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Thought for the Day: Gehinom is Profoundly Nothing

"Cool Hand Luke" (1967) has been deemed by the United States Library of Congress to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  You make take whatever lessons you like about how much time is wasted by United States Library of Congress watching movies.  For my purposes, though, I will just tell you that the movie is about a sociopath and the Florida prison warden who attempts to reform/break him.  (Plot spoiler: the warden fails to change Luke in any meaningful way, so he just has him shot.)  In any case, the two most insidious weapons in his arsenal are:
  1. Solitary confinement (the "box")
  2. Doing and undoing meaningless tasks (dig a hole, immediately refill it, dig it again, etc)
Whatever else may be said about the movie, no one disagrees that those are powerfully "motivating".

At the end of the first volume of Michtav mei'Eliyahu is a detailed article on the nature of gehinom.  (I was going to say "nice" or "beautiful", but those adjectives don't seem to fit in the same sentence as gehinom.)  R' Dessler, after presenting several dimensions and models of gehinom, ends the article with a description from the Maharal.  The Maharal notes that the most basic and essential awareness that a person has is his own self-awareness.  It is very difficult to pinpoint what is meant by "self", of course.  I know that "I" am not my body; "I" have a body.  I am not even my soul; "I" have a soul (elokai, neshama sh'nasata bi -- "G-d, the soul that you have given to me...").  After that, says the Maharal, is out awareness of things outside ourselves and that we have a tremendous desire/need to interact with and attach ourselves to those external entities.  That includes things as mundane as eating and as sublime as love.  We want and need to be associated with something outside ourselves.

The Torah allows us to attach ourselves to reality, to HaShem Yisbarach (ultimately the only true reality) Himself.  Gehinom, says the Maharal, is experiencing the utter and profound loneliness that we have created by divorcing ourselves from reality.  Sharp and even heightened self-awareness, which only serves to increase the pain of being alone.  Forever.

In case you are thinking, "Well, at least I'll have my memories."  Not really; and that's the other dimension of gehinom as described by the Maharal.  That's a discussion for another day.  This is enough to digest for now.


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