Sunday, May 31, 2009


I recently read The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology I., a book I borrowed from the Skokie Kollel Library (which is, by the way, fantastic.) The book I related to most of the anthology was probably If You Were God, from which I reproduce an excerpt that I found particularly fascinating:

Imagine standing naked before God, with your memory wide open, completely transparent without any jamming mechanism or reducing valve to diminish its force. You will remember everything you ever did and see it in a new light. You will see it in the light of the unshaded spirit, or, if you will, in God's own light that shines from one end of creation to the other. The memory of every good deed and Mitzvah will be the sublimest of pleasures, as our tradition speaks of Olam Haba.

But your memory will also be open to all the things of which you are ashamed. They cannot be rationalized away or dismissed. You will be facing yourself, fully aware of the consequences of all your deeds. We all know the terrible shame and humiliation experienced when one is caught in the act of doing something wrong. Imagine being caught by one's own memory with no place to escape. This indeed may be what Daniel is alluding to when he says (Dan. 12:2), "And many of them that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting shame."

A number of our great teachers write that the fire of Gehenom is actually the burning shame one experiences because of his sins. Again, this may be alluded to in the words of the prophet (Isa. 66:24), "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me; for their worm shall not die, nor shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be ashamed before all flesh." We find that evil leads to shame, as it is written (Jer. 7:19), "Are they angering Me, says God, are they not provoking themselves, to their own shame...Behold my anger...shall not burn, and shall not be quenched." The main concept of reward is that it be without shame, as we find (Joel 2:26), "And you shall eat and be satisfied...and my people shall never be ashamed."

The Talmud provides us with even stronger evidence that shame burns like fire. It states, "Rabbi Chananan says: This teaches us that each one (in the World of Souls) is burned by the canopy of his companion. Woe, for that shame! Woe, for that humiliation." We find that shame is a major form of punishment. In the Midrash on the verse (Ps. 6:11), "All your enemies shall be ashamed and very confounded," Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says, "God only curses the wicked with shame." This is also alluded to in the Talmudic statement, "It is better for Amram to suffer shame in this world, and not in the World to Come." Similarly, "Blessed is God who gave him shame in this world and not the next." When the Zohar speaks of future reward, it says, "Happy is he who comes here without shame."

Of course, these concepts of fire and shame, as used by our Sages, may also contain deeper mysteries and meanings. But taken literally, one says that a major ingredient of fire may be shame. How else could one characterize the agony of unconcealed shame upon a soul?

~If You Were God by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pages 202-204


After watching "The Seal of Truth," a film about a man's near-death experience, and what he saw in the Heavenly Court after he died, this idea, which had formerly only intrigued me, totally gripped me and terrified me. Once I did something for which I have and continue to suffer the most agonizing shame; I have never felt forgiven even though I've been sorry. Now, imagine such shame multiplied tenfold, when the soul stands before God and realizes all it could have been in comparison to what it was, and who will have the ability to hold up his head? We shall all weep, tears streaming down, as we look upon who we were and what we had the potential to become...there is something truly terrifying in that; it frightens me.


fear from love. said...

don't get me wrong, there should be a fear of such a thing happening, but it should not consume us. but we need to internalise this.
we need to understand that everything we do echoes for eternity. that one decision, whilst it could show up on our dvd in the world to come, the reason we wont do such a thing is rather because we lose out on a connection. not because of shame.
its a pity, too many people live in fear of Him, not in Love

Chana said...

Hey FFL,

Firstly, I wanted to tell you I really liked your comments re: my guru Jack Bauer. Secondly, I completely agree with you that ideally we act out of love of God, but every so often I need to be jarred/ shaken up and it's good for me to get my fear on, so to speak. But thanks so much!

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

a teacher of mine in high school once described Geihinom as the experience of sitting in a movie theater with everyone you know and especially everyone you respect and watching a video of your life... with ALL the details

Walter Sobchak said...

L'enfer, c'est les autres...

Chana said...


Well, no...hell is not always other people. Hell can be oneself, the internal pain and struggle and darkness that exists solely within oneself. The shame one feels as a soul before God has nothing to do with any other people, only with I disagree with the quote.

Walter Sobchak said...

…“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because…when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. … But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us.

Jean Paul Sartre

ilanica said...

That is the best essay ever. I think it was a turning point for me - I became religious soon after. I think the question we need to be asking is where are the Aryeh Kaplans of today?

But yeah, the soul standing in horrific shame is a ... powerful one.