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"The Way of G-d"

Part 2: “Divine Providence”, Chapter 2: “Mankind in this world”

Paragraph 4

We learned that good people oftentimes suffer in this world while the wrongful prosper for good reasons (despite the apparent unfairness of it all). And that our everyday experience thus serves as a testing-ground for our World to Come experience.

We’ll discover though that there’s yet another stage upon which the drama of reward and punishment plays itself out. And that it’s the Soul Realm, or Afterlife. We discussed the distinctions earlier on, but suffice it to say for now that the Afterlife is where the soul goes after death, and the World to Come is where body and soul re-unite after the Resurrection of the Dead (see 1:3:10-11).

(Let’s digress here for a moment to touch on a vital point. To our great dismay, many of our people have somehow or another come to mistakenly assume that Judaism doesn’t promote the idea of an afterlife. But that’s simply not true. We’ve always deeply believed in an afterlife. In fact, some contend that it’s a fundamental element of the Jewish faith. Just know that the tradition goes to great lengths to underscore the reality of a life beyond this one-- and of the immortality of the soul.)

There are two facets of the afterlife: “Gan Eden”, and “Gehenom”. Gan Eden (which translates as “The Garden of Eden” since it’s the spiritual counterpart of the earthly Garden depicted in Genesis) is where the soul delights in G-d. And Gehenom (which is usually taken to be “hell” but is actually different) is where the soul suffers the consequences of its misdeeds.

Understand of course that the consequences the soul suffers in Gehenom are spiritual in nature. After all, the body is buried in the ground, so anything that happens after death is non-physical. The sort of “pain” the soul suffers in Gehenom can best be depicted as an existential anguish and mortal discomfit brought on by catching sight of oneself for the first time.

Ramchal’s point, though, is that the experience of Gehenom is a purifying one. And that it serves as another means of cleansing a soul that had too often lapsed into spiritual malaise and wrongdoing; another opportunity for a place in The World to Come.

For as he worded it, “The purpose of these punishments is to penalize the individual for his wrongdoings in such a way that he’s subsequently no longer culpable for what he’d done.... and he can then reap the reward (due him) for his good deeds.“ His point also is that G-d’s having provided this alternative means of entry into the World to Come was an act of mercy, since it serves as a means of “maximizing man’s chances of attaining his goal“ of experiencing the bliss of the World to Come. And that as a consequence of this “second chance” very few indeed fail to experience the World to Come.

But the details that factor into just who’s to suffer in the world rather than in the Afterlife and who’s to prosper are known to G-d alone. For only He can read and hear out our hearts; only He can catch each and every nuance of good and bad in every choice we make; He alone knows what will ultimately rectify each individual soul in the end.

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