Heaven In Judaism
Shamayim (שָׁמַיִם), the Hebrew word for “heaven” (literally heavens, plural), denotes one component of the three-part biblical cosmology, the other elements being erets (the earth) and sheol (the underworld). Shamayim is the dwelling place of God and other heavenly beings, erets is the home of the living, and sheol is the realm of the dead, including, in post-Hebrew Bible literature (including the New Testament), the abode of the righteous dead.
See also: Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew word shamayim is constructed of two parts: sham (שָׁמַ) derived from Akkadian samu meaning “sky” or “lofty”, and Hebrew mayim (מַיִם) meaning “water”. In Genesis 1:6 Elohim separated the “water from the water”. The area above the earth was filled by sky-water (sham-mayim) and the earth below was covered by sea-water (yam-mayim). The Hebrew word for the sun is shemesh. It follows the same construction, where “shem” or “sham” (Akkadian: samu) means “sky” and esh (Akkadian: ish) means “fire”, i.e., “sky-fire”.
The Biblical authors pictured the earth as a flat disk floating in water, with the heavens above and the underworld below. The raqiya (firmament), a solid inverted bowl above the earth, coloured blue by the cosmic ocean, kept the waters above the earth from flooding the world. From about 300 BCE a newer Greek model largely replaced the idea of a three-tiered cosmos; the newer view saw the earth as a sphere at the centre of a set of seven concentric heavens, one for each visible planet plus the sun and moon, with the realm of God in an eighth and highest heaven, but although several Jewish works from this period have multiple heavens, as do some New Testament works, none has exactly the formal Greek system.
In the course of the 1st millennium CE Jewish scholars developed an elaborate system of Seven Heavens, named:
- Vilon (וִילוֹן) or Araphel (עֲרָפֶל) The first heaven, governed by Archangel Gabriel, is the closest of heavenly realms to the Earth; it is also considered the abode of Adam and Eve.
- Raqia (רָקִיעַ): The second heaven is dually controlled by Zachariel and Raphael. It was in this heaven that Moses, during his visit to Paradise, encountered the angel Nuriel who stood “300 parasangs high, with a retinue of 50 myriads of angels all fashioned out of water and fire”. Also, Raqia is considered the realm where the fallen angels are imprisoned and the planets fastened.
- Shehaqim (שְׁחָקִים, Shechaqim): The third heaven, under the leadership of Anahel, serves as the home of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life; it is also the realm where manna, the holy food of angels, is produced. The Second Book of Enoch, meanwhile, states that both Paradise and hell are accommodated in Shehaqim with hell being located simply “on the northern side”.
- Maon (מִעוּן): The fourth heaven is ruled by the Archangel Michael, and according to Talmud Hagiga 12, it contains the heavenly Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Altar.
- Makon (מִכּוּן, Makhon): The fifth heaven is under the administration of Samael. It is also where the Ishim and the Song-Uttering Choirs reside.
- Zebul (זִבּוּל): The sixth heaven falls under the jurisdiction of Sachiel.
- Araboth (עֲרֵבוּת, Aravoth): The seventh heaven, under the leadership of Cassiel, is the holiest of the seven heavens because it houses the Throne of God attended by the Seven Archangels and serves as the realm in which God dwells; underneath the throne itself lies the abode of all unborn human souls. It is also considered the home of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Hayyoth.
Medieval Jewish Merkavah and Heichalot literature focused on discussing the details of these heavens, sometimes in connection with traditions relating to Enoch, such as the Third Book of Enoch.
In the 19th century book Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg compiled Jewish legends found in rabbinic literature. Among the legends are ones about the world to come and the two Gardens of Eden. The world to come is called Paradise, and it is said to have a double gate made of carbuncle that is guarded by 600,000 shining angels. Seven clouds of glory overshadow Paradise, and under them, in the center of Paradise, stands the tree of life. The tree of life overshadows Paradise too, and it has fifteen thousand different tastes and aromas that winds blow all across Paradise. Under the tree of life are many pairs of canopies, one of stars and the other of sun and moon, while a cloud of glory separates the two. In each pair of canopies sits a rabbinic scholar who explains the Torah to one. When one enters Paradise one is proffered by Michael (archangel) to God on the altar of the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem, whereupon one is transfigured into an angel (the ugliest person becomes as beautiful and shining as “the grains of a silver pomegranate upon which fall the rays of the sun”). The angels that guard Paradise’s gate adorn one in seven clouds of glory, crown one with gems and pearls and gold, place eight myrtles in one’s hand, and praise one for being righteous while leading one to a garden of eight hundred roses and myrtles that is watered by many rivers. In the garden is one’s canopy, its beauty according to one’s merit, but each canopy has four rivers – milk, honey, wine, and balsam – flowing out from it, and has a golden vine and thirty shining pearls hanging from it. Under each canopy is a table of gems and pearls attended to by sixty angels. The light of Paradise is the light of the righteous people therein. Each day in Paradise one wakes up a child and goes to bed an elder to enjoy the pleasures of childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. In each corner of Paradise is a forest of 800,000 trees, the least among the trees greater than the best herbs and spices, attended to by 800,000 sweetly singing angels. Paradise is divided into seven paradises, each one 120,000 miles long and wide. Depending on one’s merit, one joins one of the paradises: the first is made of glass and cedar and is for converts to Judaism; the second is of silver and cedar and is for penitents; the third is of silver and gold, gems and pearls, and is for the patriarchs, Moses and Aaron, the Israelites that left Egypt and lived in the wilderness, and the kings of Israel; the fourth is of rubies and olive wood and is for the holy and steadfast in faith; the fifth is like the third, except a river flows through it and its bed was woven by Eve and angels, and it is for the Messiah and Elijah; and the sixth and seventh divisions are not described, except that they are respectively for those who died doing a pious act and for those who died from an illness in expiation for Israel’s sins.
Beyond Paradise, according to Legends of the Jews, is the higher Gan Eden, where God is enthroned and explains the Torah to its inhabitants. The higher Gan Eden contains three hundred ten worlds and is divided into seven compartments. The compartments are not described, though it is implied that each compartment is greater than the previous one and is joined based on one’s merit. The first compartment is for Jewish martyrs, the second for those who drowned, the third for “Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai and his disciples,” the fourth for those whom the cloud of glory carried off, the fifth for penitents, the sixth for youths who have never sinned; and the seventh for the poor who lived decently and studied the Torah.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia