A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hell No

The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat gives Hell a good name. He argues that belief in hell is necessary to a meaningful religious outlook:

Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

I'm sure that Hell will have currency for those who are made uncomfortable by the supposed obfuscation of boundaries between good and bad in contemporary society. If you need the idea of eternal post-mortem punishment to shore up your vision of the Good Life here on earth, enjoy yourself.

But how distant this is from the Jewish vision of an inspired life of meaning. While ancient and early rabbinic Judaism did have an idea of a place of torment after death, it does not have a central role in Jewish thought.

Look at this beautiful teaching of Rabbi Natan of Breslov. An antidote to the grim notion that a life of meaning takes shape only against a backdrop of eternal pain.

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