Tag Archives: Shabbat

Perspectives on Hell

‘Abraham and the Three Angels’ by James Tissot

This week’s parasha, Vayera, begins by telling us that following Abraham’s circumcision, he was “sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day was hot.” (Genesis 18:1) The Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, 1269-1340) offers several interesting possibilities as to why the Torah had to mention this seemingly superfluous detail. One of the answers is that k’chom hayom, the heat of the day, is actually alluding to the heat of Hell. As is characteristic of the Ba’al HaTurim, he proves it mathematically, pointing out that the numerical value of k’chom hayom (כחם היום) is equivalent to “this is in Gehinnom” (זהו בגיהנם), when including the additional kollel.

The Ba’al haTurim also draws on a Talmudic teaching (Eruvin 19a) that Abraham sits at the “entrance” to Gehinnom and pulls out all who are circumcised from there! There is an exception to this, though, for being “circumcised” is more than just the one-time passive active of getting circumcised. A man also has to “uphold” his circumcision, meaning not to abuse that organ. Anyone who was promiscuous over the course of their life has their foreskin grow back in Gehinnom—and those people Abraham does not save!

That said, what exactly is Gehinnom? Is it the equivalent of “Hell”? Does Judaism have a concept of such an eternal place of torment? It is common to hear that Judaism does not have such a notion, and that the Tanakh does not describe such a place. Yet, later Jewish literature is actually quite rich with discussion of a hellish torment of some sort for certain wicked individuals in the afterlife. What is the truth? Continue reading

Curses on the Primordial Serpent

What were the ten curses that God decreed upon the Nachash, the Primordial Serpent in the Garden of Eden? How do they relate to the curses on Adam and Eve, and what does it all have to do with the Sabbath and the coming Messianic Age?

This video is an excerpt from a full-length class on Feminism and Judaism, available here.

For more on the connection between the Serpent and Mashiach, see here.

China’s Spiritual Origins

This week’s parasha, Beshalach, describes the climax of the Exodus, the great Splitting of the Sea, following which Israel began its sojourn in the wilderness. We are introduced to an important geographical region, midbar Sin, the “Wilderness of Sin” (Exodus 16:1, 17:1). Presumably, this is where the name of Mount Sinai comes from. In the past, we have already explored the true location of Mount Sinai and the Sin Wilderness (which is not where the “Sinai Peninsula” is today, in Egypt).

Sin does appear earlier in the Torah, in the “Table of Nations” that describes the 70 root nations that emerged from Noah and his three sons (Genesis 10). There we learn that the Sinites (Sini, סִּינִֽי) were descendants of Ham, through his son Canaan. Apparently, they were originally a subgroup of Canaanite! What’s more perplexing, however, is that today the term Sini refers to an East Asian person, and more specifically, a Chinese person. This is not just a Modern Hebrew appellation, but goes back at least to the time of the Rishonim. How did the Far East become associated with the ancient Wilderness of Sin?

A “Table of Nations” from the ArtScroll Stone Chumash

The First Shabbat

At first glance, it seems like China and the Far East make no appearance in the Torah. The simple explanation for this is that China was too far away to register on the radar of the Israelites. It would be irrelevant to discuss distant peoples who had no relationship with Israel. That said, we know that the Torah is eternal, the Word of God, and encodes all key aspects of human life within it. There is no way that the Torah does not, in some way, refer to the great peoples of the Far East, especially because they have played such an important role in human history. Today in particular, we recognize China as a global superpower that is instrumental on the world stage. Surely, the Torah (and our Sages) had something to say about this. Looking a little deeper, we find that this is, indeed, the case. In fact, China and the Far East are the subject of an intriguing halakhic discussion.

Our Sages taught that Israel is the centre point of the universe. Creation began with Even HaShetiya, the “Foundation Stone”, which lies beneath what is today the Dome of the Rock. From that initial point, the universe burst forth and expanded ever rapidly, eventually resulting in all that we have today (this expansion was first alluded to by our Sages in the Talmud, Chagigah 12a, and in much more depth in the Zohar). Thus, the events of Creation could be said to have first taken place in Israel, and spread outward from there. That being the case, the first Shabbat was surely marked in the Holy Land. Yet, that presents a huge problem: Continue reading