Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim

Question: Where do we get ‘hell’ from?

Lady contemplating her faith

Roger Cohen
Special to Valley News 

I can’t try to fully explain how a doctrine of heaven and hell was created in a short article. I want to focus on what happens when people are not in a relationship with God though. 

For people who worship the God of heaven and earth, they want to be in a relationship with the One who created the world. Not being in a relationship – this absence of God’s relationship – can be a world without hope. 

In this week’s Torah portion, examine Numbers 16:1-18:32. This story covers Korah, Dathan and Abiram and how they wanted to change the relationship of the priests and partake of the economic tithing afforded to the priestly line as well as usurp the role of Aaron, the high priest. Korah challenged Moses and Aaron for priestly leadership; however, as the story goes, he failed and his entire family is wiped out by a giant earthquake. The story does not end well for Korah in death and Sheol. 

People have different views on hell, Hades and Sheol. In Numbers 16:33, there is a story of Sheol, which has been translated in various Bible translations as Hades, hell, the pit and Sheol. 

The Hebrew Bible in Numbers 16:33 said, “They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.” 

I want to focus on the word Sheol. The name “Sheol” in Hebrew means pit, underworld or is a place without praise of God. When Sheol was used by King David in the book of Psalms, he did not have a view of life after death. However, when the Greek Septuagint was completed by 132 B.C. as a translation of the Hebrew texts, the Greek understanding of Hades, the god of the underworld, was used in the translation. This understanding is commonly seen in many New Testament translations for Luke 16:23. 

So, what happened to Korah? The Torah is clear about his story in a straightforward verse. Korah made a choice to question Moses and Aaron and died as a result of this choice. Interestingly enough, he was buried in the ground and the Bible said he was not known anymore. Sadly, Korah ceased to be in a relationship with the God of heaven and earth.

I don’t know about you. I want to be in a relationship with God and follow His Torah. Sheol does not sound like a place for me – a place devoid of God’s presence. 

I think I will conclude by affirming what Joshua 25:15 said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” and invite you to do the same. 

Roger Cohen is a military veteran and a university lecturer in Southern California, specializing in ethics, religious studies and political science. Follow him at http://www.facebook.com/ProfessorRoger.

Congregation B’nai Chaim offers services to Jewish and interfaith families and is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit http://www.bnaichaim.com.