From the Desk - Hell
Shalom Friends! I hope that you're all enjoying a wonderful Chanukah! All has been going well at Beth Ora with a wonderful debate at synagogue last Shabbat as we conducted our court case to decide who was responsible for the sale of Joseph! Well done to Michael Grodinsky and Devorah Leibu for all the hard work that went into their excellent presentations. For me, what was most meaningful about this successful initiative was seeing so many people engaging with the Biblical story. People commented that they had heard the story of Joseph told many times but had never realized the nuances that were revealed in our debate. The Torah stories and mitzvot have profound meaning for our lives. At Beth Ora, we strive to be a community that inspires and empowers us to connect to our Jewish heritage and to engage with Jewish learning. Last Shabbat's program is a great example of how we can do this. I'd love to hear your ideas of how we can do more programs to engage us in our Jewish learning in a fun and stimulating way. I mentioned in last week's letter that this month I want to focus on Beth Ora as a place where different generations come together to enjoy Jewish life. On Tuesday of this week, we had a great example of this with our Seniors Chanukah Party, visited by children from CPE Shalom. Well done to Mary Boeko and the seniors for organizing this wonderful initiative! And the activity continues! This Friday night, we have 250 people attending our Chanukah dinner! Well done to Jackie Harroch and Howie Brown for their hard work in organizing what will be another spectacular event for attendees of all ages. As you know, the Board is currently developing many ideas for how we can strengthen the sense of community at Beth Ora. In addition to having a strong Beth Ora community, we also see ourselves as part of the broader Ville Saint Laurent Jewish community. Given this, we are delighted that many Petah Tikva members and other members of the local Jewish community are joining us at the Shabbat dinner. We are especially honoured to be welcoming the rabbi of Petah Tikva, Rabbi Haim Nataf, to deliver the sermon this Shabbat at the end of the service. After attending our Kiddush this Shabbat, everyone is invited to attend the Kiddush at Petah Tikva. After the Kiddush, I will be sharing some ideas on Chanukah. After Shabbat, the action continues with our special Kids movie night where we will be screening Duck Duck Goose! Please bring along your children and grandchildren so they can enjoy a special Chanukah lighting and donuts before watching the movie. Wishing you all a wonderful Chanukah and a beautiful Shabbat, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... Hell? A few weeks ago in Lunch N' Learn, Sandy Weinstein asked about the Jewish view of Hell. This question also came up in a questions and answers session I ran a few weeks ago with our Bar Mitzvah group. So, what's the deal? The Jewish term for Hell is Gehinom. The Bible does not explicitly refer to Gehinom as a place of punishment in the afterlife. Although the term Sheol is used to refer to this, it is mentioned very little and is not presented as a reason for doing good. The origin of the term Gehinom is Gei Ben Hinom which means the valley of the son of Hinom. This is a physical place - a valley just south of the old city walls of Jerusalem which in ancient times was a place of child sacrifice. Pagan priests would beat loud drums to drown out the hysterical screams of the victims. That said, Judaism doesn't conceive of Gehinom as a physical place but, rather, a spiritual one. There are no bodies, just souls, who come to be perfected or educated in a way they didn't succeed in doing in this world. So what is Gehinom? Throughout the rabbinic literature, there are various descriptions of the nature and punishments of Gehinom, mostly associated with fire. However, these descriptions should be understood metaphorically. Other thinkers have described Gehinom differently. According to a chassidic tradition, heaven and hell are really the same place - for one person it's paradise and for the other it's 'boring as hell'! Our soul doesn't change when we die but continues where we left off. For someone whose definition of fun is their cart, money, computer and iPhone, the world-to-come is going to be super-boring because there is none of the above! On the other hand, somebody who gets pleasure from goodness, Torah study, love and spirituality - for that person the place is Heaven for he can get constant spiritual pleasure, without worldly distractions and disturbances. One modern teacher, Rabbi David Aaron, explains that Heaven is where we experience our true self while Hell is the feeling of alienation, distance and disconnection from the self. He invokes the metaphor of the next world being like a movie theatre! You're wondering what you're doing in the movie theatre! The first movie begins and it's all about how you lived your life. Then there's the second movie. This movie is all about how you could and should have lived! How different the second movie is from the first determines how hot your popcorn gets!! There is an argument in the Talmud regarding the length of the sentence in Gehinom. The widely accepted view is that, with rare exception, the longest sentence does not exceed 12 months. In this sense, Gehinom is more like purgatory than eternal damnation. How should we relate to all this? There were periods of time, particularly in the Middle Ages, when travelling preachers went from town to town calling on Jews to repent, incentivising them with graphic descriptions of the torments of hell should they ignore their call. In many cases, this had the desired effect. Even today there are those who respond positively to such admonishments. However, most Jews today are more likely to be inspired by the many positive reasons for doing good and being holy.