In the previous post “Kaddish,” I mentioned that Kaddish prayers are also offered for the purging of the sins of the departed. I’d like say more about this matter and also relate it to the Roman Catholic docrine of purgatory.
Where do orthodox Jews believe their deceased loved ones are now? When the Jewish soul separates at death, it enters the eternal realm of many possible worlds. In this life, you can gain merit through fulfilling the 613 commandments (Mitzvot) of the Torah and doing good deeds. The level of your commitment will determine which spiritual level the soul will live on. There is no limit to the number of levels because God is infinite.
When Kaddish is recited for the departed, it helps the soul ascend to the next level. There is more that can be done: good deeds done in memory of the departed soul will be credited to him or her as righteousness. The traditional deeds are the study of Torah and deeds of charity.
The Judaic view of “hell” – Gehenna in the Hebrew Bible – is much milder than most Christian views. Although Gehenna is a terrible place, it is not hell. The majority rabbinic view is that people are not tortured for an eternity; far from it; 12 months at the most. Some rabbis describe Gehenna as a fire of spiritual purification after which the soul ascends to a specific level of the “Garden of Eden” (heaven). As I mentioned earlier, there is no limit to the number of levels because God is infinite.
I am reminded of the Roman Catholic view of purgatory. A few weeks ago, I finished reading Pope John XXIII’s diary. Here is the entry of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (his original name) of 22 Sept 1898, when he was 18 years old and studying at the Seminary of Bergamo.
“This evening, when I thought about it seriously, the tears came to my eyes. (John was anxious about the health of a fellow seminarian that was very ill). I imagined myself on that sick bed and I wondered how it would go with me if I were to be judged in this very moment. I should deserve to go to hell, but I hope I shall not be sent there. In any case I am sure I ought to be sent to purgatory. Yet the mere thought of purgatory makes me shudder. What then will become of me? Oh poor me, how wretched I am!”
Poor, wretched fallen Angelo. He probably knew all about John Vianney’s : “It is definite that only a few chosen ones do not go to Purgatory and the suffering there that one must endure, exceeds our imagination” (La Doctrine, pp.22f), and Therese of Lisieux’s “the mystics unanimously say that the least suffering in Purgatory is much greater than the greatest suffering here on earth.”
Compare Pope John with the founder of rabbinic Judaism’s view:
” I’m about to meet Ha Shem, God , Blessed be his name, and before me there are two roads, one leading to Paradise and one leading to Gehenna; one leading to Heaven and one leading to Hell, and I do not know to what road Ha Shem will sentence me” (Rabbi Ben Zakkai). This view is also that of the Qur’an.
Jews and Roman Catholics believe that their good deeds can earn merit for themselves and for the departed soul, which will shorten the time spent in purgatory (the Roman Catholic view) or the time spent in Gehenna or at a lower level of heaven (the Jewish view). They can, however never be sure, because they feel that it would be pride to presume on God’s mercy. Unblessed assurance. How different is the Christian biblical view! – “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him” (Romans 5:7).