Go to Hell

10 months ago The Connections Staff 0

Why the Jewish version isn’t what you thought it was

Benjamin Rosen// Apex, NC

Ethan Benenson// Hunterdon County, NJ

What comes to mind first when you hear the word ‘hell?’ Fire, brimstone and demons? For us, the mention of hell conjures an image of a colossal washing machine—not what you might expect. This is because the Jewish understanding of Gehinnom is wildly different from the eternal damnation and fiery pits we are used to in traditional media. Instead, “Jewish hell” is considered a merciful cleansing that acts as, at most, a year-long buffer between death and heaven.

To understand why this is necessary, first we have to understand what there is to clean. Everything you do in this world has an effect on your soul, and some of those actions prevent it from returning to heaven as pure as it left. Thus, the muddy soul is chucked in the washer and left on spin cycle for a while to get the stains out, ending up nice and shiny. Far from never-ending torture, right?

The idea of cleansing can be a comforting thing, something to be appreciated. If there is even a small scrap of goodness left in the soul after it’s washed, it may rise to heaven free of all sinful burdens. Your sins do not only hurt others, they burn you from the inside with guilt. We don’t have to wait for the JewishWashingMachine™ to scrub them out, there is a manual option. We are forgiven as soon as we apologize (given we don’t do it again); our quest is not to be forgiven but to be redeemed. Undoing mistakes is not always possible, but we can do our best and be accountable for our actions.

But what happens after this spiritual washing, after our soul is cleansed of any negativity it collected in the physical world? It begins to experience all the goodness it accomplished on a magnitude infinitely higher than the pleasure it felt when physically doing them—because while evil is finite, good is unlimited. At last, the soul is able to see the true effect on the universe of all the mitzvot it did through a lens inaccessible in the physical realm.

Oftentimes, a soul needs more than just one human lifetime to complete the mission it was endowed with. That is when G-d may send a soul back to Earth into a new body, thus giving it a second chance to complete its part in inspiring the light of G-d. Until it’s done another run on Earth, and ready to go back into that washing machine.


Source information:

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1594422/jewish/Do-Jews-Believe-in-Hell.htm, by Aron Moss

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6XF71YswCs, by Rabbi Manis Friedman