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.