The Final Journey
Jewish and Psychological Insights into Death, Bereavement, and the Pursuit of Immortality
Journey of the Soul explores elements of Jewish culture that help manage the apprehension and fear of death and can provide Mental Health and Medical Professionals psychological insights and tools they need to provide help and comfort to their patients.
The course addresses issues raised by thinkers seeking death’s purpose, its justice and its aftermath, as well as the more practical questions, raised by psychologists, therapists, and counselors. In particular, the profound emotions that come from anticipating death and the grief of its aftermath.
Lessons 1, 2 and 5 of the six-week course focus on the psychological aspects of death and bereavement and are brought in partnership with the Washington School of Psychiatry. These three classes and the associated "Additional Readings" in the textbook are accredited by several professional associations and boards for continuing education for mental health and medical professionals (in most states). Click here for more information and an accreditation statement.
Lesson One: Psychological Perspective
This lesson discusses how Mortality Salience (the awareness that death is inevitable) influences an individual’s choices, interrelates with self-esteem and acts as a primary motivation in human behavior.
The lesson presents Jewish psychological perspectives on death. Judaism’s holistic approach to death entails an understanding of death coupled with an understanding of a dynamic of life. It suggests that a sense of mission in life, crucial for mental and physical health (Viktor Frankl), is reached by an understanding of life that transcends ones’ life-span.
Lesson Two: Preparation
This lesson begins with a discussion of the psychological construct of the Terror Management Health Model: that the thought of death can be empowering and instrumental in conditioning healthy and thoughtful behavior. It explores how Judaism has removed the fear of death by incorporating it into the larger view of life, and how its teachings enable a freedom to prepare for one’s own death.
Pragmatic responses to medical prognoses are integrated within the framework of faith, addressing problems of psychological despair and depression that are commonly attendant on failing health. From this discussion flows a consideration of old age, with Judaism’s emphasis on using, rather than squandering, the accumulated wisdom of the years and resulting salutary effects this has on individuals and on the community.
Lesson Three: Transition
This lesson explores the Jewish philosophical response to “What happens when life as we know it ends?” Does a person leave any real lasting impact on the world? Does Judaism believe in a continued life for the soul, and can loved ones maintain a connection to the souls of the deceased? An analysis of Jewish traditions and customs surrounding death and burial, as well as their mystical and spiritual symbolism, provide the framework of the Jewish vision of the afterlife. A study of sources from Kabbalah and the Talmud will illuminate Judaism’s perspective on the soul’s journey and provide insight on how these observances can be comforting to loved ones in the throes of a recent loss.
Lesson Four: Afterlife
Many conceptions of heaven and hell are a composite of ideas from different religions and philosophies. In this lesson, Judaism’s conceptions of reward and punishment after death are compared and contrasted with the more common notions known in other cultures. Jewish mourning practices, including the recitation of the Kaddish prayer and the observance of the anniversary of a passing, are presented in the context of the Jewish concept of the soul’s enduring consciousness in this world.
Lesson Five: Mourning
This lesson presents Jewish perspectives on mourning and its associated rituals, with the focus on those providing psychological and community support to those who survive. It studies how the irreducible sense of loss often isolates mourners emotionally and spiritually from their community. This lesson analyzes how Jewish practices can be utilized as effective strategies to prevent isolation and how these observances open channels of expression for grief and provide tools to a gradual reemergence into a “life after death.” This lesson includes approaches for those offering psychological support, comfort and consolation to the bereaved.
Lesson Six: The End
A theological discussion on the Jewish belief regarding the resurrection of the dead turns a common misunderstanding on its head. This lesson explores a transformative perspective on the goal of life’s journey. That Judaism views life not as a pathway to an otherworldly paradise, but rather, to lead us back to this world of our experience, albeit in a perfected state. In these insights we find an ultimate consolation to the mystifying defect that is death as well as a philosophy for life with a positive world view and a purposeful way of living.