Where the Hell am I?

lucifer

Actor Tom Ellis as “Lucifer”. © Tricia Helfer. Found at Buzzymag.com

“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 mean…?”

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.

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9 thoughts on “Where the Hell am I?

  1. I have an adolescent memory of some wiseacre’s definition of hell as being locked in a small room with a rabbi. It might even have originated as a comment in a film by Woody Allen. No doubt the image was based on someone’s unwilling attendance at Bar Mitzvah training sessions. Consequently the above bit of fiction will resonate with many.

    But this depiction of Hell is rather bland and banal. What it is missing is the desperation of Gehinnom, the self-flagellation and burning embarrassment of a truly uncomfortable soul trapped in a prison of its own making and all too aware that it is missing out on the pleasures of a relationship with the Greatest Father and Friend anyone could ever wish for, while it is simultaneously deeply afraid of Him. Is such a soul able to appreciate the hope of an outstretched hand and a kind offer of help from an affable rabbi figure? Or is it too far gone to be willing to trust that it’s not just an illusory sham, a confidence game, an excuse for yet another kind of torment? Even when redemption is offered freely, will it be accepted? Or will the offer be refused because its perceived cost of change is more than the damaged soul believes it can bear? Redemption requires trust. Without it, one finds oneself in utter, outer darkness — no matter if light is available all around.

    And this tall, charming, suave, urbane, well-spoken Mephistophelian devil’s appearance and behavior belie his actual adversarial role as a prosecutor whose name of “Lucifer” betokens the harsh light of truth he shines on individuals’ faults and shortcomings, rendering them “guilty as sin” under his unrelenting (and not always fair or accurate) accusations. That’s not quite how he appears in the fictional scenario above, or in many fictional scenarios, nor does it reveal his deceptiveness nor his adversarial attitudes against the ultimate High-Court Judge HaShem Himself.

    But there is a great deal that can’t be revealed in the superficial glimpse offered by a short piece of fiction. Depth of understanding is more demanding, and the Daniel Katz character in the piece above has barely begun to learn to perceive anything at all accurately.

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  2. Yikes. Yeah I don’t see it that way. I would think of it (in fiction) as more like spending time with the Catholic priest who was abusive. You have to find your way out of whatever mess may have put a bad light on the whole matter of God; you don’t “get to” be a jerk (in other ways) due to some other jerk.

    But in reality, I view the concept of hell as a temporary state of excruciating regret (and so much of what PL said). It is also the aftermath of the regret, the smoldering fire and smoke that “forever rises” in the sense that these people aren’t coming back. Actually, there would be a moment…

    A moment* where the person in question, meeting with ultimate Truth, either finds the truth unacceptable or (as PL mentioned) not worth the trust or effort or requirement. So, in that sense, where the heart is on display, we find out what the desires are (and go).

    *Then again, it is possible there will be a period of time in a resurrection where people will be afforded a better picture of what is truly the story with everything that’s been going on in history and what will be going on. It’s hard to tell for sure.

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    • After reading your and PL’s comments, I feel like I should rewrite it or write something longer. I don’t have the time now, unfortunately, but it’s a worthy project.

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      • I suppose you could try for a Jewish version of CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”. You seemed to be headed in that direction.

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      • Actually, I like the idea of gradually unfolding realizations of the actual conditions in which this soul finds itself. It could allow the development of a growing horror story, that resolves itself in a glimmer of hope and then a closure in one direction or the other. Of course, given the background demand of a verse like Rom.11:26, a positive closure would seem to be required. But the path by which it must be reached is not predetermined, and it could be, as some might term it, “a bumpy ride”.

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