical technology have resulted in many people being restored to life after near-death encounters.
From a spiritual perspective, one of the great Torah leaders of recent generations – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen (known as the Chafetz Chayim, 1838-1933) – taught that when a generation is weak in faith, God causes new discoveries to be made in the world, which can strengthen people’s belief. For example, the telephone (and especially, in our time, cordless phones, and small digital cameras capable of transmitting precise images and sounds), demonstrates the Sages’ teachings that all of a person’s actions are documented Above: “Know what is above you, an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all of your deeds are written in a book (Pirkei Avot 1:2.)
Now we will focus our attention on the Torah’s specific responses to the issues raised by modern research.
A close look at the research presented at the beginning teaches us five main points:
1. The possibility exists to return to life after clinical death.
2. The dead see a great and powerful light, which is a type of presence that emits endless love. The light communicates with them telepathically.
3. The dead view scenes from their lives passing before them in rapid, chronological order.
4. Relatives and friends who have previously died come to greet them.
5. The dead can perceive everything taking place around their physical bodies lying below (even someone who was blind).
Amazingly, each of these five facts, and many others, appear in numerous places throughout the Torah, which offers additional details and information far beyond than which science has yet discovered. We will cite some of these cases below.
~1. The possibility exists to return to life after clinical death~~
The Talmudic Tractate Smachot states:
“We go to the cemetery and check on the dead for three days [after their burial]. Once they checked on a person [and found him to be alive]. He lived for another twenty-five years and then passed away.”
In other words, for three days after burial, it is still possible for a person to return to life! The Talmud relates a case of a person who was found alive in the cemetery, and who went on to live for twenty-five years more.
In another tractate of the Talmud, we read about Rabbi Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, who died and returned to life. His father asked him:
“‘What did you see?’ He replied: ‘I saw that everything there is upside down [compared to here on earth]. High ones are low (that is, people considered important in this world by virtue of their money or power), and the low ones are on top (i.e. simple people, who nevertheless served God properly).' His father said to him: ‘My son, you saw a clear world (i.e. the real value of things)!’”
Furthermore, the Talmud relates that Rav Huna, the son of Rav Yehoshua, also died and returned to life. He told Rav Papa that although he was supposed to die:
“The Holy One said to [the heavenly tribunal] ‘Since he does not stand on his honor, but is gracious and forgiving, you must also not be overly judgmental of him.’”
Rav Huna not only returned to life, but merited hearing the reason why. A further story of this type is found in the Zohar, in which a small child prays for his deceased father, whom he needs to teach him Torah, and the latter suddenly returns to life.
~2. The dead see a great and powerful light, which is a type of presence that emits endless love, and communicates with them telepathically~~
The Zohar states:
“At the moment when a man’s days are done and it is time for him to depart from the world, he is given permission to see those things he had no permission to see before.”
It is known that supernal revelations are represented as light. See Sefer HaYashar for an example:
“The World to Come is broad without end… Its light is great, unlike any light in this world.”
Similary, a statement of the Sages (Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar, end of Parshat Naso):
“The verse says: ‘No man may see Me and live’ (Exodus 33:20). That is, in their lives they can not see me, but they can see at the moment of death.”
The Sages also said:
“When a person is about to depart from this world, the Holy One appears to him.”
~3. The dead view scenes from their lives passing before them in rapid, chronological order~~
Before the invention of photography, it was nearly impossible to understand the claims of those who returned to life; that they had rewitnessed events of their pasts. Yet, thousands of years ago our Sages wrote this short sentence: “When a person dies, all of his deeds are delineated before him.”
~4. Relatives and friends who have died previously come to greet them~~
The Zohar, in the continuation of the citation above, describes what a human being sees at the moment of death:
“His father and relatives are there with him. He sees them and speaks with them and they accompany his soul to the place where he will dwell.”
The Zohar also relates the events surrounding Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s passing:
“Rabbi Shimon wrapped himself in his cloak and sat and said: ‘The dead do not praise the Lord’ (Psalms 115:17). Then he said: ‘Now Rav Hamnuna Saba is here and around him are seventy righteous men, each one with a crown, each one shining… And as he sat he said, ‘Here is Rabbi Pinchas ben Ya’ir. Prepare a place for him.’ The disciples who were there became frightened and rose and sat at the sides of the room.”
Rav Hamnuna had been Rabbi Shimon’s teacher, who had already passed away. When he came to escort Rabbi Shimon’s soul, he was accompanied by the souls of many other righteous individuals. Rabbi Shimon was on an extremely high spiritual level, and was able to see, while yet alive, what others can perceive only at the moment of their deaths.
We see a similar testimony in the Talmud BT Berachot 28a:
Before Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai passed away, he declared: “Prepare a chair for King Hezkeyahu of Judah who comes [to accompany me].”
~5. The dead can perceive everything taking place around their bodies lying below
The Sages, whose knowledge of this topic was derived not only from firsthand reports of clinical death and resuscitation, but from their deep understanding of God’s Torah, knew long ago what contemporary researchers have now discovered. Indeed, they knew that which scientists have still not discovered, such as the duration of time in which the soul remains connected to the body, as it states in the Jerusalem Talmud: “For three days after death, the soul hovers above the body.” Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud states: “The dead are aware of everything said in front of them.”