Gehinnom – for who?
Shalom and thank you for your question. You would like to understand if Gehinnom is both for Jews and Gentiles? The answer is yes, but we can elaborate on that a little. There are all sorts of metaphoric descriptions of what happens in Gehinnom, and we don’t really know. What we do know is that it is a sort of cleansing process for the soul, after a life-time of the struggle between good and evil, when good did not always prevail. The Talmud in tractate Rosh haShana 17:a explains that both Jews and non-Jews experience twelve months in Gehinnom. We are taught that G-d is good, and as we are taught in the Kabbalah, ‘it is the nature of good to do good.’ Obviously there is a lot that happens both on an individual level and on a cosmic level that doesn’t appear to be good, but we believe that G-d ‘desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds’ as the Midrash teaches, which means in brief that G-d created (and constantly recreates) a world in which there is free choice, so that humanity can utilize this free choice to do good and turn away from evil, (Psalm 34:16) thus making the world a place where G-d is happy to be. Actually this is a process from the beginning of creation all throughout history, and hopefully it will end soon when the world will be truly and completely redeemed.
Thus each person has a role to play in bringing the world to its perfected state. The role of Jewish people is to carry out the six hundred and thirteen commandments, mitzvot, of the Torah, and to be involved as much as possible in learning and teaching the Torah, which varies according to individual situations. Many of the mitzvot are connected with the time when the Third Temple will be rebuilt, and thus cannot be performed at this point in time, but learning about these mitzvot takes the place of performing them for the time being. The role of gentiles is to carry out the Seven Noahide Laws, which are a system of living which G-d gave to Noah after he left the ark to begin a new life. These laws involve setting up courts of justice, not committing murder, idolatry, or adultery, not eating a part of an animal which is still alive, and more. These laws have many details which must be learned. There exist centers of learning for these laws. When a Gentile accepts that these Noahide laws are G-d-given and tries to live accordingly, learning more about them, he or she is entitled to reward in the World to Come. The concept of reward and punishment is something that ideally relates to our relationship with G-d, rather than person to person. Today in the world of education, whether in the home or the framework of school, boundaries must be given but in a loving manner and not out of anger as much as possible. We need to try to help children and adults WANT to do the right thing. How to do this is another discussion, but it is preferable to teach and guide someone who has fallen to a lowly situation like crime, rather than sending him to prison where he may learn from others there how to commit more crimes and find himself back in prison the next time. This would be a major change in society and some people and organizations actually work towards such goals. It is very complicated as often there are emotional problems that need to be treated, and if a person is not motivated to receive treatment it may not work. However trust in G-d, commitment and a positive attitude can definitely help bring us closer to our goals.
While we live in this world, we have to try to carry out our roles to the best of our ability. We are created in the image of G-d, as we learn in the book of Genesis, and we need to take responsibility as much as we can. Inevitably we will experience some failures, and the concept of G-dly reward and punishment, Gehinnom and the bliss of the World to Come, come to give us a structure without which we might flounder, because we have many elements in our makeup. We have a part of us which is instinctual and cares about survival and pleasure, while we also have a higher part of us which is G-dly and wants to connect with G-d and make the world a better place. We need to take care of our bodily needs, and we also need to experience a certain amount of pleasure, but we must learn how to keep the balance and live in a G-dly manner, where the amount of pleasure doesn;t overwhelm the dictates of the conscience. The concepts of G-dly reward and punishment are necessary as long as the world has not reached its fully rectified state, but in the final Redemption, may it be soon, G-d will remove the spirit of impurity from the earth (Zecharia 13:2) and then there will no longer be a need for it. Having a spiritual mentor is a very good way to approach this, someone who is knowledgeable and caring.
Every day we can ask ourselves, what can I do today to help bring about the final Redemption?