A Jewish Perspective on Dr. Eben Alexander’s “Life Beyond Death”

28_august(Disclaimer: This post is not for everyone. Don’t read this if you don’t feel ready to. Many skeptics exist and to a large degree there is a huge leap of faith in the concepts described below. A lot of it is based on religious dogma, what hundreds of others recounted, and Dr. Alexander’s story. Many aren’t ready to accept this as to do so would be to consciously be obligated to doing many things one doesn’t want to do. All that said, I hope I don’t get branded as a nut or heretic for this. This is my take on this and no one else’s. Sorry if I spooked anyone not ready for this information and failed to heed my advice. -Rafi)

1. There was a physical leaving of the body to the point of floating right above.Recently I got a hold of Dr. Eben Alexander’s book “Life Beyond Death” and read it cover to cover. Recently I’ve gotten interested in the topic of NDE’s (near-death experiences)/OBE’s (out-of-body experiences) of others and, while being partial to specific accounts of Jews that instantly turned to religion afterward, was interested in as non-partial an account as I could find. By and large, the dozens of accounts I read until then confirmed the following:

2. There literally was a tunnel with a “light” at the end of it.

3. Instead of heading towards the “light,” the “light” headed towards the person.

4. This “light” was a magical one, bringing warmth, clarity, assurance, and telepathically speaking to the soul of the recently-departed body.

5. Close family would be there to greet the person. Immense joy or sadness would occur if the family looked happy or sad, depending if the person was by and large a wicked person or not.

6. A virtual courtroom would appear in session, with accusing angels coming in first, scaring the person senseless in ways that cannot be comprehended, then later on the defending angels making a dramatic appearance at the last second when the soul is exhausted from the conflict, balancing the scales. (This interestingly never appeared in non-Jewish accounts. I guess higher judgement equates to higher reward/punishment)

There would be some bias here as the defending Angels would generally be Sepharadi rabbis from generations’ past (the accounts were usually told by Sepharadi Israelis) along with other souls the person saved during his/her lifetime. Generally it would be determined that the person has a last chance to go back down and finish up his/her Tikkun, which then again is the reason why we get to hear the experience in the first place. However, there would be bias as there would still be some function in one’s brain which would give skeptical doctors license to say that the experience was hallucinatory with bias as the brain was “playing tricks,” even though the person while “out” was able to see events and mistakes happening in the operating room, as well as at remote places of the world all at once.

Dr. Eben Alexander’s Account

In Dr. Eben Alexander’s – a non-Jew’s – account, the experience was something else. In his case, due to his cerebral cortex not functioning due to his illness, his physical brain was essentially not working at all. Any drugs meant to stimulate or affect the cerebral cortex had no effect on him as a result. Therefore, he couldn’t remember his past and was in a sense free – able to delve deeper into the Next World than anyone else before, without any subjectivity. What makes this account more intriguing is that we’re not just talking about any druggie off the street here. We’re talking about an acclaimed neurosurgeon that used to be one of “those doctors” that discounted anything supernatural stated by other patient families, and yet he’s saying the very same things from his own personal experience! He described his experience as follows:

1. He “awoke” in a brownish, gob-like surface with roots over his head that was dark, dirty and felt disgusting (the dark tunnel perhaps?). He asked for help at which point a bright light came and pulled him up. This light then turned into a butterfly wing with a strange woman in a pale blue dress next to him (rather than his father, to his disappointment), who later turned out to be his biological, non-adoptive sister that died in a tragic accident and whom he never met. That woman then turned into an orb as they reached a Core that was still able to communicate without language, yet with complete clarity.

2. Any question which he asked was immediately answered by a rolling “wave” that answered everything instantaneously without words. Concepts came about in a tangible manner. Only after he came back down to earth did it take much time to re-process everything into a cohesive language, and still missed out on a lot of things since, as he pointed out, it’s akin to a chimp morphing into a human being for a while, then going back and explaining to the other chimps the concepts of learning several romance languages, calculus, and poetry. They wouldn’t get it.

3. The underlying message throughout the entire experience is that love is the essence of everything. Evil is allowed to flourish in this world since it’s a by-product of free will, meant to test us, but true “good” will eventually conquer. Dr. Alexander apparently was a good person and therefore “would be loved” and “could do no wrong.”

4. The “Core” was made of a dark, inky-black substance that radiated a glow. He was able to learn a great many things while deep in that Core.

5. He mentioned that this world was but a speck in the grand scheme of things. For scientists to only assume everything is in this world, it is like a child shutting himself in a closet of a larger house, thinking that the closet is all there is. At the same time, it’s foolish to think that this world is without purpose.

6. He mentioned that when coming back down to earth, there was a transitive phase where he saw objects from both worlds. He explained that the beings from the next world are right with us, but simply operating in a different frequency.

7. He mentioned that the next world was by and large good with some elements of bad.

8. He mentioned that in when he left the darkness he was a speck on a butterfly, which was amazing.

9. He mentioned that the world he was in was very real, more real than the world we live in.

In short, he was in a coma for 7 days, one which over 90% of cases like his never come back. He came back to tell his story.

A Possible Jewish Perspective On It

In reading the book, I noticed a number of Jewish concepts. Rather than contradicting what I always knew, it only confirmed a lot of what I suspected.

Regarding point #2, this sort of makes sense as on Mt. Sinai we literally died twice when Hashem “spoke” and came back to life. Our tradition is that we received all 10 Statements (Dibrot – Davar can be statement or tangible item) at once with heavy emphasis on Statement 1, then Statement 2. It became too much for us – the process of dying and reanimating – and therefore asked Moshe to transmit the rest of the information. (We are also told that a second of pleasure in the next world is much greater than all the pleasures we earned on this earth.) We in essence already “received” the entire Torah when dying, yet we realized that our puny, limited brains couldn’t possible re-process the vast amount of information so easily absorbed when getting back to earth. We would need to now work on relearning everything which would take many lifetimes to achieve. We therefore said “Na’aseh V’Nishmah” with gusto since we “knew” the Torah without having to process it. We were able to tangibly appreciate the infinite depth of the Torah to understand that to first “hear” everything and then “do” is futile, since this was experienced first-hand. We already “knew” that whatever Moshe was about to re-transmit to us was true so therefore it was easy to accept everything that would be said.

On a related note, there’s a classic story on the Rambam (Maimonides), a rationalist, who was treating a very sick child about to die. When he saw that nothing more could be done, the Rambam asked the boy that when he moves on to the World of Truth, if he could find answers to some perplexing questions. The boy accepts those questions and dies shortly afterwards. A few days later, the boy appears to the Rambam in a dream, explaining that he came back because he made a promise and was therefore forced to, but that when he came to Heaven everything was clearer as the “broad picture” was shown. He was thus ashamed to ask questions because everything was true and good, and that we will understand everything more clearly once we ascend into the next world.

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Regarding point #4, we also were able to appreciate that whatever Mitzvos we were told to do was more so to manifest the Divine that was experienced up there. This inky-black substance that radiates is easy for us Jews to relate to, for example, as Jewish males wear such a substance every day – Tefillin. We wear it in part to increase our spiritual awareness, thereby better connecting with the Divine. Also, our holy writings (Tefillin, Mezuzot, Sifrei Kodesh) need to be written with  a special black ink. I therefore have no doubt that whatever “weird” stuff we do is merely in direct relation to what goes on up there. Another example I can think of is the countless souls that beg for Kaddish to be said for them, as well as Yahrtzeit candles, Shabbos, etc. What we do down here directly relates to what goes on up there.

Picture courtesy of photo.net

Tefillin: Inky-black with a radiance? Picture courtesy of photo.net

 

A Mezuzah. Don't worry about the Shem Havaya - I heard that as long as the image is on a computer there is no problem with deleting it later as digital images are fleeting and almost "something from nothing."

A kosher ink-black Mezuzah. Don’t print this out – it needs to be hand-written on parchment to be Kosher!

Sadly, one of the consequences was in worshiping the Golden Calf, as in Heaven we apparently saw many things, one of which was a calf (which Indian culture can interestingly relate to). This is the true danger of idolatry, as by one meditating to an out-of-conscious/body state (like Indians do all the time), it’s easy to perceive “interesting” creatures that might be perceived as gods!

Regarding point # 3, Rabbi Akiva used to say that the bottom-line of the whole Torah was “love your peer as yourself.” Hillel was even more lenient and set a precedent for the now-distorted “golden rule.” Hillel once told a prospective convert that to observe the entire Torah on one journey (Al Regel Achas – one “leg” i.e. one journey without undergoing reincarnation to complete the rest of the Torah): “Not do to another what you would not want done to you. The rest is commentary – go learn.”

As a side note, I gained an appreciation as to why today’s golden rule – based on Hillel’s teaching – has been wrong from the following humorous Dilbert comic as it’s been distorted that “you must do to others what you must do to yourself.” What, you then should give everyone $100?

dilbert-golden-rule

 

Regarding point # 5, we are taught that this world is but a corridor to the World to Come. Our time is short, but at the same time it has a purpose where we can do many things to fix many worlds and achieve personal growth. The personal growth is akin to, say, someone training to fight for a tournament. That person will have a sparring partner trying to knock him down, but each time he’s knocked down he becomes better – he grows. Similarly, if we reach the next world without the many tests facing us – the sparring partners – everything will become readily available, easy for us to attain, but we won’t be able to grow without the limitations we have. To take that analogy further, when we “enter the ring,” if we didn’t suffer while training, we will certainly suffer against a real opponent, whereas if we worked hard training we will have a much easier time fending off a real opponent. Similarly, if we suffer and work hard on ourselves in this world, we will be able to maximize the immense pleasure of the next world, but if we don’t, we will suffer in the next world and need to work even harder to appreciate the immense pleasures up there.

Regarding point #6, I have personally seen people mere hours before death, with much of their cognitive faculties intact, speaking to imaginary beings in thin air. That could be a by-product of the brain shutting down, or it could be the result of transferring from this world to the next.

On point #7, the Vilna Gaon said that Heaven and Hell are really the same place, depending on how we are. Therefore it makes sense that there is some element of evil in the next world.

On point #8, R’ Chaim Vital mentioned how the Ari would redeem thousands of souls on Erev Shabbos that were in the forms of tree leaves, blades of grass, and waves of the sea (I got this from the Kav HaYashar somewhere).

On point 9, Rabbi Avika Tatz mentions in Worldmask that regarding the “hand of Gd,” rather than that being a metaphor from the Torah, our hands are the metaphor and Hashem’s hand is real! As they saying goes, everything’s a dream.

 

I am aware that some of this almost goes against what we Jews were taught about heaven. For example, in this brand of heaven there is no judgement, book of life reviewed in precious seconds, hell, big Rabbis defending them, etc., but you know what? There are many different levels of heaven. Also, very few have come back to tell the tale. The fact that Dr. Alexander’s cerebral cortex wasn’t functioning suggests that he was able to access his level of heaven without any mind games.

Conclusion

Listen, this post is not for everyone. If you find this post to be unsettling in any way, then please move on and forget you ever read this.