How do you get to the heart of a life well lived?
It’s all about the questions.
“If you can hear the questions and apply them to the way you live your life on earth today, then when the time comes, your soul will be ready to take that stairway to heaven, prepared to answer the Seven Questions with a resounding ‘Yes!,’ and take your rightful place among the angels.”
—from the Prologue
In this charming, inspiring and wise guide to a well-lived life, beloved teacher Ron Wolfson provides an advance copy of the Seven Questions you’ll be asked in heaven—whether you’re a believer or a non-believer. The answers to these questions will help you shape a life of purpose and meaning on earth today.
Supported by wisdom from the Jewish tradition, life’s experiences, and personal anecdotes, Wolfson tells you about these transformative questions and explores the values that are at the heart of a life that matters. He offers funny, insightful and poignant stories of how people—ancient and contemporary—have answered the Seven Questions through their everyday actions. He encourages you to reflect on your own life goals and provides ideas both big and small for achieving them.
“Offers us timeless wisdom for living a full and meaningful life…. Wolfson has blessed us with a map for finding heaven on earth. Dr. Wolfson is a masterful guide and the journey he offers us is nothing short of transformational.”
—Rabbi Naomi Levy, author, To Begin Again and Talking to God
“Poses questions that will provoke you to develop your ‘after-life skills.’ This book will lead you into a deeper reflection on your life now from the vantage point of heaven.”
—Fr. Steven E. Boes, national executive director, Boys Town
“[Helps us] to reflect in a compelling way about the quality and nature of our own life journeys. It is moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking—especially at this time of uncertainty and fear in our world. [It] challenges us to live lives of meaning and grants us comfort and hope.”
—Rabbi David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion
“Draws wisdom from secular and religious sources, from erudite scholars to light-hearted comedians. Not out of text alone, but out of the context of living, our author coaxes questions not fully asked and answers gently proposed. With keen eye and sensitive ear, he captures the poignant moments of human relationship.”
—Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, California; author, Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey
“A masterful translation of Jewish tradition as a prescription for everyday living. Follow the pages of this beautiful book and you will be grounded in values while discerning the priorities of a meaningful life.”
—Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, author, The Bridge to Forgiveness: Stories and Prayers for Finding God and Restoring Wholeness
“In this thought-provoking and engaging book, Ron Wolfson prepares us for the true final exam.”
—Rabbi David J. Wolpe, rabbi, Sinai Temple; author, Why Faith Matters
“In some religions, like Christianity, preachers of the word will say that the kingdom (heaven) has already begun here on earth; it’s just incomplete. Forget the eternal version of heaven for a moment. Dr. Ron Wolfson has provided seven ways to bring about peace, justice and dignity here on earth. A true catechist is one who turns people around to see things not so easily apparent. Wolfson is one of those teachers. This is a book not only for the ‘65 percent who believe in heaven.’ Buy it, read it, and then give it to the others who don’t.”
—The Rev. Richard Vosko, PhD
Download a printable version
Chapter 1: To Tell the Truth
- Have you been honest with others, truthful with yourself and faithful with your God?
- Where would you like to cultivate more honesty in your life?
Chapter 2: The Immortality of Influence
- What legacy do you want to leave?
- How are you creating your legacy?
Chapter 3: Turn It ... and Turn It
- How are you learning right now?
- What/who are your teachers?
Chapter 4: The Hope of God
- Did you live with hope in your heart?
- How can you cultivate that hope?
- How can you help those around you cultivate hope?
Chapter 5: What Matters Most
- What are your most important priorities?
- What priorities might need to be rebalanced in your life?
Chapter 6: Living to Do
- What are you living to do? What are the places you want to see? What are the experiences you want to have?
Chapter 7: Perfecting You
- How are you perfecting you ... and the world around you?
What motivated you to write this book?
I have always loved the idea that the Rabbis had vivid imaginations and were unafraid to project what they thought would happen when human beings got to heaven. Building on the Jewish concept of cheshbon ha-nefesh (an accounting of the soul), many of the Rabbis suggested that when you got to heaven, you would be asked questions about how you lived your life on earth.
What kind of questions?
Ah, you ought to read the book! Actually, during my research, I asked many friends and family: “When you get to heaven, what do you think you’ll be asked about how you lived your life on earth?” I heard some great questions: “Was I a good person?” “Did I make a difference in the world?” Most people are shocked when they hear what Rava, a great Talmudic sage, suggests is the first question you’re asked when you get to heaven.
What is it?
Nasata v’natata b’emunah: “Were you honest in your business?” Whoa! That’s the first question you’re asked when you get to heaven? Not, “Were you a good person?” Not, “Did you serve others?” Not, “Did you observe the commandments?” Nope. Rava imagines the first question is about how you conducted your business. In the book, I dig underneath the obvious meaning of the question to suggest Rava is after something deeper. In this case, I think the question is about whether you lived your life honesty, and did others trust you—because trust is the foundation of all relationships, not just business ones.
You tell stories in the book to illustrate each of the seven questions.
I present short vignettes of real people and their experiences that illustrate each question. One of my favorites for book club participants illustrates the second question you’re asked in heaven: kavata itim la-Torah: “Did you set a time to study Torah?” Rabbi David Wolpe began his career as the librarian of the then University of Judaism, now the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where I have been a professor since 1975. This young rabbi knew very little about how to run a library, but he was a skilled fundraiser. I once heard him say this about the importance of lifelong learning: “When I walk through the stacks of the library, I don’t see books. I hear the voices of the authors saying; ‘Come, pick me up, let me teach you what I have learned about life.’ Book clubs, adult education, Torah study—all these are excellent ways to prepare to answer this second question you’ll be asked in heaven.
Is the book only about the questions Rava presents in the Talmud?
No. I base the first five questions on those of Rava, but the sixth question comes from a rabbi of the nineteenth century, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the seventh question comes from a Hasidic rabbi of the eighteenth century, Rabbi Zusya.
What has been the response to your book?
Thrilling, really. The major point of the book is that it’s not about the answers, it’s all about the questions. Each of us will have different answers. But, the questions ... ah, the questions lead us to review our lives on a daily basis and renew our commitment to living a life of meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing.
This sounds like a perfect book for the High Holy Days.
Absolutely. I know of many congregations where the rabbi has spoken about the book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some synagogues have participated in a “community read” of the book during the Ten Days of Return between the holidays. It’s an easy read, although the content will make you laugh, cry, and most of all, think.
And for a book club?
Well, it’s a terrific book for a group to read together. The seven questions are challenging, the stories in the book are full of humor and poignancy, and they invite the reader to share her or his own understanding of what the questions are really getting at, all in an effort to encourage self-reflection and personal transformation. Many readers have told me that the book is one of their favorites because it really leads them to think about how they are living their lives now. For me as a teacher and author, the best thing about The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven is we get to know the questions now. We get to change our lives for the better now. Heaven can wait!