On a simliar vein does my prized puppy, of precious memory, have a place in Heaven?
Well it seems so from many authoritative philosophical and kabbalistic sources, albeit not the same ‘Heaven’ as a human being would be in after life.
The question of whether animals go to heaven has been debated throughout the centuries.
The Midrash states unequivocally that animals don’t have a portion in the ‘world to come’.(1) But that has not stopped some of the greatest Jewish philosophers from debating whether the concept of reward and punishment, and by extension the afterlife, applies to animals.
For example, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, in his famous philosophical work Sefer Emunot ve-De’ot (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions), writes that an animal is ultimately compensated for all the pain it went through in life and death.(2) This idea is in line with the statement in the Talmud that “the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deprive any creature of any reward due to it”(3) (although an animal’s reward is different than what a person would receive for doing a good deed out of free will). The fact that Rabbi Saadiah Gaon held that this applies even to an animal going through a painful death suggests that the animal will continue to exist even after death.
On the other hand, Maimonides is of the opinion that the concept of reward and punishment applies to man alone.(4)
The Kabbalistic Response
The question of whether animals are rewarded and have immortal souls is important, as it not only gives man perspective and meaning in his interactions with the rest of G d’s creations, but explains, in part, man’s purpose in this world.
In a long and fascinating letter, the fourth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, known as the Rebbe Maharash, explains that although some Kabbalists were of the opinion that animals don’t have immortal souls,(5) according to the teachings of the Arizal animals do in fact have independent souls, and they do go to heaven.(6) The Arizal is generally considered the final arbiter for all Kabbalistic teachings.
The Arizal explains that every created entity possesses a “soul.” This soul or “spark of G dliness” not only sustains the creation’s existence, but it imbues the creation with its purpose and significance in the world.
But if every creation has a spark of G d, in what way does the soul of a person and that of an animal differ?
G d created the world, including the souls of animals, through speech. It is only regarding a person’s soul that the verse states, “He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.”(7) The Kabbalists explain that when one speaks, he uses a relatively superficial level of breath. But when one blows, he blows from deep within him. So too, man’s soul comes from the very essence of the divine.
When G d created the world, He invested in man the power to elevate the divine sparks or souls that are found throughout creation. It is for this reason that in general, the way an animal’s soul is elevated and returned after its death to its divine source is through its positive and spiritual interactions with man.
(However, unlike a person’s afterlife, in which the souls “bask and delight in G d’s glory”(8) in the Garden of Eden, the animal soul returns to its source (the supernal world of Tohu) in an elevated state. (9)
In the end, while they are different from humans, animals too have souls that live on and can be elevated. This idea presents us with an enormous responsibility in our interactions with the animal kingdom. After all, you are dealing with a being whose soul is eternal and the animal’s elevation in the afterlife can be dependent upon our positive interactions with it.
1. See Kohelet Rabbah 3:22; Masechet Kallah, chs. 1–2.
2. Emunot ve-De’ot 3:10. See also Teshuvot HaGeonim (Harkavy ed.) 375.
3. Talmud, Bava Kamma 38b.
4. Guide for the Perplexed 3:17. See also his commentary to the Mishnah, Bava Kamma 4:3.
5. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, known as the Ramak, writes that animals’ souls are not immortal, and their souls cease to exist when the animal dies (Ramak, Sefer ha-Pardes, Shaar ha-Heichalot, ch. 10).
6. See Igrot Kodesh Admor Maharash, p. 92.
7. Genesis 2:7.
8. See Talmud, Berachot 17a.
9. See Igrot Kodesh Admor Maharash, p. 92.
Reprinted from Chabad.org with permission