Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reward and Punishment

I have mentioned that we are under a system of reward and punishment (to save typing hereafter will be referred to r and p), measure-for-measure (hereafter m for m) for what we do.  But, as with everything in this life, there are many more details to be discussed.  The basis for the system is: if you follow the commandments (hereafter I will start calling commandments "mitzvot."  It's time to start introducing some Hebrew into the picture), you will be rewarded and if you violate the mitzvot there will be retribution.  When the Torah talks of m for m it is referring to everything.  Every word, every act, no matter how small, is recorded and will result in r and p.  The system, however, is strictly help from Hashem in our mission to correct ourselves and the world.  Human beings require discipline to behave properly, so Hashem provides us with a totally workable system to succeed.  Hashem wants us to have an eternity of goodness and joy but created us in His image meaning we have the capability to do the right thing or not based on our own free will.  This entire world was created for us so we have the opportunity to make it right or not, hence, the system or r and p.

There are three aspects that need to be clarified.  What will happen to us as r and p?  When will we receive r and p?  Where will the r and p occur?  To preserve our free will, nothing will be obvious.  Example from the Torah is the telling of Miriam receiving retribution for saying something against her brother Moses.  I'm not going to get into the details except to say that she was put outside the camp for seven days and afflicted with tzaraas (described as a disfigurative condition in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus – unknown to us today – many times incorrectly translated as leprosy – it wasn't).   The entire assembly of Israelites where about to make their next move but were delayed one week to wait for Miriam.  Why?  Miriam was 87 years old and highly loved and respected but when she was 6 years old, 81 years earlier, she did the mitzvah of waiting in the Nile River to see that her baby brother Moses, who was in the basket, would be retrieved and taken care of by Pharaoh's daughter.   Her reward, so to speak, was an m for m act of the people waiting for Miriam because she waited for her brother 81 years earlier.  Not so obvious but the important point is every positive act will be rewarded.

I think you get the idea that if r and p happened exactly at the time of the mitzvah being done or violated, we would not have free will.  If we actually saw reward immediately we wouldn't have a choice but would, like robots, be programmed to react only one way.  What is wrong with that?  Hashem wants us to correct our errors in order to perfect ourselves – that requires self-determination through free will.

An important word about punishment is that Hashem is merciful.  We are not referring to someone making a mistake.  If mistakes are made, Hashem helps us with correction but does not punish us.  Punishment comes from deliberate and willful violation of the mitzvot.  Is someone knows, as an example, that he should observe the Shabbos but inadvertently didn't realize today is the Shabbos and started to perform many acts of violation, that is forgivable.  If the individual knows it is the Shabbos and performs violations maliciously, in other words, in defiance of Hashem's mitzvot, that will bring punishment.  We are told, as an example, that if an individual is destined to go to Hell it does not have to be for punishment but could be strictly for correction before they enter Heaven.  To make it even easier, as an example, we are told that when we recite the prayer, Shema Yisroel, twice a day, if we do not slur our words together but meticulously separate words as told to us in the Talmud (the places of separation are defined in our prayer books), Hell will be cooled for us.  This place that we have a picture of being very hot and torturous doesn't have to be if one is sent there for correction and not retribution.

A word about timing.  When Hashem knows that our free will is only directed at doing His will, the r and p does become more obvious.  If we are, as an example, in a dire situation and pray to Hashem for help, the very act of always turning to Hashem for help with the proper conviction will give immediate results.  I say with proper conviction and even proper intention since the person who thinks "I am going to fool Hashem to get my way is a fool."  Tricking or bribing Hashem is counterproductive and never works.  The person who thinks praying is "do this for me Hashem and I will go to synagogue every Shabbos from now on" is probably a Hell of an individual.  Hashem is infinitely smarter and cleverer than all of us combined.

I have personally experienced immediate results on a fairly regular basis.  I find I don’t have to wait 81 years to have my prayers answered if I need something on the spot.  If you remember when I talked about prayer, Hashem gave us a system that our very words can cause energies to flow and results to occur.  The important thing is knowing exactly where the source of energy originates – there is only Hashem.

Let me give you some examples I've experienced.  I have 100's if not 1000's of stories that I could share but will offer on two stories just to get my point across.  I was once at a meeting at work on a Friday afternoon.  I was getting a little panicky since I had to leave (Shabbos was coming).  The boss was standing at the exit door.  How could I, without making a scene, leave?  We were on a conference call with other individuals on the phone.  I turned my attention to Hashem and thought "if we could lose the phone connection."  With split second timing, as I thought the word "connection," the phone went dead.  The boss asked "what happened?"  I proudly said "I think we lost the phone connection."  The boss said "let's take a ten minute break to reconnect and we'll continue."  I went back to my office, got a friend to replace me at the meeting and off to Shabbos.  Thank you, Hashem.

There was another incident where my car broke down about 13 miles from home on a highway.  You guessed it.  It was Friday afternoon and I had to get home for Shabbos.  Fortunately, I don't care for, or did I have, a cell phone.  Why?  If I did and called a towing service I would have been late.  I took my attaché case out of the car (yes, I used to carry and attaché), locked the car and with a big smile on my face said "I wonder how Hashem is going to help me with this one?"  I put out my thumb and within 10 seconds a big truck stopped.  This was a surprise since big trucks don't usually stop for a guy in a black suit, black hat and beard.  I figured "Hashem works in mysterious ways" so I climbed up into the truck to see that the truck driver was wearing a Yarmulke.  He just happened to be going to the town where I live and proceeded to take me right to my front door.  Thank you, Hashem.  I have even more miraculous stories but they are longer and give me the chills when I think about them.

Let me talk more about the when and the where.  Even though the system is for both here on Earth and for all eternity, most of r and p occurs after we leave this Earth.  This is also a merciful thing because r and p are far more intense in the afterlife.  On Earth we always have the possibility of further correction through our efforts.  When we leave this life, our need for further correction or, may Hashem forbid, retribution is well defined.  The possibilities are we go to a Heavenly existence; we receive correction as needed, hopefully, in as pleasant place; we return to Earth for another life, the squall; or, we go to a very harsh place for pure punishment.  Each of those choices has many levels involved.  The important idea for our discussion is that this is when most of the r and p is dulled out.  The good news is correction is usually swift and not difficult (depending, of course on how much needed).  Punishment is also anywhere from short to extensive (use your imagination on that one).   Reward, however, is forever.  For our good deeds, our fulfilling Hashem's mitzvot while on Earth, we are rewarded forever and ever and at a level that is beyond our comprehension.  Doing Hashem's will on Earth has such a tremendous payback that we truly would lose our free will if we could experience one second of our eternity.  That is all it would take to make us the most observant individuals possible.  More so, is giving such a wonderful gift to a spouse and, of course, children and grandchildren.   We very often think about what it would be like to win the lottery on Earth and have everything we ever wanted.  I like Steve Wright's line about that:  "If I had everything, where would I put it?"  Yet, we have a guaranteed lottery winning ticket available; all we need to do is purchase it.  It is waiting for each of us and the payoff is eternal.  Wow, eternal Powerball.  Thank you, Hashem.

One last concept to know about doing mitzvot.  "A mitzvah is its own reward."  On Earth the feeling of doing Hashem's will or helping another human being is extremely rewarding in itself.  This leads us to the most important concept of all "we don't do mitzvot for reward; we do them because we love Hashem and want to do His will."  If Hashem knows that we are doing His will for personal gain, it diminishes the purpose of why we serve Him.  But, if we do it for its own sake out of love for Hashem, we get it all and that includes the wonderful feeling of just serving Hashem with joy.  That is true happiness and there is no greater reward for us and our loved ones.


  1. the last few lines (last 11 lines) sound almost impossible because once the idea of R & P is known, how can it ever not be in someones mind?
    these last lines appear "robot -ish" or "robotic".
    the second to lsat sentence even says "we get it all" semms like R & P is still there?
    thank you for all the wonderful writing! i enjoy and value your work.

    1. As with any topic I cover we can only strive to achieve as high a level as we can. We could never become robots because we will always have the frailties that make us human. Hashem designed it that way but we are given the opportunity and mission to approach the higher level -- that is our goal. The only time we are completely into a reward situation is after we leave olam hazeh after a life of service to Hashem or as a baal teshuvah approaching as high a level as possible. Whatever happens, Hashem helps us and gives us the most that we deserve. Very often we do get much more than we deserve -- Hashem is merciful.

  2. When it comes to reward and punishment, where do prayer requests (either for oneself or for other) and spontaneous prayer Hitbodedut fit it in?

    If it is said that a person praying / requesting on behalf of someone will have their prayers answered first, then how does one interpret cases where the reverse is the case or is that itself a test?

    1. Everything in this world is a test. It is within Hashem's system to always have positive results as long as we have the proper intentions. If we pray for others strictly hoping to help ourselves, Hashem is not fooled. He wants us to feel the pain and troubles of others and if we help others with deep conviction, we benefit (but that should not be the purpose of praying for others). Hashem knows us much more than we know ourselves. If we are not honest about what we do, we must accept the consequences of our actions -- m for m.