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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

How hot is hell?

Daf Yomi Sotah 6


There’s a sad story often told by new immigrants to Israel who are struggling to get acclimated to the new country.  They tell of the fellow who passes on and goes to the Next World only to be told there’s a technical difficulty in processing his immigration.
“We’re sorry, sir,” the angel tells him, looking a little confused, “we seem to have lost your file.  This is going to sound a little strange, but we’ve decided that we’re going to grant you the unprecedented privilege of choosing between heaven and hell.”
The fellow thinks for a minute and says, “If I have to choose, I’d like a tour first.”
So the angel leads him around heaven, which is very nice, but a little sterile and uninteresting, what with all the good people just sitting around singing G-d’s praises all day and all night.

Hell, on the other hand, is better than any earthly party.  The food is out-of-this-world, the bar is open, the weather is great and the music is awesome.  
The fellow says, “Wow, this is a lot better than they told me. I think I’m going to have to choose to go to hell.”  Immediately, a chute opens up in the floor and he falls into a lake of fire, where a crowd of demons begins to poke him in the most horrible way imaginable.  Between screams, he cries out, “Why is this happening to me? Hell was supposed to be a fantastic party!”
And from above, the angel calls out, “Before you were just a tourist! Now you’re an oleh chadash (immigrant)!”

As I say, the analogy is pretty depressing, even if it is an amusing anecdote.  Thank G-d, things are much better for olim chadashim today than they have ever been.  May we all merit the courage to make aliyah and build the Jewish people and the State of Israel together!

In any event, the joke presents a popular image of hell.  Hot burning fires.  Devil with a pitchfork.  That’s how many of us envision it.  But where is hell and what does it really look like? 

Concerning the sotah (allegedly unfaithful wife), the Torah states, “But if the woman had not been unfaithful and she is pure, she shall be innocent and shall bear seed.”
Beraisa: The extra word ‘she’ teaches that only a woman who is indeed pure will bear seed and not one who was spared by the ladies who spin by the light of the moon.
Rashi explains: If the woman’s infamy is so widespread that everyone is talking about her, the sotah waters are ineffective.

Why are the sotah waters ineffective when the woman is being talked about?  The procedure of the drinking of the bitter waters was designed to publicly humiliate the allegedly unfaithful woman.  In this case, however, her public shaming is already so great that she has been more than sufficiently punished.   There’s no need to further embarrass her, everyone’s already talking about her.

Courts of law will sometimes utilize the concept of public humiliation as a mitigating factor in criminal sentencing.  If a public figure has already suffered terrible shaming at the hands of the media, a judge might take the humiliation suffered into account as part of the punishment.  When a person is so well known that they are recognized by strangers in the street and ridiculed, it is evidently a punitive measure.

Who is talking about this woman?  The ladies who “spin by the light of the moon.”  Not only are people talking about the woman, but they are spinning the story, making it ever more fanciful.  Each time the story is told, it gets better and better until it no longer so much as resembles what really happened.   

To have your persona destroyed as everyone’s gaze pierces right through you is way worse than any tangible punishment.  To have your actions on show to the world is terrifying.  And it gives us a glimpse into reward and punishment in the Afterlife.

Where is Hell?  Nowhere.  Hell is not a physical place; there’s no physical fire or boiling cauldron. Certainly, our Sages speak of ‘Gehenom of Fire’ and ‘Gehenom of Snow’ but these ‘places’ are states of consciousness based on your behaviour in this world.  Your actions during your lifetime directly determine how you will experience the World to Come.

Imagine your soul was bare for all to see.  Every deed and misdeed you ever committed, on public display.  That’s what the Afterlife looks like.  It’s like the woman whom everyone is talking about.   The good news is that it’s the World of Truth and so nobody can spin the story.  You are an open book for all to read, for better and for worse.

I once heard that the Afterlife will be a yeshiva without a clock.  Everyone ends up in the same room.  Those who immersed themselves in Torah during their life on Earth will enjoy the most heavenly experience of learning Torah for all eternity.  For those who neglected Torah study during their lifetime, it will be ‘boring as hell.’

That’s really the idea of the World to Come.  Everyone goes to the same place.  But your actions during your lifetime will determine what kind of experience you have.   When everything you’ve ever done is on public display, will you be shining?  Or will you be looking for a rock to hide under? 

Of course the Talmud tells us that “even Jewish sinners are full of mitzvos like a pomegranate.”   That’s why the maximum sentence in ‘hell’ is twelve months.  The humiliation suffered during that period is more than sufficient to wipe the slate clean and allow a person to go on to eternal heavenly bliss.

So no matter how poorly you might feel you’ve performed up until this point, you are guaranteed a fabulous place in the Next World!  We all have momentary lapses of judgment.  But without a doubt, your mitzvos far outweigh those little hiccups.  The heavenly reward in store for you is physically unimaginable!   Well worth waiting for and well worth giving your very best for!

In fact, if you’ve ever felt embarrassed by your actions, you’ve already suffered enough and all that’s left is to be rewarded for your mitzvos in the World to Come!   The True Judge takes all pain experienced in this world into account.  And so get ready for an awesome Afterlife!


Everything in the universe is a consequence and a reflection of your efforts.  If you become an oleh chadash with a positive vibe, you will have a totally positive experience, whether it’s in the Zion of this world or the next.  May you merit shining in this lifetime and beyond!