Once there was a kingdom in which a king ruled over a vast territory. Many people lived in the kingdom. While they did not have the opportunity to see him or come into direct contact with him, they had much contact with his laws and decrees. Many of these rulings seemed unjust and harsh, especially for the poorer folk who lived in the far reaches of the kingdom.
After a new decree has been issued, one man in particular was incensed over yet another harsh edict. To show his resentment and bitterness against the king, he took a bucket of excrement and smeared its contents on a statue of the king which stood in his town square. He defiled the statue.
At this very moment, some of the king’s soldiers happened by and saw the man’s act. The next day, the man’s deeds and name were reported to the king. He instructed his soldiers to bring the man to the palace.
When the soldier’s came to the man’s house and arrested him, he knew that he had been found out. He imagined that he would be tortured or decapitated for his offense against the king’s honor. He was swiftly brought to the palace and kept waiting, under guard, for quite some time. Finally the kings said to the soldiers, “Take this man and put him to work. Give him a job. Let him work in the gardens of the palace.”
Thereupon, the man was taken and told that he was to work in palatial gardens. He did not understand this at all, he had anticipated something completely different. The man was given a place to live, and daily worked in the gardens.
Several months passed. The man reflected that he had a nice house now, nourishing food, and enjoyable work. He found the gardening work pleasant and invigorating. In fact, he had never had life so good.
A long time went by. The king said to his guards, “Remember the man whom we put to work in the gardens? I want you to give him a promotion. Make him a head gardener.” The guards came to the man and announced his new position. He is now incharge of all the people who worked in the garden. He had respect and authority.
A long time went by once more, another year or two. The king said to his guards, “I want to give this man another promotion. I want you now to move him inside the palace. I want him to have a job here within the palace, a job with even more honor than he enjoyed in the gardens. The man was approached again and informed of his new promotion. He moved into the palace. He acquired more authority, more money, more power.
Every period of time the man received another promotion. Finally the man was promoted into the king’s inner circle of advisors. He found himself at a huge table in the king’s inner palace. He met with the king, his opinion was sought by the king’s other counselors. He became one of the most powerful figures in the entire kingdom.
Of course, during all this time that had elapsed the man had began to rethink his original deed. Now that he had a chance to be so close to the king, he could perceive him in a very different way than he had been able to before. The man realized how good the king was, how just his decrees were. Now the man was himself part of the king’s decision-making process; he understood the other side of the issues.
The story doesn’t end here, though. The man kept receiving more and more promotion. Finally he was promoted to be one of the top two or three most powerful advisors of the king. He had become one of the most important figures in the kingdom. He was making decisions that affected the entire kingdom.
One day he happened to be alone with the king. The king suddenly said to him, “I imagine you are very surprised since you came to the palace.” The man answered,”Yes, I am.” The king replied, “This isn’t what you expected, is it?” And the man answered, “No.”
“Well, have you enjoyed your stay here?” the king asked. And the man responded, “No, I’ve been miserable every moment that I’ve been here. The more good you’ve done for me, the more miserable I’ve felt. I have to confess to you what I did a few years ago.”
The man then told the king of his earlier deed against the king’s statue, the event that brought him to the palace. He related that now he had come to feel very differently about the king’s acts and decrees.
This is the ancient concept of hell. It is not a place where we are made to suffer, in the sense that other religions portray hell. Rather, Kabbalists view it as a place where we are brought closer to the king, closer to God (a place of realization). In coming closer to God and seeing more clearly what His plan is all about, there will be suffering from within. Suffering will not come from without us but from inside us. It will come from the awareness of what we have done against the king. Yet the suffering borne from this awareness will bring us closer to God. So even hell can serve to draw us nearer to God.