The Torah emphasizes repeatedly that Hashem is full of chessed/loving-kindness, He is unimaginably Forgiving and Patient, Slow to Anger, Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate, and only does good.
But the Torah also mentions punishment. And we certainly see in our own lives events that are clearly not rewards, but events which are painful and distressing. At such times, we certainly feel “punished.”
Yet even in those times, we are meant to understand those events as somehow beneficial and the act of a loving Creator.
Yes, it’s challenging.
Yes, it’s a paradox.
And to complicate things, if you were raised by punitive parents or teachers or other authority figures, if you’ve slaved under a punitive boss or married a punitive spouse, or invested in friendships with punitive and manipulative people, your concept of negative-yet-loving-consequences may have been warped and twisted into something very ugly.
You may have rarely or even never seen an example of “loving” punishment.
So how can you internalize a concept which you can’t even imagine?
It takes work, no doubt about it.
And if God put you in that kind of a dynamic in this lifetime, it’s one of the things you’re meant to work on for the good of your own holy soul. It’s like a muscle that needs to be worked in order for that muscle to bulk up and strengthen.
But God wouldn’t have put you in this situation if you couldn’t do it. This means that no matter how much resistance, despair, or resentment you may (or may not) feel about this matter, you definitely possess the ability to do it.
Beings and Events beyond Our 3-Dimensional World
While many people think very simplistically about the Afterlife—just Heaven or Hell, with maybe Purgatory—Judaism teaches us that it is a varied and complex place of many levels. In Hashem’s Great Love for us, He wants us all to enter Gan Eden (Heaven), but our deeds in This World may prevent that from happening. Therefore, various “cleansing” situations exist to allow a soul to reach the state in which it can finally enter Gan Eden.
Some “cleansing” examples are:
- Reincarnation (as humans, animals, plantlife, or rocks)
- Wandering around the world not even knowing one is dead (an example of this is given in Words of Faith by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender)
- Kaf Hakelah (“The Slingshot,” whereby a soul is chased around by angelic officials appointed over it, and they chase and strike him with fiery whips, and the soul can only find refuge by invading a body, like a person or even an animal)
- Gehinnom (Hell, of which there are many levels and types)
- Other freaky situations
There are also different levels of the paradise of Gan Eden.
Even though I just listed a whole bunch of stuff based on what I’ve read, I don’t claim to actually understand what all this means. Living in this 3-dimensional world is very limiting and the above take place in other dimensions, i.e. non-physical.
For example, in a conversation with an angelic official named Yosef (who was one of the angels appointed to chase souls around with a fiery implement in Kaf Hakelah), Yosef described his angelic race and its characteristics as follows:
“We do not sleep at all, not during the day and not during the night. And we stand day and night because we have no knees, only a straight leg. And our foot is like the foot of a donkey and we are not wearied by standing. And we eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. And the meal appears by itself and appears before each and every one and stands in midair across from one’s chest placed in a bowl. And [the meals] consist of a type of sweet red lentils equal to the amount of a man’s handful. And the entire meal is eaten and not even one lentil is left over and it is the amount for our satiation. And afterwards, the bowls disappear before our eyes and we don’t know who gathers them…and at the time we strike the spirits, a rod or strap materializes in our hand and our hand strikes that spirit on its own, whether strongly or gently, whether a little bit or a lot. And after that, the rod or strap vanishes from our hand.”
“This is not possible. For I fear lest you become frightened and panic-stricken.”
I said to him, “Do not worry about that. I do not become panic-stricken from seeing your face because I am used to these types of matters.”
He said to me, “I am embarrassed and ashamed to reveal myself because the structure of our face is different than the structure of human beings who are made with image and likeness.” [i.e. the Image of God, I think he means – MR]
I said to him, “If so, please make known to me the structure of your face.”
He sighed and said, “For our face is on the side of the shoulder and our nose is very long, reaching until the chest and also it is very crooked.”
Heavenly Penalties: Not Petty Revenge or Punishment, But Beneficial Cleansing
Question: If the Beit Din [Heavenly Tribunal] decreed on the spirit to be in Kaf Hakelah thus-and-thus years and I rectify the spirit via yichudim [profoundly holy meditations], and by this means, the decree of the Beit Din upon it is nullified, is that bad in the eyes of the Beit Din because I was the cause to nullify that which they decreed?
Answer: The intention of the Beit Din is not to take revenge against he who does evil. Their intention is only to cleanse the stains that were made by the transgressions in his nefesh, ruach, and neshamah, in order to admit him into Gan Eden. And they know how many years the stains need and what kind of punishment will cleanse and purify. And if you purify and cleanse in a short time, what does that matter to the Beit Din? … because Kaf Hakelah and Gehinnom are not revenge and punishment for his sin. On the contrary, everything is for the sake of cleansing him from the stains that were made on his soul in order to admit him later to Gan Eden. And he resembles a man who buys new clothing and even though it is known and revealed before him that later, the same clothing will become dirty, nonetheless, this doesn’t prevent him from buying it. When it will become dirty later, he launders it. And during the laundering, his thoughts aren’t that he is taking revenge on the clothing because it got dirty. He only wants to clean it.
God doesn’t want us to suffer. God and His Heavenly Agents aren’t sadistic or punitive. In fact, even these angelic officials appointed to the role of striking the sullied soul with a fiery implement aren’t doing so out of free will or emotion. As Yosef describes above, the implement appears and then the hand of the angelic official operates on its own, apparently according to the dictates Above and what is necessary to cleanse that soul.
God WANTS us to do teshuvah!
And yes, teshuvah can be very painful (though not as painful as Kaf Hakelah and all the above).
Try to Feel Happy about Feeling Bad
Without getting too personal, I’ve definitely discovered things about myself that made me cringe.
But you also have really beautiful and wonderful aspects, too, so don’t get bogged down in shame or self-hatred.
It’s very comforting and important to realize that GOD ALREADY KNOWS ALL YOUR FILTHY ROTTEN POINTS. You’re not really hiding anything…except from yourself.
So just purge it out to Hashem.
Even if you discover that you’ve had a terrible case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder since your teens, that’s okay. You might have a lot of amends to make, but believe me, you likely didn’t do anything as bad as Shabtai Tzvi nor any of the people mentioned in Parts I & II.
(I didn’t even post the really bad things they did because they were so disturbing and unmentionable. What is described in those posts are the milder transgressions mentioned in the book, and as you can see yourself, those were already pretty extreme.)
So just find a private place to sit with God and say something like:
“Thank you for being so Compassionate and Accepting, Hashem. I’m ashamed to admit that I actually enjoyed torturing that ladybug to death in my flashlight. That shows sadistic tendencies, right? Well, I’m very sorry about that. Please help me overcome them. Thanks!”
Or here’s one that I really wish a lot of people would do ;) :
“Thanks for being You, Hashem, and for gifting us with the opportunity to do teshuvah. Um, if I’m being really honest, I think I kind of enjoy shooting nasty little barbs at people and justifying that passive-aggressive behavior by pretending that those targeted somehow deserve it. I’m really sorry. Please help me change. Please help me become more compassionate, empathetic, and filled with emuna. And please imbue me with the courage and humility to apologize to whomever I need to apologize. Thanks!”
Yes, the shame and discomfort can really burn.
But better to burn a little now than to burn a lot later!