A Hasidic Parable on Love

Well, I’m studying for my final exam in “Shaping Messianic Jewish Theology,” an online course offered by the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (mjti.org). I’m going back over some things we read in Michael Wyschogrod’s The Body of Faith (full of great nuggets, but in many ways the book lacks coherence, tends to ramble, but worth the time and trouble anyway).

At any rate, getting to the point, Wyschgrod includes a nice parable near the end of the book. One of the Hasidic Masters (the leaders of mystical Judaism) asked God to show him heaven and hell.

God showed him that in hell the people cannot bend their arms. They are all starving to death because they cannot hold food and put it in their mouths without bendable arms.

Then God showed him heaven. The people there cannot bend their arms either. But they are well-fed. Why? Because they feed each other.

Gives a new insight, I think, on the centrality of Leviticus 19:18 (not to mention Genesis 4:9 and numerous other texts).

I know this is a theological blog, but love deserves its own theological books (and there are far too few). So let me ask, is your life more like this vision of hell or this vision of heaven?



About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Life to Come, Love, Messianic Jewish, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Hasidic Parable on Love

  1. Chris Smith says:

    At my first read, I thought the parable was witty and a little comical. After a couple weeks of thought, though, I’m starting to realize how poignant a parable it is. I think too often people think of the differences between heaven and hell as mostly relating to real estate, amenaties, you know, the benefits package sort of mentality. Of course everyone throws in the fact that God won’t be in hell, but likely their mind is still on the whole burning in fire thing. Conversely, the new Earth will be spectacular, the Temple amazing, New Jerusalem vast, but next to the Lamb, won’t the next most wonderful thing be the Love? In summary I guess I realized that sitting in a puddle of fire with God, his people and Love roundabout would be heavenly, while starving in a mansion with unbendable arms staring at a specacular view of remade mountains would be hell on (new)Earth.

  2. Chris:

    You are correct–love is the greatest thing in heaven besides God. Perhaps you remember my “Things That Will Be in Heaven” sermon series. One of them was love, which I said was the greatest thing other than God.

    I find that this parable agrees remarkably with the vision of C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce (one of my top ten favorite books of all time).


  3. Jeannie Smith says:


    You say that love is “the greatest thing other than God.” Can you explain that a little bit more in light of these passages:

    1 John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
    1 John 4:16b God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

    These seem to say that God and love are the same, though instinctually and from what you said about God being greater than love, it seems there is more to him, like wrath. But even in his wrath he is loving us as a sort of discipline (Hebrews 12:6 – yup, he SCOURGES us). So is there an aspect of God that is without love so that God and love are not the same? I know God hated Esau (Malachi 1:3), but does that have anything to do with what I’m trying to ask?

    On a side note, I remembered Psalm 103:8 from the NIV, which reads, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”, but the word “chesed” really shouldn’t be translated “love” – it should be “mercy” because “ahav” is love, right? My favorite is NASB which says “lovingkindness.”


  4. Jeannie:

    “God is love” is not a statement of being but a statement of character. That is, we are not to think God is a non-being, simply the abstract quality of love. “God is love” means: God is known for love, invented love, and all that we sense about love was given to us by him and through him.


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