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Is there any sort of Purgatory or Satan in Jewish teachings?

Is there any sort of Purgatory or Satan in Jewish teachings?

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a) Various sources suggest that Gehinom, Purgatory, is a physical place, somewhere deep beneath the earth's surface, where the souls of the wicked are punished.1

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman 1195-1270) writes:2

"These and other similar matters cannot be interpreted as a parable or as some ominous saying. The Rabbis specified its location and the length and width of its dimensions. They consider [the heat generated by Gehinom] in the context of Jewish law."

Notwithstanding the sources above subscribing to and depicting Gehinom as a physical place, other sources -- in Kabbalah, Chassidut, and Jewish philosophy -- portray Gehinom in more abstract and spiritual terms. In fact, later, as Nachmanides continues his above mentioned exposition on Gehinom, he seems to do an about-face, also explaining the fires of Gehinom and the punishment endured by the soul in spiritual terms.

The discrepancy, however, between the various depictions of Gehinom can be reconciled based on the mystical concept that reality has manifold layers. So although the mystical dimension of Torah focuses on the higher reality, including the underlying spiritual reality and dynamics of Gehinom, the revealed dimension of Torah speaks about the physical manifestations of reality within the context of the here-and-now, the tangible and the palpable. This explains why our Sages have said that a Scriptural verse always retains its simple meaning, even while each and every verse alludes to the most exalted of mystical concepts.

According to Judaism, the purifying process that a sullied soul undergoes to cleanse it from its spiritual uncleanliness is a temporary one, and is restorative in its intent, and not punitive, as many mistakenly believe. Ultimately, all Jews have portion in the World to Come, as do Righteous Gentiles, non-Jews who observe the Seven Noahide Commandments.

b) According to Torah, no spiritual force opposes G‑d. This includes Satan, who is a spiritual entity that faithfully carries out its divinely assigned task of trying to seduce people to stumble. Satan is also identified with the Prosecutor above -- that's what the word Satan itself means: it's just Hebrew for prosecutor -- who levels charges against the guilty party who succumbs to its wily arguments. Look in the beginning chapter of the Book of Job and you'll see that clearly.

In fact, the Talmud says, all that Satan does, he does for the sake of heaven. Without him, the defense attorney wouldn't bother to dig up all the merits of the defense. And the defense would have to try so hard to give himself more merits.

So you see that really nothing happens in the entire world without G-d approving. That's why we Jews have so many complaints to him that we need to talk to him three times a day. The buck really stops at His office.

Finally, when the Divine Court decides that someone, G‑d forbid, deserves to die, then Satan is dispatched from Above to carry out the sentence.3

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger for Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

For example, the Midrash in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer (10) says, "The whale that swallowed Jonah showed him [the entrance to] Gehinom." In Midrash Rabba (Genesis 48:8): "G‑d opened a hole into Gehinom that boiled all the water covering the earth." In the context of a halachic discussion, the Talmud in Shabbat 39a explains that the hot springs of Tiberius are heated by passing by the entrance of Gehinom. See also Bava Batra 74a; Sanhedrin 108a; Eruvin 19a.

2.

Shaar Ha'Gmul .

3.

Bava Batra 16a.

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger, first content editor for KabbalaOnline.org, is the translator and editor of several important chassidic texts. He also serves as the Jewish chaplain for York Central Hospital, and for numerous Federal prisons. Rabbi Danzinger currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Yehudis, and their children.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (7)
November 29, 2008
Is satan in jewish teachings
As the person who posted the original comment may I state my case further? In our evening prayers we pray "vehaser satan milphenenu vemacherenu" (and remove Satan from before us and behind us)?

I rest my case.
SARA WEISS
LONDON, UK
November 28, 2008
Satan
A soul can either vibrate on a very high level, an intermediate level or a low level. The higher the level the closer to One (God's name is One). The less I there is, the higher the level. I interferes with One. Once the I is made smaller and smaller, One can shine through more and more. I means: "I am great, I am strong, I am right, I know better, I studied all sciences, I can do whatever I want, I can have sex whenever and with whoever I want, I can do business dealings in whichever way I want, I can... I can on and on.
If this mind is enforced and maintained, then the Soul looses higher vibrations. The devil's effect is to lower these vibrations, to the point where there is no more humanity left. Then the soul becomes an animal soul.
Dan
November 6, 2008
Satan in Judaism
If you say that Satan is an entity that opposes G-d you are making a big mistake. Satan cannot be an all powerful anti G-d or we would be guilty of believing in another god which G-d himself says is a false belief and has warned us against doing and I tend to believe that he knows what he is talking about.

If you say that Satan is the manifestation of evil in the world you are partially right, but since we are ultimately responsible for our own actions then is is we who perform and are wholly responsible for.

If you say Satan is another name for "The Evil Inclination" in the world then I would agree and add a word of caution which is do not call "The Evil Inclination" Satan or you will just perpetuate the problems stated above.
Anonymous
September 1, 2008
It would seem to my mind - not having been brought up in Judaism but turning to it in later life that Jews seem to be in a Win-Win position. No matter WHAT we do in life the Jewish idea seems to be that G-d will forgive us - as long as we attended shul on Yom Kippur every year - and will let us go to live with him when we die!!. Is this reasonable?! BUT, if that's how you believe life - and death - happens, what's the use of anyone saying it doesn't? that it isn't logical? You are going to stick to what you are taught because it suits you. Otherwise, you would have to start looking at how you live and studying whether your ideas of who is best in a shul - a righteous man or the one who earns the most money there - are the wisest & best surely?!!!
Anonymous
LONDON, UK
February 6, 2008
Satan
I do not quite understand who is satan. Christianity teaches that he is a devil. An angel who once worship G_d in Heaven.

Is satan a spirit? If so where is his place in our lives. Was satan as angel? Is satan evil?

Please forgive me if I sound confused.

Thank you,
Jo Ann Mosley
Orange Park, Florida
January 9, 2008
About restorative...
This article mentioned that gehinom has a restoritive purpose for the souls who enter it and that there is a set beginning and end. However, I remember hearing that in some cases, such as those of an apostate Jew, the punishment continues beyond this set term. Does this means that in the case of an apostate jew, the suffering in gehinom continues indefinately? Also, does a non-Jew who, whether conscientiously or unwittingly, violate any or all of the seven laws of Noah (I mentioned unwittingly in regards to idolatry) also suffer indefinitely?
Anonymous
Los Angeles, CA
August 18, 2007
interesting!
This has changed my understanding of what has appeared in the media. Thank you for the article!
Anonymous
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