Should a person have fear of Gehinom / “Hell”?

A question sent to Ask Noah: Should a Noahide have fear of Gehinom?

Response: First of all, it is necessary to know that there is really no such thing as “eternal damnation”. There will be no Gehinom in the time of the future World to Come, when the righteous will be resurrected.

Nevertheless, it’s extremely unpleasant for a soul to have to spend any amount of time in Gehinom. It’s certainly something that a person should try to avoid. A Gentile avoids it by refraining from doing sins, and by repenting from sins that were done. For Gentiles, the worst sins involve violations of the Seven Noahide Commandments, or the basis on which they are founded. Some people can only motivate themselves to refrain from sinning, and repent from their sins, by having fear of Gehinom.  In that case, that is what the person needs to have.

However, that is not always effective, because it is a fear of something that might happen in the future. What if the person gets a strong lust for a sin when the opportunity is right in front of him? His evil inclination (yetzer harah) will tell him that it’s better to satisfy his immediate sinful desire, and:
(1) not be so considered about what might happen to his soul in the future, and/or
2) that he can do the sin now and repent later.

The Eye that sees and the Ear that hears

It’s better, and more righteous, to have fear of the awesome, infinitely powerful and eternal G-d. G-d is King of all that exists in the physical and spiritual realms, which He is constantly creating out of nothing. He is right now and always close beside the person, seeing, hearing and “recording” everything that the person is thinking, saying and doing. As Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai told his disciples (Tractate Berachot 28b):

“May it be the will of G-d that the fear of Heaven [i.e. fear of G-d and His judgment] be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood [human beings] … When people commit sins, they say, ‘May a person not see me!'”

The person looks around to make sure that no one else is watching, and then he does the sin. If he would similarly remember and take to heart that G-d is intently watching him, he would be too afraid and too embarrassed to do the sin. A person should always be aware of “the Eye that sees and the Ear that hears”.

This echos the teaching in Ecclesiastes 12:13. “The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear G-d and keep His commandments, for this is the entire person.”

an Eye that sees

A higher spiritual level of fear

It is a higher spiritual level to be afraid of the sin itself. That’s because sin is what separates a person from being connected with G-d. A person should desire more than anything to be connected with G-d all the time, because of G-d’s greatness and his love of G-d. He should also be afraid of that connection getting blocked, which will happen if he sins. (The connection is blocked until he later repents sincerely, and G-d accepts his repentance and removes the sin from his soul.)

What if a person hasn’t learned to sustain that fear and love of G-d, and fear of sin? Then at least he should try to sustain the lower level, which is fear of being judged to eventually spend some time in Gehinom. The shortcoming of that lower level of fear is that one is only concerned about his own self-interest. The advantage of the higher level of fear is that one nullifies himself to G-d. That strengthens his connection to G-d. It also brings him to the higher level of actively serving G-d.

So even if a person can only refrain from sin by having fear of Gehinom, he should still try to frequently spend some time contemplating, imagining, and attempting the higher level. And little by little, he will actually start to achieve some of the higher level.