World to Come not Mentioned in the Torah
If the belief in the World to Come is so central to Judaism, why does the Torah never mention it?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Thank you for your important question. You are right that it at first strikes us as strange that so fundamental a Jewish belief is not found in the Torah. In fact, the Torah appears to promise us only bounty in this world if we listen to God. See for example Deuteronomy 11:13-15 (from the second paragraph of the Shema):
“And it will be if you surely listen to My commandments… And I will give you the rain of your land in its time, the fall rains and the spring rains, and you will gather your grain, wine, and oil…”
If we will actually receive the infinitely higher rewards of the World to Come, why in the world does the Torah promise us nothing more than bountiful crops – as well as peace, children, and military success? These are no small matters, to be sure, but don’t they utterly pale before the ultimate bliss of a relationship with God in the Hereafter?
The truth is, when we think about it, there are very many basic principles of Judaism which are not really discussed in the Torah either – topics such as God’s omniscience, the function of the angels, the role of Satan, the eternality of the soul, the Resurrection, the existence of God’s Heavenly tribunal, or who God really is at all for that matter.
To be sure, many such issues are alluded to by various verses scattered throughout the Torah, and if one combs the Torah carefully he can gain a fairly good understanding of many areas of Jewish philosophy. But one thing is clear: The Torah is not a work of theology. It does not set out to write an orderly treatise on Judaism’s beliefs. Key philosophical issues can at best be inferred from passing verses, but that is about it.
The reason for this is because God had an entirely different purpose in writing and giving us the Torah, as we’ll see below. And when we understand that purpose, we will see that the questions of what are and are not included do not even begin.
Before I go on, I’ll mention that the Talmud does spend a few pages listing allusions to the World to Come in the Torah (Sanhedrin 90-91). Apart from that, there are a number of important additional verses we should be aware of:
(1) I Samuel 28:7-19: The episode in which King Saul has a necromancer call up the soul of Samuel.
(2) Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:21: “Who knows that the spirit of men rises upwards [after death] while the spirit of the animal descends downwards towards the earth.”
(3) Kohelet 12:7: “The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to the God who gave it.”
(4) Nehemiah 9:5: “And the Levites said… rise up and bless the Lord your God from the world to the world….”
(5) Isaiah 26:19: “May Your dead live; may my dead bodies rise. Awake and sing, those who dwell in the earth, for Your dew is the dew of lights…”
(6) Daniel 12:2: “Many of those who sleep in the ground will rise, some to eternal life, and some to shame, to everlasting abhorrence.”
These verses make it clear that there is a world beyond this one and that the soul returns to God to live in a different world after death. (See also many examples of righteous individuals being “gathered in to their people” after death, such as Genesis 25:8 and 35:29.) The final two verses above make mention of the Resurrection, with the final referring to the Final Judgment after.
Secondly, in addition to the written Torah, God gave Moses an Oral Law, which further elucidates the written Torah and discusses many subjects not mentioned in it. (This is clear from the Torah itself, which mentions many laws which would impossible to understand and practice if not for the further elaboration of the Oral Law. See e.g. this past response.)
The existence of the World to Come is not only discussed openly in the Oral Torah. It is considered one of the fundamentals of the Jewish faith (Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1). See for example Pirkei Avot (4:16): “This world is only as an entranceway before the World to Come.” Also: “One moment of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is greater than the entire life of this world” (4:17).
Thus, to us, the question is not that perhaps Judaism does not believe in a World to Come. It is as much a part of our tradition as the story of the Exodus. The question is rather why the written Torah, and in particular the Five Books of Moses, chose to make virtually no mention of it.
Many explain along the lines of what we wrote above – that the Torah is clearly not a work on theology – a subject it all but ignores. It is rather God’s “user’s guide” for living well in this world. The Torah is God’s set of instructions for living healthy, fulfilling lives in this world. And if we do so, promises the Torah, this world will be perfected and function in harmony with man – the rains will come in their time, the crops will grow, and mankind will live in peace.
Of course much greater rewards await us in the Next World. But that is not the Torah’s topic. It left the philosophy for the Oral Torah. What it does teach us is how to successfully operate this world. And if we obey God’s will, not only we will be personally happy, but the world itself will function in complete harmony with man – becoming a reflection of the God who created it.
See also these articles which discuss related topics:
And see these two article for a much deeper treatment of this entire topic: