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Thought for the Day: Hell, Reincarnation, and Ghosts are All Torah Concepts

My granddaughter wanted to know if there was really any such thing as ghosts.  I told her that of course there are ghosts!  Dovid HaMelech mentions them in Psalms (88:11): "Will You do wonders for the dead, do ghosts give You praise? Sela!"  You will probably see רפאים  quite inaccurately translated as "spirits" or "shades" or "the departed" or "the dead"; but I'm all about calling רפאים רפאים -- ghosts is ghosts.

I also ran across a reference to ghosts recently in Mishlei (21:16):
A person who wanders from the path of reason will repose in the community of ghosts.
The G"ra explains this with a gemara (Pesachim 28a, in response to one Amora being refuted with his own arguments): R' Yosef said it's like the common expression, "the craftsman is burned by the mustard in his bowl";  Abaye said, "the carpenter is bound his stocks"; Rava said, "the fletcher is killed by his own arrows."   (I cheated and googled for the name of the profession that makes arrows.  Now we both learned at least one new thing today.)  In case you don't remember (and, honestly, why would you?), I discussed some years ago the significance of popular sayings to our Sages.

Got it?  No, me neither.  Fortunately, this is one of those G"ra's that that the G"ra actually explains.  The basic idea is that person's experience of eternity -- for better and for worse -- is crafted by himself.  There are, it appears, three categories of punishments which a person can suffer after having left this world.  First, of course, we have your basic hell, aka gehinnom.  That gehinnom is a pit crafted by the person himself.  The burning he suffers is from the mustard he added during his tour of duty in this world.

Next we have the punishment of reincarnation, which can be to an animal, a plant, or even inanimate matter.  When a person attaches himself to physicality, his eternal soul becomes literally shackled to that same physicality.  His punishment is to experience a life of having no control; completely and utterly controlled by the whims of others.

The third -- and worst -- is for someone who has not only attached himself to physicality, but actually divorced himself from life itself -- from any connection to spirituality at all.  His punishment is to experience existence with no connection, no feeling, no life; to be a ghost.

As often happens, the societies in which we find ourselves immersed have taken actual Torah concepts, but then perverted and twisted them to be unrecognizable -- though the name remains the same.  Gehinnom is worse than anything we can imagine, but it is also a sort of spiritual laundry that cleanses the soul of its foolishness.  Reincarnation is not an evolution to a higher form; quite the opposite, it is the punishment for the soul that tried to make up its own rules for living.

But for one who abandons the path of reason, there is a truly fearsome "reward" -- an existence with no connection to life.  We need not fear the ghosts, we must rather fear deluding ourselves to the point that we become a ghost.

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