Long ago there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell. The monks in the temple agreed to grant her request. They put a blindfold around her eyes, and said, “First you shall see hell.”
When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was standing at the entrance to a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! The smells that reached her nose were wonderful.
The old woman noticed that, in hell, there were people seated around those round tables. She saw that their bodies were thin, and their faces were gaunt, and creased with frustration. Each person held a spoon. The spoons must have been three feet long! They were so long that the people in hell could reach the food on those platters, but they could not get the food back to their mouths. As the old woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. “I’ve seen enough,” she cried. “Please let me see heaven.”
And so again the blindfold was put around her eyes, and the old woman heard, “Now you shall see heaven.” When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was confused. For there she stood again, at the entrance to a great dining hall, filled with round tables piled high with the same lavish feast. And again, she saw that there were people sitting just out of arm’s reach of the food with those three-foot long spoons.
But as the old woman looked closer, she noticed that the people in heaven were plump and had rosy, happy faces. As she watched, a joyous sound of laughter filled the air.
And soon the old woman was laughing too, for now she understood the difference between heaven and hell for herself. The people in heaven were using those long spoons to feed each other.
Source | Adapted from a Japanese and Chinese folk tale by
Elisa Pearmain, in Doorways to the Soul
Here’s another version of the same story
A rabbi was talking with God about Heaven and Hell.
“Come,” said God. “Walk with me, and I will show you Hell.”
And together they walked into a room of cold, rough stone. In the center of the room, atop a low fire, sat a huge pot of quietly simmering stew. The stew smelled delicious, and made the rabbi’s mouth water. A group of people sat in a circle around the pot, and each of them held a curiously long-handled spoon. The spoons were long enough to reach the pot; but the handles were so ungainly that every time someone dipped the bowl of their spoon into the pot and tried to maneuver the bowl to their mouth, the stew would spill. The rabbi could hear the grumblings of their bellies. They were cold, hungry, and miserable.
“And now,” God said, “I will show you Heaven.”
Together they walked into another room, almost identical to the first. A second pot of stew simmered in the center; another ring of people sat around it; each person was outfitted with one of the frustratingly long spoons. But this time, the people sat with the spoons across their laps or laid on the stone beside them. They talked, quietly and cheerfully with one another. They were warm, well-fed, and happy.
“Lord, I don’t understand,” said the rabbi. “How was the first room Hell; and this, Heaven?”
God smiled. “It’s simple,” he said. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
Source | Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto
Oftentimes all it takes to taste heaven is to stretch beyond our limited horizons and myopic visions, and offer a helping hand to the other. It is all about the art of “one anothering”: to love one another, to forgive one another, to listen to one another, to help one another, to be compassionate with one another etc …