Chapter 13. Heaven: An Original Parable - My Grandfather's Philosophy

My grandfather did not divide the world into Jews and non-Jews. Rather, he judged each individual based on whether or not that individual was a good person. I often ponder the question of what my grandfather would think of heaven. Who gets to go there? Is it a question of whether you happen to be born into a particular faith? I am reminded of the Native American king in the time of the Spanish conquistadors. As Alistair Cooke relates, while describing the attempt of the conquistadors to forcibly convert the natives to their religion, in his wonderful book Alistair Cooke's America:

"A native king ... would not renounce his religion and was about to be burned at the stake. As he felt the first fires lap his body, he was for the last time offered the rite of baptism. He refused, saying he feared that, if he accepted, he might go to heaven and meet there only Christians.

Now, 500 years later, there are many more religions and sects that believe in one god and heaven than there were half a millennium ago. A good number of them believe that their religion has the only path to heaven. Their leaders preach intolerance toward other religions and other people. During the Civil War the North and the South each had patriotic songs claiming God was on their side (the North had the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the South had God Bless the South). An astute Abraham Lincoln said he hoped that he was on God's side.

People have asked for God's help in defending slavery, as well as discrimination against Blacks, Jews, and other minorities. We ask God to get involved with our petty affairs on earth. Instead of aspiring to think more of what God thinks, we are asking God to think like us. Many people would like to complete the tower of Babel and march right up to heaven to help God rearrange it according to their own religious beliefs.

The following parable sums up my grandfather's views on the subject. Imagine a Yeshiva student studying the great religions of the world. This student takes it upon himself to write to the leaders of each religion that recognize one god. He asks each of them whether heaven is open only to people who follow their faith, or if people of all faiths are thrown together in one heaven if they have led good lives.

The answers come back, one by one. The student sits down at his desk and reads far into the night. There seems to be no consensus - every religion has a completely different view on the subject. After pondering this deeply for several days, with a troubled mind, the young student again picks up his pen and addresses his correspondents. He begins to write... "It seems that, after all, the Jewish conception of what becomes of us in heaven is agreed upon by all major religions. Namely: God only knows!"

I think my Grandfather would have agreed.