Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, May 7, 2023
Day 29 of counting the Omer
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר
Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav, Vitzivanu Al Sefirat Ha-Omer.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us about the counting of the Omer. Today is four weeks and one day of the counting of the Omer.
Follow up that prayer by remembering a blessing from the Lord and give Him thanks.
“It Is Appointed for Men to Die Once….” – Part 4
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: Returning to the previous series on death and dying, I now concentrate on the near-death experience (NDE). The RR’s title is based on Hebrews 9:27: And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,…. Two things are guaranteed for your future– death and judgment.
CAVEAT: The NDE is a real phenomenon, brought to light because medical advances have made cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) so successful throughout the world, Many persons who formerly would have died are now restored to life. Many of these resuscitated persons tell of fascinating events they experienced while “dead.” I have no idea what NDE represents. Although various theories have been floated, no one can explain the phenomenon. Is the NDE caused by electrical and chemical malfunctions of a dying brain? Is the NDE a gift from God to give us a glimpse of– and a warning of– an afterlife? Think about the NDE and draw your own conclusions.
PAUL’S NDE: Although the NDE had not been described (was probably unknown) in the first century, the Apostle Paul, after being stoned and left for dead in Lystra, experienced the NDE and visited Paradise. Reconstruct Paul’s experience from the following passages:
● Read Acts 14:19-23. Jews, opposing his gospel message, stoned Paul in Lystra and left him for dead. Paul recovered and retreated to the safety of the city. He, then, chose elders and continued his ministry.
● Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. Paul told of “a man in Messiah” (Paul’s humble reference to himself), who died fourteen years earlier, which coincided with his near-death stoning in Lystra. This man was confused whether he was in his body or outside his body. (Paul had an out-of-body experience, but this phenomenon was unknown to persons living in the first century.) He was transported to Paradise, and heard sacred words he was constrained from repeating. Paul, having never heard of a NDE, was confused. Today’s NDE survivors may also be confused about what has happened to them.
● Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Paul succinctly explained why we humans must die. Recall that Adam and Eve were created to have eternal life and fellowship with God. They disobeyed God– they sinned– and they and their descendants lost the gift of immortality. God is sinless and will not tolerate sin in His presence. Since humans became sinful beings, we must die (more precisely, the sin inside us must die). Paul wrote in this passage that the “corruptible must put on incorruptibility.” Because of Paul’s NDE, I believe, he did not fear death and he could write with confidence (1 Corinthians 15:53-58): For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible will have put on incorruptibility and this mortal will have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Torah. But thanks be to God, who keeps giving us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! Therefore, my dearly loved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord– because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
● Read multiple accounts of Paul’s ministry in the B’rit Chadashah. Paul’s life was hard, under great dangers. Toward the end of life, he displayed the fatigue associated with his many toils. He longed to die and meet his Yeshua, but devotion to his calling caused him to persevere. The Bible is unhelpful in how Paul died. English historian John Foxe (b 1516/1517, d 1587) collected stories of early martyrs of the faith in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The Apostles Paul and Peter were executed by Rome at about the same time. Peter protested his death by crucifixion, saying he was unworthy to be crucified as was Yeshua. Roman soldiers granted his request to be crucified upside down. Paul was spared crucifixion because, as a Roman citizen, he could not be executed in such a barbaric manner. Emperor Nero sentenced Paul to death by beheading. Nero sent two Romans, Ferega and Parthemius, to accompany Paul to his execution and confirm his death. Paul witnessed to these two men, and they were converted to saving faith in Yeshua. Paul was ever-faithful until he knelt before the swordsman for his execution, and, then, he was in Paradise with his beloved Yeshua. Centuries later, Max Lucado, a well-known author of books of faith, may have unknowingly summed up Paul’s life: “God never said that the journey will be easy, but He did say that the arrival will be worthwhile.”
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This RR series promotes the hope of and belief in life after death. This RR series in no way promotes the ending of life, whether by suicide or by compassionate homicide of a suffering loved one. Although the thought of entering Paradise and seeing Yeshua may be appealing, it should be left to God to determine when a human life ends. If you are contemplating suicide, you may contact one of the following resources for help:
● Rabbi Weiner– call (865) 414.4527 .
● 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline– call or text “988”; or, chat online at Lifeline Chat and Text, https://988lifeline.org/chat/ .
● For a veteran in a crisis situation, call 988; select “1.” Or, text 838255. Or, if you have a hearing loss, call TTY: 800-799-4889 .
● For a youth in a crisis situation, text “teen2teen” to 839863, or call 1-877-968-8491 .
● Tennessee Crisis Services and Suicide Prevention– see https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/need-help.html ; or call 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471); or text “TN” to 741-741.
● Emergency assistance (local) – call 911 .
● Seek assistance at a hospital emergency department.
● And, other resources exist (use search engine).
People are standing by now and 24/7 to help you in any “dark day” you may have about ending your life. God intends to set the number of days (“appointed times”) of your life (Acts 17:25-26): Nor is [God] served by human hands, as if He needed anything, since He Himself gives to everyone life and breath and all things. From one He made every nation of men to live on the face of the earth, having set appointed times and the boundaries of their territory. Let Him decide the length of life. Do not even think of ending a life. God can use you in His Kingdom, and will do so, if you yield to His will.
WHAT IS THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE? The near-death experience (NDE) is an experience associated with death or impending death. The NDERF (see a following paragraph) describes the NDE as: “A lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death.”
Among many resources, two well-known books about death and dying have been published: Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying (Amazon availability: $20.24 hardcover, $13.29 paperback) and Dr. Raymond Moody’s Life after Life (Amazon availability: $14.69 paperback).
The Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) posts a Website, https://nderf.org . This interesting site is said to contain more than 5,000 NDE accounts from around the world and claims more than one-half million monthly readers. Hours can be spent reading this site’s features.
WHAT ARE COMMON NDE FEATURES? Common features of NDE include the following (not necessarily in the same order from one person to another):
● Most NDEs are peaceful events: Most NDEs are pleasurable. Some NDEs are so meaningful that the subject wishes not to return to life on Earth. NDEs may be life-changing. On the other hand, a minority of NDEs are extremely frightening. Following in this RR, I relate a frightening NDE personally told to me by a friend. He believes he saw Hell in his NDE, and the experience literally “scared the hell out of him.”
● Visiting Paradise: The subject may find him-/ her-self in a place of incomparable beauty. Yeshua and others called such a place “Paradise.” Paradise is written in the Greek text of the B’rit Chadashah as Παράδεισος (transliteration, paradeisos || pronunciation, par-AD-i-sos), but is from a Middle Eastern word, פַּרְדֵּס (pardēs || pronounced, par-DACE). A pardēs (paradise) was a Persian garden, park, or pleasure ground.
Subjects describe the beauty of Paradise in glowing terms, but descriptions vary between subjects. Could this variation suggest that Believers may find different things to enjoy in Heaven/ Paradise? Since you and I may find different things to be beautiful, could my Paradise/ Heaven look different to yours to accommodate our individual tastes. Some people love dogs, others love cats. If there are animals in Heaven, could the dog lovers see these animals as dogs and the cat lovers see them as cats? This suggestion of different perceptions is not Biblical (not backed up by Scriptures), but is just a thought.
● Sense or awareness of being dead: Unlike a dream in which the subject usually does not think, “I am dead,” the NDE subject knows he/ she is dead or is dying. Interestingly, the subject does not care whether he/ she is dead or dying.
● Commonly, a sense of profound peace, love, and well-being; freedom from pain (some, the opposite): The majority of subjects report that even though he/ she may have feared death in earlier life, he/ she now feels completely at ease. He/ she may think, essentially, “I’m dying, but I don’t care.” He/ she may have died from horrific injuries (traffic accident, for example) and may have been in severe pain prior to the NDE, but he/ she now has all pain removed from his/ her consciousness. He/ she becomes detached from the cares of the world, being unattached to the former life. Some experience the opposite (following section).
SIDELIGHT: I served as Blount County Medical Examiner for many years. I had a sad task of talking to dead persons’ relatives. I was frequently asked: “Did he/ she suffer before dying?” Death is a sad, horrible outcome for family members, but to think the deceased loved one suffered greatly compounds the sorrow of death. I was aware of the NDE early after research started to appear with some regularity in the medical literature. I could honestly answer the family’s concern about death: “Your loved one may not have suffered any pain, even though badly injured.” I explained briefly the NDE and how pain might be absent at death. I could often see the relief family members showed, knowing their loved one may not have suffered prior to death. And, I was being completely honest with them. Who knows the limits of God’s grace? END sidelight.
● Out-of-body experience (OBE): The OBE is a most interesting, inexplicable phenomenon, “proving,” in my mind, that the NDE is supernatural. During an OBE, the subject watches his/ her own body from outside of the body, commonly hovering (floating) near the ceiling and looking down at his/ her body while medical personnel perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation procedures. Recall Paul’s NDE confusion, not knowing whether he was “in” or “out” of his body.
● Visiting/ observing relatives in another part of the hospital: This feature is similar to the out-of-body experience. While the subject lies on a bed or gurney during resuscitation, he/ she may pass through hospital walls (no need for doors) to visit relatives in, say, a nearby waiting room. After resuscitation, the subject may describe who was there, clothing worn, conversations, emotions, and other features that could be known only by an eyewitness in the waiting room. Since the subject was very much occupied in another room of the hospital and was lying in a fixed position (lying on back, with eyes fixed toward the ceiling during the CPR), how could he/ she know these things?
After Yeshua’s crucifixion death and burial, He was resurrected and made thirteen post-resurrection appearance to people who knew Him. Consider one of these appearances (John 20:26-29): Eight days later the disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Yeshua comes, despite the locked doors. He stood in their midst and said, “Shalom aleichem!” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe!” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Yeshua said to Him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed? Blessed are the ones who have not seen and yet have believed!” [Shalom aleichem = “Peace be unto you” – a common greeting.] The reason this passage is here quoted is a portion of John 20:26b: “… Yeshua comes, despite the locked doors.” The resurrected Yeshua could pass through solid walls in the first century, as apparently can NDE subjects in the twenty-first century. Naysayers of the supernatural aspect of NDEs cannot explain this phenomenon.
● Tunnel passage: Commonly, a person feels as though he/ she enters a tunnel (or dark space), and moves through it– moving especially toward a light.
● Attraction to a powerful light: At the end of the tunnel or at a distance in the darkness, the person sees a light. The light is small and rather dim at first, but the person is attracted at some speed toward the light. The light becomes larger and brighter, enveloping the person, but there is no discomfort in looking at the bright light. The person feels comforted by being in the light’s presence. Of interest, recall John 8:12: Yeshua spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The person may feel he/ she can communicate telepathically with this light.
● Feeling of unconditional love and acceptance: The subject may have been subjected to hate and rejection in life, but he/ she is now immersed in love. He/ she feels the love of others, while extending that love to others. Father God is the epitome of perfect and unconditional love, and the subject is beginning a journey to be in the presence of God. Yeshua gave Believers only three commandments, all based on love– love God above all else, love your neighbor as yourself, and love fellow Believers as Yeshua first loved us.
Yeshua taught that only “overcomers” can enter Heaven (Revelation, chapters 2 and 3). He did not spell out precisely what must be overcome. I believe that sin must be overcome, accepting as payment for the debt of sin God’s grace and Yeshua’s surrogate death at Golgotha. We may also need to overcome all hate, allowing our entire being to be filled with love. Paul, John, Peter, and others wrote extensive Bible passages (too lengthy to reproduce here) about love and the need for the Believer to accept and give love.
No matter how downtrodden a person may be in this life, he/ she may be accepted as a child of God (John 1:12): But whoever did receive [Yeshua], those trusting in His name, to these He gave the right to become children of God. The person is accepted by Father God as much as anyone can be accepted– he/ she is adopted into the family of God and becomes a joint heir with the Son of God (Romans 8:16-17): The Ruach Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, also heirs– heirs of God and joint-heirs with Messiah– if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
● Meeting other beings: After traveling toward the light, the subject typically meets other beings. Often, these beings are dressed in white. The subject may identify these beings as relatives who preceded him/ her in death, or as religious beings (Yeshua, for example).
I have not kept up with much of the voluminous NDE research, but at one time, when I had studied the NDE somewhat, I seem to remember that no relative met in Paradise was still living on Earth. I remember a case in which a run-away teenager (from Atlanta?) was hitchhiking in Los Angeles, when struck by an automobile. In her NDE, she was greeted by her father. NDE researchers in Los Angeles questioned her about her father. She stated that he was very much alive, when she left home. Aha! Had they found an exception? That is, had this teenager seen her father “over there” with other dead beings, but her father was still alive in Atlanta? Authorities called her home to inform the family that she was recuperating in a Los Angeles hospital. After asking to speak to the father, they were informed that he had died a couple of weeks earlier. The run-away daughter had no way of knowing her father had died while she was hitchhiking across country, but she saw him after his death (in Paradise?) during her NDE.
● Euphoria: During the NDE, the person is not sad at having died. During the out-of-body experience, he/ she may look down at his/ her body, sensing he/ she has died, and has only mild curiosity (not remorse) that he/ she is dead. That person on the gurney/ bed has no importance to the NDE subject. To the contrary, the subject may be euphoric. He/ she is content at this new station in life. He/ she has never before experienced such peace and love.
● Life review: The person may experience life review, often described as “my life flashed before my eyes.” The review seemingly concentrates on action, feelings, and impact on others. The subject may view life scenes, as though watching a movie of sorts. The subject may feel he/ she is re-living parts of his/ her past life.
I have wondered how millions upon millions of Believers can be judged at the Bema Judgment. By human standards, this would be an impossible task. We know that computers can perform a tremendous number of computations in the blinking of an eye. Would not our Divine Judge be even more intelligent and capable (“tech savvy”) than a computer? Of course, He would.
I certainly do not know how things of God operate, but I suspect our Divine Judge can download the history of our lives in a split second, and communicate telepathically with us at similar speed. For the exhaustive, intensive judgment promised by Yeshua, such rapid communication must be provided (Matthew 12:36-37): [Yeshua said] “But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
● Infusion of knowledge: In some (not all) cases, the subject receives a flood of knowledge about life and the nature of the Universe. Could questions about God, life, and the Universe a subject has on Earth (similar to the Apostle Paul’s “mysteries”) be answered at this time? (Just a guess.)
● Enhanced mental capabilities: The subject may experience unusually fast thinking and observation abilities, even though one would think trauma, blood loss, pre-death use of drugs, and anesthetic agents and other drugs administered by medical personnel should slow mental abilities. If you have had an anesthetic agent prior to surgery, were your mental capabilities slowed or increased?
● Decision to return or stay: Some persons are asked whether they want to stay in this place or return to Earth. This decision is difficult. The person wants to stay, but senses a duty to his/ her family and wants to return to life. Some resuscitated patients later voice displeasure at the medical team for restoring their lives. They wanted to stay!
● Return to Earth (return to mortal body): If resuscitation is successful and life is restored, the person must leave Paradise and return to Earth. That is, the spiritual body must be vacated to return to the mortal body. The voyage to Earth from Paradise is reversed. That is, the person leaves the place of beauty and peace, travels back down the tunnel away from the brilliant light, finds him-/ her-self on a hospital bed or gurney, and experiences the pain of his/ her injuries or illness. Beings in Paradise, friends and family who have died, who communicate only about peace and love, are replaced with doctors and nurses who are alive, communicating hurriedly with each other about medical procedures to employ to continue a successful resuscitation. Importantly, the pain that was present before the NDE voyage, but was absent while in Paradise, suddenly returns.
BAD NDEs: Before reading the following account (next paragraph), recall Yeshua’s teaching about a poor, righteous beggar (Lazarus) and a wicked rich man (Luke 16:19-31, which I summarize): Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, barely subsisting on alms given to him. The rich man enjoyed “everything” in life. Both died. Lazarus was carried to “Abraham’s side” (we would say “Paradise”). The wicked man was carried to Sheol (the place of the wicked dead). The two sides were separated by a great chasm. Lazarus enjoyed peace and comfort; the evil man was in torment. Interestingly, the two souls could see and talk to each other. The point is: souls are carried immediately to different places, awaiting final judgment and ultimate decision as to whether the soul is sent to eternal Heaven or eternal Hell.
To this point in the RR, I have discussed pleasant NDEs. However, NDEs can be frightening. A few years ago, I taught Sunday School in a Blount County church. I taught a lesson on the afterlife. One of the students stayed after class to tell me something he experienced years earlier. As well as my memory can recollect, he revealed the following:
He admitted that he was once a very bad person– a hellion and a sloppy alcoholic. After a night of heavy drinking in a local bar, he tried to drive home. He made it as far as a sturdy utility pole, which he tried to drive through. The pole won, and he and his automobile were severely mangled.
Barely clinging to life, he was rushed to the emergency department of Blount Memorial Hospital, Maryville. He promptly underwent cardiac arrests (three of them, if I remember correctly), and was successfully resuscitated. After stabilization, he was admitted to the hospital for a period of time. After sufficient recovery, he was discharged.
He did not go directly home after discharge. Instead, he went to a nearby church (the one he and I attended together). Unfamiliar with churches, he asked a secretary if the pastor was in the building, and he was. (The pastor would be there, of course, because, unbeknown to either of them, a Divine appointment had been arranged for this man to become a Believer.)
He met with the pastor that day, and could not say fast enough that he wanted to become a Christian (Believer), repent of his past, and lead a new life. He was soon baptized by water immersion. He started reading a Bible. He prayed earnestly to God. He was a new man– a born-again man. And, the angels in Heaven rejoiced, when this sinner came to the Lord (Luke 15:10): [Yeshua said] “… I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
A few years later (a time when he and I were discussing his past), he probably was that church’s most devout member, although he would modestly decline any recognition. He attended every service. He spoke of “my Jesus,” as though the two of them were the best of friends. If a volunteer was needed for some task, his hand was the first to be raised.
Why did one of Blount County’s most sinful persons– a drunkard, immoral nonbeliever– become one of that county’s most dedicated persons– a Believer and a living witness for the love and saving grace of God? The answer is obvious in this man’s mind. During one or more of the cardiac arrests he underwent, he had a near-death experience.
In his NDE, he did not go to a beautiful, peaceful Paradise. Instead, he went to a hellish place. He is convinced that he actually saw Hell (certainly Hades). He felt flames lapping around him. He smelled sulfur (brimstone) fumes. He saw tormented souls in agony, screaming for relief and mercy. His brief encounter (with Hell?) was more than enough for him! He surrendered his life to the Lord on the very day he was discharged from the hospital, became a steadfast Believer, steadfastly desiring to avoid Hell.
CONCLUSION: In 2019, WBIR-TV interviewed a Knox County woman, who was struck by an automobile and had a heavenly NDE, and a Blount County man, who was stabbed and had a hellish NDE. (Hmmm. Blount County is batting 2-0 in this RR for persons going to Hell. Blount County residents also go to Heaven.) You may see these contrasting NDEs of fellow eastern Tennesseans at: One went to heaven, the other to hell | Two East Tennesseans share their near-death experiences | wbir.com . Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Day 29 of the Omer
Sun 7 May-2023 16th of Iyar, 5783
Le 25:1-18 Isa 66 Job 20 Ro 1 (Mt 20)