One of the most venerable rabbis of the past hundred years was Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky. He lived the majority of his life in Jerusalem and passed away in the Holy City in 1955. He wrote an outstanding work on the theological issues of death and mourning called Gesher HaChaim, ‘The Bridge of Life’. In this classic presentation he explains the Jewish position that this world is merely a bridge to the next world. The soul enters the individual before one’s life and then lives on to the next world (Olam Haba).
In this classic work Gesher Hachaim he presents the following memorable parable (The Bridge of Life p28-29):
Suppose that there are twin brothers lying together in the womb who can think and ask each other what will happen to them once they leave their mother’s womb. Imagine if one of them believes in the tradition which he had received, that there is a future life beyond the womb. The other, a ‘rational’ being, would only accept what his own intelligence could grasp. He argues that there is only existence in the world he knows. There is only ‘this world’ [i.e. the womb]. The two disagree and argue, just like people in this world who argue concerning a ‘world to come’ – some believing that man continues to live, others denying that man has any life other than in the present world.
Now suppose that the ‘believing’ brother were to repeat what was transmitted to him, that with the emergence from the womb they will enter a new and more spacious realm. They will eat through their mouths, see distant objects with their eyes, hear with their ears, their legs will straighten and they will stand erect. They could even travel vast distances on a gigantic earth replete with oceans and rivers and high above would be a vast sky filled with stars. The other in the womb, who only believes in what he could sense, would be skeptical of his brother’s naivete in indulging in such fantasies. The more the ‘believer’ would elaborate on the wonderful features that they will encounter in the ‘next world’, the more the ‘rational’ brother ridicules him.
In the midst of one of these arguments, the womb suddenly opens. The ‘naive’ brother slips out.
Remaining within, the other brother is shattered by the ‘tragedy’ that has overtaken his brother. “Brother, where are you? How did you leave me?” As he moans his misfortune, he suddenly hears the cry of his brother, and he trembles in fear. To him this spells the end – is it not the last gasp of his brother as his brother’s life comes to and end?
Outside at that very moment, joy and celebration fill the room as a baby is born into the world: Mazel tov! Mazel tov! A baby…we have a son!”
The lesson is self understood.
Rabbi Tucazinsky expounded on his parable in the following way:
Just as the life of the embryo merely constitutes the transition to a broader and more exciting and rich life – so too, to an even greater extent, life on this earth is merely a prelude to a more glorious life, which we are incapable of conceiving with our limited knowledge here in this world. As great is the difference between life in the womb and and our present life may be, the difference which the soul will ultimately experience between this life and the world to come is immeasurably greater.
Abie Rotenberg wrote a beautiful song based on this teaching: