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According to Judaism, does ‘Hell’ actually exist?

By Shmuel Pollen


First let’s ask: does an afterlife exist? I personally know it does, because the guy who fills up my gas told me so. One night, filling up gas, I looked tired. The attendant said I had no right to be more tired than him; after all, “Just yesterday I hit my head and was dead for a minute and fifteen seconds.” Now I was wide awake. I immediately asked, “Did you see the bright light?” He said yes. Then he said G‑d told him he could go towards it, or back to his body. He chose to go back. Meanwhile the paramedics were doing CPR. On the very last thrust the paramedics are required to do before they call it off, his eyes opened.

I got a lot more than gas that night. Death is just a new kind of lifeI got another eyewitness testimony of life after death. Thousands of such testimonies have been documented, all describing a lot of the same stuff. This means we can know the afterlife exists, just like we know Antarctica exists. Everyone who goes there comes back with the same report. So fear not. Death is just a new kind of life.

What about hell, though? Who isn’t terrified at the notion of being in a fiery furnace for all eternity? Don’t fear this either. Souls without bodies cannot experience physical pain. But do fear hell. The real word for hell, Gehinnom, means “crying.” People cry from pain there. But what kind of pain?

Once there was a man who saved up all his life for a trip to a distant island. Legend has it that on this island the sand is made of diamonds. He figures he’ll be rich beyond belief. He arrives, and indeed diamonds are everywhere. He starts hoarding them by the barrel. The locals say, “Are you crazy?! Why do you want this sand? It’s just sand!” He ignores them. But, after living there a while, he adopts their ways. There, the most desirable commodity is pig fat, not diamonds. He goes into business and becomes the richest person on the island.

Years later, he arrives home in a huge boat. He proudly tells his wife how successful he was and what a fortune he brought. She just says, “What’s that smell?” Indeed, his boat full of rotten pig fat is smelling up the entire beach. In that moment, it hits him. He falls to the ground, bawling uncontrollably. She cries, “Did you bring back any diamonds at all?” He searches for hours and eventually finds a few small diamonds in his shoe, on which they live a modest life.

Yes. There is fire in hell. It’s the very things we did wrong. And hell is just a huge magnifying glass. A magnifying glass takes sunlight and makes it hot enough to burn. Hell magnifies our wrongdoings until our soul burns. The sins we do so casually here are different there. It’s a more G‑dly world. A more sensitive world. A more intense world. It’s like feeling the pain and regret of that pig fat man, only many times over. No poet can capture that level of pain in words. But it might be a tiny bit like having a movie made out of all your most regrettable thoughts and actions. Played in all theaters around the world. G‑d will be watching that movie. He sent you to this earth for 70 or 80 years to get diamonds. Now He can’t bear the stench. It must hurt like hell.

But it also hurts good. Overwhelming experiences bring about what’s called catharsis. That’s the release you get after a good cry. Gehinnom also brings relief and revival. And a new perspective you’ll later be thankful you got. See, G‑d isn’t rubbing it in your face. He’s scrubbing out ingrained dirt that you’ve had on your face too long to notice. It’s also


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