Derech Hashem – The Way of G-d 1:3:11
Body and soul each go their own way at death. The body returns to the dust from which it was made 1, and the soul goes to The Soul World 2.
That is, the soul doesn’t just passively anticipate its true and infinite reward in The World to Come while the body decomposes, is purified, and then returns to the soul 3. It enjoys something of the delight it will enjoy in The World to Come 4, according to the merits it will have earned in the physical world there in The Soul World (just as the delight it will experience in The World to Come will correspond to its merits) 5. Nonetheless, as we said 6, true and fulsome reward and delight will ultimately be experienced by the body and soul together.
1 “For you are dust, and you will return to the dust” (Genesis 3: 19).
2 In fact, the soul returns to its source as well: it revisits the Soul World from which it actually originated. See Tanchuma Pikudei 3 for the details of the soul’s experience before birth, also see Zohar 1:91b.
As to the posthumous experience of The Soul World, also known as “The Garden of Eden” or “Heaven”, there are several Traditional discussions of it. See Emunot v’De’ot 6:7, Moreh Nevuchim 1:70, Ikkarim 4:30, Torat HaAdam (Sha’ar HaGemul). Also see Shabbos 152b, Chagigah 12b, Tosephot (Rosh Hashanah 16b, “leyom hadin”), Vayikra Rabbah 18:1, Kohelet Rabbah 12:7.
The point, though, is that this Soul World isn’t the ultimate reach or the definitive end — The World to Come, which is far more arcane and profound an experience, is. The idea that there is something beyond the death experience and its mysteries is one of the points that sets Judaism apart from many other religions and world-views.
3 The body doesn’t just decompose in the dust, though: it has other experiences there. See Da’at Tevunot 72 and Adir Bamarom pp. 123, 198 where the cleansing process is discussed, and Derech Eitz Chaim (as well as Ari’s Sha’ar Hagilgul 23:3 and Reishit Chochma, Sha’ar HaYirah Ch. 12) for reference to Chibut HaKever (“the purgatory of the grave”).
4 See Ramchal’s Ma’amar HaChochma, “B’gemul”.
5 See 1:3:10.
6 See 1:3:7, 10.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon “The Gates of Repentance”, “The Path of the Just”, and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.