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Thought for the Day: No Comfort in Gehinom


"Da plane!  Da plane!"  As my father, alav hashalom, told me when we watched "Laugh In" together almost 50 years ago: "If you don't get it, don't ask."  But for those of you whose memory is jogged by those words, and who see a beautiful tropical island paradise in their mind's eye, I have some disturbing news to share with you.  There was no island.  In fact, it wasn't even outside.  Everything took place on a sound stage with some footage of the outside edited in.  Nowadays it would have just been cgi; reality need not apply.  When a good friend and long time chavrusa visited the Fantasy Island sound stage, that's just what he found.  He never watched it again.

We have discussed one dimension of the Maharal's insight into the experience of gehinom; the intense and awesome loneliness.  A further dimension, mentioned in passing, is the utter lack of anything comforting; even pleasant memories. But why?  Surely there will be no more interest in this worldly pleasures at that point, but what about pleasant memories?  Even before you actually see the sound set, you really know in the back of your mind that its all a fake.  But it's a pleasant fake and we allow ourselves to "suspend reality" in order to enjoy the show.  That works until the falseness of the picture is so "in your face" that it can't be ignored.  At that point there is just no more pleasure in watching further episodes.  However, the time already spent was pleasant enough; surely that remains.

The problem is simply that the analogy isn't accurate.  I have no real personal involvement in a TV show; it's just entertainment, no more and no less.  This world, on the other hand, has no purpose other that to support and enable building a relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ein od milvado.  I am intensely involved in that process.  So the correct mashal is more like a relationship with a close friend who turns out to have been using me all along.  "Oh, no.  I never cared for you.  I just needed you to get something I wanted." are probably the most damaging words it is possible to hear.  The more you have invested yourself into that relationship, the deeper those words cut.  The closer and more intimate the relationship, the more damaging that revelation.  Even (maybe, "especially") the good times shared with that person are now an intense source of pain.  Any interaction with that person from that moment on is to be avoided at all costs; you can't bear his presence at all.

So who is the one that knew all along that this world and its pleasures were illusory?  Who is the one who used you and betrayed you?  Who is that one who is most despicable in your eyes and to be avoided at all cost?  As Walt Kelly so eloquently put it nearly a century ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us."  The one person you can't stand becomes the one -- and only -- person with whom you share eternity.

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