Judaism believes in both life and afterlife. In brief: After death, the body decays and the soul enters the spiritual realm of the World to Come. In this spiritual realm, the soul awaits the reward of the good it did and receives punishment—cleansing—for all it did wrong.
The after-afterlife is the Jewish belief in a future resurrection of the dead. There will come a time when the body and the soul will be reunited to live together in a highly refined spiritual state. The body, like a seed that decays and then sprouts new life will return with a new appreciation, so to speak, of the true meaning of existence and what it’s role is meant to be. The body will then be reunited with it’s long lost soul. This recreated and remarkably refined person will undergo one final and significant cleansing experience and then live a life of drawing forever closer and closer to G-d.
Judaism does have a concept of reward and punishment in the afterlife. However, since words we use bring to mind certain images, particularly “Heaven” and “Hell,” it is better to use the Jewish terminology which comes without the baggage.
When someone dies, the disembodied soul leaves this sensory world and enters “Gan Eden,” the spiritual Garden of Eden (a.k.a. “Heaven”). In the Garden of Eden, the soul enjoys the “rays of the Divine Presence,” a purely spiritual enjoyment dependent on the Torah learning and good deeds done while in a body. Every year on the yahrtzeit*, we are reminded of this, the day of passing, the soul ascends to another level closer to G-d. This gives it tremendous pleasure. For instance Yahrzeit candles are often lit by many Jewish communities on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in remembrance of those who were murdered in the Holocaust. The custom of lighting a yahrzeit candle comes from the Book of Proverbs 20:27 “The soul of man is a candle of the Lord.
In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself. Before entering the Garden of Eden, though, a soul must be in a state of spiritual excellence, for it cannot enjoy the Divine Presence to the fullest degree with the pleasures and coarseness of our physical world still engraved on it. These would give the soul poor “reception” of divine radiance, and must be removed.
If a person sinned in this lifetime, as most of us do, then, to continue the radio analogy, we have serious interference. In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself. This means there is quite a bit of cleaning to be done. This cleaning process hurts, but is a spiritual and mental process designed not for retribution, but to allow one to truly enjoy his/her reward in Gan Eden.
This cleaning process is called “Gehinom,” or, in the vernacular, “Hell.”
Yahrtzeit* is a time for reflection and introspection. It is customary to think about the best values that your relative exemplified in his or her life.
Yahrtzeit is a Yiddish word that means “anniversary,” and is used specifically to refer to the day on which a person passed away. On the day of the yahrtzeit, there are various customs one can do to honor the memory of the departed. As with kaddish and yizkor, the observance of the yahrtzeit, particularly for parents, has the ability to bring great benefit and merit to the soul of the departed.
There is an ancient custom to light a candle in synagogue on the yahrzeit. Today, it is quite common for people to purchase a memorial plaque with their parents name on it in synagogue. These plaques come with small lights that are lit each year on the yahrtzeit
It is customary to study portions of the Torah, and some brief passages from the Talmud, in memory of the departed soul. Before beginning your study you should say: Merciful G-d, may the Judaism that I am about to study serve as a merit and a blessing for my (relationship) whose name is ____ __ (son/daugter) of (fathers name). May his/her soul be bound in the bond of eternal life and may his/her resting place be one of peace.