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Ramban: Sha’ar ha-Gemul Section 7 Print E-mail

Gate of RewardThe first printed edition of the Ramban’s Sha’ar ha-Gemul, The Gate of Reward, was published on January 23, 1490, Adar 1.

 

Since it has been established from the words of our Rabbis of blessed memory that the ultimate punishment is in Gehenna and the final reward lies in the World to Come, we must clarify from their words the nature of this judgment called Gehenna, what is judged there, and when does that judgment occur.

If you say that punishment is meted out to a person's body after his death, this question arises: is not a person's body at death like a silent stone? If you should burn his bones to lime or anoint them with balsumum and various spices which help to preserve them, there is still no difference between them and that stone. “There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked (Ecclesiastes 9:2),” that is, despite immense righteousness or wickedness, there is no difference in what happens to his body after death. How could this corpse be in Gehenna and that one in the goodness of the World to Come when both are lying before you in one grave or hidden in your house in one coffin? In must be then, that punishment is reserved only for the soul.

What is the punishment to which the soul is subjected? It is neither a body nor any physical matter; it does not occupy any space nor is there any partition before it!

And what is this place called Gahanna where the soul is punished? A “place” encompasses only bodily things in real matters and the soul is neither of these!

Furthermore, fire has in effect only upon such things of physical properties!

You must say, therefore, that this punishment entails only the extinction of the soul and the excision thereof. Such an explanation, however, is in accordance with neither the Torah nor the opinion of our Rabbis of blessed memory.

On the contrary, these are foreign opinions, borrowed from those among the nations of the world who claimed to be wise, worshipers of the stars and constellations. According to these thinkers, man's sole punishment is the excision of the soul, but the Torah does not condemn all sinners to excision. Thus, by that explanation, you will have freed all other sinners from judgment and punishment!

Moreover, according to this opinion, you will have equated him who once violated a prohibition for which the punishment is excision with a heretic who denies the fundamental principle of religion, and one who committed murder all his life. You will have made them alike in their punishment because both types of souls are destroyed and do not suffer trouble and pain after death.

Tradition has explained that there were heretics was asserted these opinions. Some of them denied punishment and reward after death, which is similar to what is said of the evil spirit, “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, to where you go.” Other heretics found no difficulty with the concept of punishment but conceded only the destruction of the soul, saying that it would be better for men to be utterly destroyed as having never existed. It is not necessary to cite proof of our belief in punishment from the words of the Sages because the entire Talmud and all the midrashim of our Rabbis are explicit on the matter of Gehenna and the nature of the punishment.

They taught us in the Talmud: “Yes, He has allured you out of the mouth of Tzor,” which literally means tight but connotes adversary or distress. That is, out of Gehenna, whose opening is narrow so that its smoke is piled up inside.

You may perhaps say, just as its opening is narrow, so is it narrow throughout. Scripture therefore states, “deep and large.”

Perhaps you will say, “there is no wood in it.” Scripture therefore states, “the pile thereof is fire and much wood.”

The Sages measured the length and breath of the Gehenna. Thus, they said in the Talmud: the world is 1/60 as large as the Garden of Eden, the garden is 1/60 as large as Eden, and Eden is 1/60 as large as Gehenna. You thus find that in comparison to Gehenna the entire world is like the lid of a pot.”

They have moreover designated entrances to Gehenna, saying in the Talmud: there are three entrances to Gehenna. One is in the desert, one entrance is in the sea, and one engines is in Jerusalem.

Ramban: Writings and Discourses, translated by Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel. (Shilo Publishing House)

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