Rabbi Haim was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons, often beginning with the following story:
“I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.
Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.
Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking to each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.
As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that there, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they mage to eat?
As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person seated across him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.
I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.
I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, ‘You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.’
‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ said the man angrily, ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!’”
With this tale of the wise rabbi in ‘The Hasidic Masters’ Guide to Magement’, Moshe Kranc gives a lesson in perspective. Men create heaven and hell for one another, right here in this world, by the way each man treats the other. They can cause suffering and pain, and the equal ability to bring comfort and hope.
The choice of how to deal with the world is theirs to make. The returns will be likewise.