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Does Hell Exist?

Does Hell Exist?

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First, let's ask, does an afterlife exist? I personally know it does because the guy who fills up my gas told me so. One night filling up gas, I looked tired. The attendant said I had no right to be more tired than him, after all, “Just yesterday I hit my head and was dead for a minute and fifteen seconds.” Now I was wide awake. I immediately asked, “Did you see the bright light?” He said yes. Then he said G‑d told him he could go towards it, or back to his body. He chose to go back. Meanwhile the paramedics were doing CPR. On the very last thrust the paramedics are required to do before they call it off, his eyes opened.

I got a lot more than gas that night. I got another eyewitness testimony of life after death. Thousands of such testimonies have been documented, all describing a lot of the same stuff. This means we can know the afterlife exists, just like we know Antarctica exists. Everyone who goes there comes back with a similar report. So fear not. Death is just a new kind of life.

What about hell, though? Who isn’t terrified at the notion of being in a fiery furnace for all eternity? Don’t fear this either. Souls without bodies cannot experience physical pain. But do fear hell. The real word for “hell,” Gehinom, means crying. People cry from pain there. But what kind of pain?

Once there was a man who saved up all his life for a trip to a distant island. Legend has it that on this island the sand is made of diamonds. He figures he’ll be rich beyond belief. He arrives and indeed diamonds are everywhere. He starts hoarding them by the barrel. The locals say, “Are you crazy?! Why do you want this sand? It’s just sand!” He ignores them. But, after living there a while, he adopts their ways. There, the most desirable commodity is pig fat, not diamonds. He goes into business and becomes the richest person on the island.

Years later, he arrives home in a huge boat. He proudly tells his wife how successful he was and what a fortune he brought. She just says, “What’s that smell?” Indeed, his boat full of rotten pig fat is smelling up the entire beach. In that moment, it hits him. He falls to the ground, bawling uncontrollably. She cries, “Did you bring back any diamonds at all?” He searches for hours and eventually finds a few small diamonds in his shoe, on which they live a modest life.

Yes. There is fire in hell. It’s the very things we did wrong. And hell is just a huge magnifying glass. A magnifying glass takes sunlight and makes it hot enough to burn. Hell magnifies our wrongdoings until our soul burns. The sins we do so causally here are different there. It’s a more G‑dly world. A more sensitive world. A more intense world. It’s like the pain and regret of that pig fat man, only many times worse. No poet can capture that level of pain in words. But it might be a tiny bit like having a movie made out of all your most regrettable thoughts and actions. Played in all theaters around the world. G‑d will be watching that movie. He sent you to this earth for 70 or 80 years to get diamonds. Now He can’t bear the stench. It must hurt like hell.1

But it also hurts good. Overwhelming experiences bring about what’s called catharsis. That’s the release you get after a good cry. Gehinom also brings relief and revival. And a new perspective you’ll later be thankful you got. See, G‑d isn’t rubbing it in your face. He’s scrubbing out ingrained dirt that you’ve had on your face too long to notice. It’s also temporary. Twelve months max,2 and only six days a week. You spend Shabbat in heaven, and then it's back to work.3 Always remember, Gehinom is a preparation, not a destination. We’re all going to paradise. Some just need some time to get dressed for the occasion.

That said, it’s my job to keep you out of there. So I’ll teach you how to invest in your afterlife, so there’s massive fortunes waiting, and no pig fat. First, you need the right mindset. Remember, all your thoughts and actions are recorded. Each one matters, and you’re on G‑d’s time. Your goal is to grab every moment you can to do whatever you think He’d want. The opportunities to do shiny, sparkling G‑dly deeds are plentiful as the sand. You just have to notice them and take action.

Second, understand the currency. Your money is worthless (unless you use it to do a mitzvah). The real diamonds are humility, self-sacrifice, kindness. Third, buy low and sell high. When something happens you don’t like, don’t curse G‑d for it. Bless G‑d for it. That’s how you profit. Because tiny inconveniences here wipe out loads of Gehinom, or give you a big promotion in paradise. Either way, it’s a gift. Say thanks. Fourth, know the biggest profits will come from the biggest sacrifices. Give charity until it hurts. Pray until you're exhausted. Study Torah when it makes no sense to you and you’re not in the mood. Do this daily, and you’ll be wealthy beyond words.

There’s an interesting story about the next world. If you could visit the very highest rung in heaven, a rank higher than even Moses and Moshiach, do you know who you’ll find? A very fat man. An ignoramus and glutton, who did nothing with his life. So why is he there, at the very highest level of the World to Come? You see, as a child, he saw his father burn at the stake for G‑d’s holy name. He noticed his father was frail and thin, so he burned quickly. He decided then that he would always eat as much as possible, so, he said, if he ever would have to burn for G‑d’s holy name, “I will burn and burn and burn. Boy, will I burn!” Every bite that he ate was for G‑d. In the world of truth, his very being is diamonds, and, boy, must he shine.

In the future, in the Messianic era, death and suffering will end.4 Heaven, with all the souls in it, will become part of this world. There will be literal heaven on earth. And you directly decide when it happens. Because when you start chasing G‑dliness instead of dollar signs, you become heavenly. When we all do it, the world becomes heavenly. Then the souls can move in and feel at home. We'll be reunited for an eternal paradise right where we are. Let’s do it today.

Footnotes
1.
See Zohar 2:591; Akeida, Nitzavim shaar 101; Sefer Haikrim 4:33; Likutei Torah. Pinchas 75c; Ohr Hatorah, Vayira vol. 2 p. 482.
2.
See Talmud Shabbat 33b and Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b.
3.
Zohar Mikeitz 100; Yalkut Shemoni, Job Ch. 10 Remez 906.
Rabbi Shmuel Pollen received a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and resides in Rockaway, New Jersey. He is the founder of Bnei Noah, a nonprofit organization that provides food and medicine to the needy of Gujarat, India, and eastern Ukraine. Bnei Noah educates non-Jews about their G-dly purpose and the 7 Noahide Laws. For more of Rabbi Pollen's writings, visit his website.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Mom America the Beautiful August 27, 2017

I'm happy and sad. This is so heavy and I needed to see it.It looks Thank you. I hope I don't disappoint to many ppl and I am learning to disappoint myself less.Life is tough. Every month someone I know has a serious diagnosis. this time it looks like a close family member. LIfe is so tough. Make humans great again. Reply

louise leon PA, USA June 5, 2016

To David Rankin Agreed. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand June 3, 2016

William Winkelman, Tucson. I agree with you. Scripture is always accurate. Human interpretation of scripture is not, as it is hampered by the deficiencies of our knowledge and vision. That is why, as time passes and we broaden our personal knowledge, we come to see aspects of the message of scripture which we were not aware of earlier. Re the prophets, there are some prophecies which have not yet come to pass, but which are foreshadowed by events in our world today as being very close to fulfilment. Reply

louise leon PA, USA June 2, 2016

To William W., Tucson Amen to all you wrote...total agreement. Reply

William Winkelman Tucson May 31, 2016

Obscure Interpretations of the Bible We need to pause at the word "interpretation." Why should there be any need to interpret the Torah, except to harvest moral lessons. On those occasions where G-d speaks to man, He speaks very clearly and frankly. I envision G-d as being interested only in plain truth and expressing Himself accordingly. Speaking cryptically and requiring hairsplitting interpretation just doesn't fit. When G-d speaks through a prophet, I can't help believing that what He is saying was meant to be perfectly well understood by people living at that time and not incomprehensible until the far, far, indefinite future, when, of course the prophet and his audience are deteriorating fossils. The mental gymnastics required to show that the Bible contains no contradictions seems suspicious to me. Worse yet is the pushing and pulling, the squeezing and stretching (what in Australia is called drawing a long bow) to make the Torah seem to corroborate the latest science. And, please... astrology? Reply

louise leon PA, USA May 29, 2016

Very interesting ! I never really thought much about the power of the outer reaches of our galaxy on life. Sounds like something to be taken more seriously ! Reply

Shmuel Pollen Rockaway February 17, 2016

Meroz Since the issue of Meroz seems to be shaking the faith in the Torah of at least one person here, I looked it up.

The word Kochav (star) is not used. It is (Kochava) which one commentary calls a constellation. A constellation clearly can have planets in it and therefore "inhabitants"

The stars were cursed too because stars do determine our fate in many ways that science doesn't yet understand but the Torah does.

As a general tip. You can't draw conclusions from a superficicial read. Think how you would read Shakespear and take thath up a few notches if you want to start understanding.

Questions must always be asked. But we also much search for the answers with the same fervor. With time, you will find them.

In 25 years of study, I have never found the Torah to say anything foolish or illogical. I know that because I went through the paces.

If you look for problems. You can find them. If you look for resolutions, you will find them too. It's your choice. Reply

Chaya February 17, 2016

Cursing after the fact is not the same as "calling upon" for help. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand February 17, 2016

Murray Gewirtz. You raise an interesting question. When was it first realised that stars generate light, while planets only reflect light? I think that it would be long after the prophets mentioned quit this planet.
"Me rose to the understanding that the Bible is book with some history and a great deal of mythology, so don't take it too seriously." The Bible is a book with a lot of history, poetry, law, proverbs, medicine and prophecies. Whoever told you not to take too much notice of it did you a grave dis-service. American law and British law borrow their strong ethic of justice from the Mosaic Law. The Bible prophesied the restoration of the Nation of Israel, an event unprecedented in human history. Isaah 66, 8 says "Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children." Modern medicine is learning from the Mosaic law. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand February 17, 2016

Leah. I am not an astronomer and so must rely on those who are, but astronomers seem to agree that the earth is in the only habitable area in out galaxy. Planets closer to the center than us are too affected by radiation from Supernovas, and those further away are all gas planets and so uninhabitable. Apparently we are on one edge of an arm of our galaxy, in the perfect spot to view the rest of the universe. Looking at the Hubble telescope photographs, I am often reminded of the words of Psalm 8, 3, 'When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man, that you are mindful of him?' If the Psalmist was so in awe of the Creator from the little knowledge he had of the heavens, how much more should we acknowledge His greatness and majesty, considering how much more insight He has given us. We worship a wonderful G-d. Reply

Leah Fla. August 27, 2017
in response to David Rankin:

Beautifully said. We are in awe of what is here on earth, so much of what we don't see. And what we know is ou there if we use a telescope. Heavenly, in every sense of the word. Reply

William Winkelman Tucson February 16, 2016

Leah, indeed you are right that we certainly went off on a tangent. Now, four references from the Bible were cited by Shmuel, and from such thin soil I just can't arrive at the Hell envisioned by the Christians and Mohammed. All four references imply that Hell is inside the earth. It's hot there, that's for sure, and the pressure is extreme, but there is no evidence of Hell in there, any more than Heaven being somewhere out in space. The origination of the "lake of fire" probably came from observation of how lava flowed out of volcanoes; obviously it came from beneath the surface of the earth, hence arose the superstition. Man wanted there to be a Hell for evildoers to get their just punishment, but unless they receive their punishment while they're alive, those who want to see them punished are out of luck. Besides, why do we want people to be punished? At Yom Kippur, don't we learn that G-d doesn't desire punishment but instead wants sinners to change their ways? Reply

Rabbi Shmuel Pollen Rockaway February 16, 2016

Can Prophets Disagree? What would the Bible be without it? Each is 100% correct. Then we have rules for whose perspective we should practically follow at the particular time and place. For instance we follow Hillel's view of life now, and Shamai's in the Messianic era.

If it is a dispute of actual events, the prophets cannnot disagree. In a place like a yeshiva (Or the Rebbe's sichos) students go through the process of unifying the apparent
contradictions.

It works out well if you put your mind to it.

Also, there are some great books out there that prove that the Bible was actually way ahead of today's science. Seek and ye shall find. Reply

Sharon Ontario February 16, 2016

Aliens and Prophets In response to:
So Devorah and Barak are cursing the inhabitants of a star (i.e. aliens) for not coming to their aid in battle.
It's my understanding you're not to call on angels or aliens included to come to your assistance. Only Hashem. If you call out to the Creator, He will come or send His heavenly angels to assist. Reply

Murray Gewirtz BROOKLYN February 15, 2016

Meroz/ Me rose Rabbi Pollen, if the Rabbis of the Talmud were prophets and their "words held the same sway," how come they had so many disagreements amongst themselves? You say that "one opinion" of what Meroz was held that it was as star. The other opinion, I assume, must have been that it was some territory on planet Earth. So was one commentator a faulty prophet? Anyway, a star is too hot for life to survive on it. Perhaps these prophets couldn't differentiate between a star and a planet.

Meroz: Me rose to the understanding that the Bible is book with some history and a great deal of mythology, so don't take it too seriously. Reply

Akiba February 15, 2016

No Word in Biblical Hebrew is properly translated as "Hell" Neither Psalm (I believe you mean) 9:18 nor Isaiah 14:9 contain a Hebrew Word that can be properly translated into English as meaning "hell." Hell is a religious concept developed by non-Judaic faiths (or religions when referencing faiths other than Judaism, if one so chooses).

The term Hell probably crept into translations of Hebrew into English when the "English" prepared their Bible. While they proclaimed themselves to be expert in Hebrew, their writings are replete with errors in translation. For instance, In Hebrew, it does not state that Moses and the Hebrew People crossed the Red Sea.

While the English translation noted above clearly serves the religious needs and beliefs of the Christian Community Community, as it should, it has no meaning for Jews. Reply

Shmuel Pollen Rockaway February 15, 2016

Not Just Rabinnic For those who say hell is purely a creation of the Rabbis please see:
(credit for some of these to esteemed David Rankin.)
Isaiah 14:9
Isaiah 5:14
Psalm 9:17
Ezekiel 26:20

The Bible says things that require explanation (like 'a sign upon your hand'). The explanations were given to Moses and redacted by the Talmudic Rabbis.

The Rabbis of the Talmud also use the 13 principals of exposition to settle cases that arose after Sinai much like a Supreme Court uses precedent to create new case law. Reply

Leah February 15, 2016

Alien life How did this discussion to to life on other planets? I agree the Torah does elude to the possibility. I think a new topic has to go somewhere else.
Hell is an invention of the church to terrorize people into submitting to the church. Reply

Helen Australia February 15, 2016

Just follow the path of love, forgiveness and compassion and no fear. If you follow these simple rules you should not fear the future. Put your trust in God as he is pure love. The more you understand the meaning of true love the closer you get to God.
Hell is bottled anger and resentment. Hell is your earthly fear for the unknown. Break free. Only through pure love that you will become one with God. Blessings to all. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand February 15, 2016

louis braxton. I am in full agreement with your statement "I don't care if hell exist, because my goal is to go in the way of the righteous." But that is a separate issue from the existence of Hell.Isaiah 14, 9 says, Hell from beneath is moved for you, to meet you at your coming. Psalm 9, 17 says, The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget G-d. I believe the scriptures, and while those are not the only references to Hell in the scriptures, they are enough to convince me of its existence, and if Hell exists, all other arguments are superfluous. Reply

David Rankin February 15, 2016

William Winkelman. The majority of your letter is perfectly correct, however the statement "Mathematically, the odds are hugely in favor of at least one other planet like the Earth somewhere in that vastness." is pure science fiction. In his book, "A brief history of eternity" Dr Peacock goes into the mathematics of the possibility of another inhabitable planet in the universe and comes to the conclusion that the mathematical probability of one habitable planet in the universe is less than 1. However, the possibility of another habitable planet in the universe is of little consequence, unless it is extremely close to us and of a similar scientific development. If their development is 100 years ahead of or behind ours, we will not be able to communicate with them. At the end of WW11, Morse code was used extensively in ships and aircraft. Today, another planet wishing to contact us by Morse would find us unreachable. And with a 1000+ year round trip for messages, hardly a conversation. Reply

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