“Welcome to Hell, Daniel, where we’ll try to make your stay as uncomfortable as possible.”
“Wait. What? Where am I? Who are you and what happened to me?”
“There, there dear Daniel. I’ll try to explain.”
From Daniel Katz’s point of view, he was standing in a large, empty white room in front of a tall, charming fellow with a British accent. The man wore a tailored black suit, his dark gray shirt open at the collar, black hair, and deep brown eyes which seemed to pick up a bit of red from time to time.
“You see, you died.”
“The car accident.” A chill grasped Daniel and he shuttered. He’d been driving home from the office late, speeding, he took the off ramp too fast. The stalled oil tanker in front of him.
“Yes, quite so. Oh, allow me to introduce myself. I’m called HaSatan or Satan if you wish.”
As his host put a friendly hand on Daniel’s shoulder, he shuddered again, as if being touched by personified death.
“Oh you know. Beelzebub, Lucifer, the Devil. Yes, that’s the ticket. I believe you’re getting it.”
Daniel jerked back a few steps. “No. This can’t be. I don’t believe in any of this bullshit. There’s no life after death. I must be dreaming.”
“Oh there’s an afterlife, Daniel. The Jews don’t talk about it much and they’re certainly not obsessed about it like the Christians, but Heaven and Hell, or Gehinom as Rabbi Silverstein called it, are quite real.”
“Rabbi Silverstein. I haven’t thought about him in years.”
“And that’s one of my points, Daniel. You haven’t seen him since your Bar Mitzvah. That was quite some time ago. In fact, you haven’t been in a synagogue since you were thirteen years old.”
“You’re saying I went to Hell because I didn’t attend shul? That’s ridiculous.”
“Of course it is, Daniel. But then you never fasted on Yom Kippur, you worked and played on Shabbat, you never even sat Shiva over your poor old Mum and Dad when they passed. Oh, they’re doing quite well in the world to come, by the way.”
“I’m being punished because I’m not religious?”
“Don’t think of it that way, Daniel. Let’s just say you have some unfinished business to attend to, and besides, it’s not just that.”
“What then?” Daniel asked the question indignantly, and then realized the answer.
“How about cheating your business partner and embezzling from the company? How about not visiting your Mum when she was in hospice slowly dying of cancer? What about all those times you cheated on your wife with, what’s her name, Linda? And then there were all those visits to adult websites…”
“I get the picture. Okay, I’m no Boy Scout, but I’m not like Hitler either.”
“Funny how everyone who lands on my doorstep mentions him. He’s actually a permanent resident in these parts. I have something else in mind for you. Would you come with me, please?”
With a wave of his hand, Satan indicated a wall and a door which hadn’t existed a moment ago. The gentleman in the dark suit opened the door. “After you, Daniel.”
Dumbfounded, Daniel slowly walked forward from a room of light to one of…
“Shalom, Daniel. It’s been a long time.”
“Rabbi Silverstein? What are you doing in Hell?”
A grinning Rabbi Aaron Silverstein rushed forward and enthusiastically shook Daniel’s hand, the latter stunned to find himself in the Rabbi’s office at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.
“It’s so good to see you again, Daniel. It’s been years.”
“What the fu…?” Daniel stopped himself, still as intimidated by the Rabbi as he was as a kid.
“Come, come, sit.”
The Rabbi took his seat behind his desk and pointed to the chair opposite. Daniel took his seat and looked around. The volumes of Talmud, so many books, so much Daniel had learned as a youth and then hastily forgotten.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, Daniel. As always, I’m happy to help.”
“Help with what, Rabbi?”
“Why your education. The Ninth of Av is coming up soon, which given your circumstances, seems an appropriate place to start. Then we’ll take our time. After all, time is what we both have plenty of.”
“Education? Jewish education?” Daniel remembered how incredibly boring it was for him in Hebrew school. “I’d rather be in Hell than be bored to death.”
Daniel saw the shocked look on the old Rabbi’s face. “I’m sorry, Rabbi. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
“That’s quite alright.” Rabbi Silverstein managed to recover his smile. “It just means you have a long way to go.”
“Wait. I thought this was Hell. Why are you going to be teaching me again? Why are you even here?”
“What people call Heaven and Hell are really the same place. Everybody, Jew and Gentile, come to the afterlife when they die. What it all really means depends on the kind of person you were when you were alive. What? You thought you’d be a different person or have different things to do just because you died?”
You know your Mom and Pop are here? They come every Shabbat and for all the moadim. They love it. Same place, Heaven and Hell. It just depends on your point of view. Now let’s get started. In your case, the process of perfecting you so Hell becomes Heaven may be years in the making.”
I made a comment in this blog post where I briefly mentioned the Jewish understanding of “Hell”. It’s quite different from how Christians imagine it. I looked up the particulars at yeshiva.com and wrote a story around it.
I styled the character HaSatan (in Hebrew it literally means “The Adversary”) after the character Lucifer played by actor Tom Ellis in the television show of the same name. I actually used a “Tom Ellis style” Satan in another short story Sympathy for the Devil just because I find his portrayal so much fun.
I had originally intended for Daniel to suffer in the manner of the rich man depicted in the parable found in Luke 16:19-31, but decided that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) might have been telling his tale figuratively and not giving a literal description of Hell for his disciples and followers. I also thought of giving Daniel a demon as a tormentor, but then had second thoughts.
If we consider Heaven and Hell the same place, then a Jew who takes pleasure in performing the mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah would be in Heaven, but a secular person like Daniel would be “bored as hell”.
It would be interesting to run a Christian through this scenario just to explore the possibilities. It’s less a matter of what you believe and more about how you live your life.
Eventually, Daniel will get to Heaven. He’s actually there already. He just doesn’t know it yet.