Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Devil from a Jewish Perspective

Ask anybody from Jerusalem where Gehinom is and they’ll probably point to the southwest of the city. Of course if you are in the religious sector of the city, you will probably prompt a discussion that will hopefully include an invite to sit, learn, and drink tea.

For those with the spiritual question, most Jewish scholars have pointed to Gehinom being a physical place, somewhere deep in the earth, where the souls of the dead are sleeping,, as in the Hebrew Sheol, and in the cases of a few sects of Orthodoxy, the wicked are being punished.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, of the 12th Century, wrote about a place with dimensions, while other sources in Kabbalah, Chassidut and the Midrash traditions depict it strictly in a more abstract, and ethereal term. Nachmanides, as Rabbi Nachman was known, also followed the metaphorical line, describing Gehinom in manifold layers of earthly and mystical proportions. Therein, those listening to Christ preach to them would have had an understanding of a physical place of the dead, where bodies decay jointly with a place where souls rest and either endure, or prepare to endure, a temporary, restorative cleaning of the soul.

This is likened to an impure metal, when exposed to the proper tempering of fire, will produce a sufficient, pure metal, stripped of impurities. To restore, the flame must be regulated, and temporary, and so the Jewish mindset sitting before Christ, whether gleaning the good news in his words or lurking with evil intentions, was that a soul, when deceased from this life, would be given a period of rest, before enduring a cleansing wherein all punitive accusations are released and the soul is ultimately awarded with reconnection to God. This, according to Jewish belief was the reward for all Jews and Righteous Gentiles, who observe the Noahide Commandments.

Now, for the issue of Satan.

To the 1st Century Jewish audience, and to today’s Orthodox Jewish community, Satan should more properly be reference as The Satan, or The Accuser. They accepted the Torah teaching that no spiritual force opposed the will of God and all things are of God and to God. To the Jewish mindset, and to which Christ never gave an opposition, Satan, the Accuser and Prosecutor of man does all for the sake of Heaven. To them, nothing happened outside of God’s plan, and everything was for eventual reconciliation with Him.

To this end, the Jewish listeners did not perceive Satan as an archetype to God, but rather a necessity to his plan. Only by enduring the trials issuing from him would the grace of God be made evident – without the problems of this world, how could the life after be fully realized. To that end, they did not see the necessity of an outside ultimate evil force when the inner being was wrought with a sinful nature. Satan’s design was to make us realize that inner frailty, and thus our dependance on God.

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