The Creation of Hell
So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the burning marl. Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is – other people! -Jean-Paul Sartre
According to ancient Jewish sources, Hell was created on the second day of creation. The plain text narrates how on the second day of creation, God creates the firmament which separates between the upper waters and the lower waters. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 1:4 wonders why the second day of creation doesn’t end with the characteristic phrase “and it was good,” which other days mention. He quotes the creation of Hell as a reason; however, he adds that something else was created on that same unfortunate day: quarrelling.
The term for second in Hebrew, “Sheni,” already hints at the unlucky nature of the number two. “Sheni” is related to the word “Shinui” which means difference or change. There is something negative and even dangerous when there are unwarranted differences between things and people or even to just being the second and being compared to what came before. It sets the stage for quarrelling. Even nature itself seems to quarrel with God from the second day and onwards. None of God’s further commands to the inanimate world were correctly implemented. For example, on the third day, God commanded that the earth produce fruit trees, meaning trees whose bark would be savory and could be eaten, however, the land decided to produce only fruit-bearing trees, with inedible bark.
The concern with the number two was serious enough that even the Talmud mentions a superstition about bad luck in eating pairs of a food or drinking pairs of drinks. Nonetheless, Rabbeinu Bechaye’s main point is that whoever instigates a quarrel will be judged in Hell. There is a direct correlation between creating anguish, controversy and clashes between people, and experiencing Hell.
However, we also know that arguments for the sake of Heaven, which are handled with sensitivity, intelligence and respect, will eventually be settled well.
May we avoid unnecessary quarrels and stick to Heavenly arguments.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
To the beginning of a new year of commentary. May it lead us on peaceful ways.