When we die, do our spirits go up to the ballpark in the sky

Ever wondered what heaven might look like? Rabbi Judah Dardik of Berkeley’s Beth Jacob Congregation has an answer. Forget the fleecy clouds and harp-plucking angels. Dardik’s heaven looks more like SBC Park: a beautiful stadium with free admission to nearly all.

Dardik shared his thoughts at his lecture/Q&A series “Exploring Judaism,” which examines the Jewish take on prayer, sex, Torah and other juicy topics. I was there to hear what the aging, craggy-faced rabbi had to say (just kidding. Dardik is known for his apple-cheeked youthfulness).

For most of my life, I rarely gave the afterlife an afterthought. I doubted there was such a thing, and even if there was, nobody knows what it’s like. To me, this was fodder for séances, mediums and things that go bump in the night. All nonsense, I thought, despite an experience I had with the spirit world.

Dardik, however, offered a Jewish view of the afterlife. For starters, he said, there is one. Secondly, it exists on a purely spiritual plane. “The body pins the soul,” he told his audience. After death, the body is left behind.

But consciousness, apparently, remains after death, and in an even more heightened state than on earth.

Oh, great. I already have enough trouble sleeping because I can’t turn my mind off. In the world to come, I’ll probably be up round the clock (unless they have Benadryl there).

Then, according to the rabbi, there’s your seat assignment. If you lived a righteous life and did everything in your power to spread goodness and mercy all of your days, then you will get a seat right behind home plate, i.e., closer to experiencing the Divine.

Then again, if you were a major pain, you’ll spend eternity in the nosebleed section (and still have to pay $7 for a Miller Light). Everyone but the worst of the worst gets into heaven — which means that creep who teased you in gym class, or the girl that dumped you for your best friend: They’ll be there.

But Dardik also said that in the world to come we are reunited with loved ones. And that’s the part I like, or certainly hope is true.

The notion that all my earthly baggage — the strife, the illness and the pettiness — is stripped away and I can hang with family, friends and eventually my son and my grandchildren not yet born is the great comfort of heaven. Too bad I dismiss the whole idea out of hand.

Or do I?

Like everyone, I have no firsthand knowledge of the afterlife. But I once had a close encounter with the afterlife that haunts me to this day.

Five years ago, my father lay dying after an intense battle with cancer. I had been his primary caretaker for many months, a job that took all my energy. Finally, one warm summer day, he died at home, rather peacefully given the agonies of the previous weeks.

That was a hard day — contacting the mortuary, fielding calls, cleaning up and facing that sickening emptiness one feels immediately after a death.

That evening, I lay down on my bed, deeply exhausted, but not sleepy. I put on a CD — the Fauré “Requiem” — and lying still, thought about the terrible changes this day had wrought.

After 10 minutes, I felt myself growing lighter, as if I were floating above the mattress. Waves of colored light began to spin above me. I felt my father’s presence in the room and heard his voice.

“Thank you,” he said to me. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Awestruck, all I could say in response was, “Of course.” The light swirled upward in higher and tighter bands, and my father departed the room for good. I was left alone in the dark.

Was he really there? It sure seemed that he was, contradicting everything my father raised me to believe about how the world works.

I still have my doubts. But I can never shake the feeling that my dad’s spirit dropped in to say goodbye that night.

And if that’s true, then so might everything Dardik said as well. That being the case, I think I might be a bit more ready to one day say, “Take me out to the ballpark.”

Dan Pine lives and kvetches in Albany. He can be reached at [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.