Shabbat Parashat Shemini| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Reward and Punishment - Part I - Based on Perakim B’Machshevet Israel, pg. 320-2
There are two, basic questions that anyone dealing with the question of Divine reward and punishment has to deal with: 1) Since man’s actions would seem to be of little consequence to Hashem, what is the point of His rewarding or punishing his deeds? 2) What is the nature and content of the two types of reward and punishment, those found in the Torah, which refer primarily to this world, and those relayed to us through Chazal’s tradition, which relate to the world to come?
The Rambam removes the concept of reward and punishment from its normal meaning. They are not something that one receives. Rather reward is a direct function of a person’s spiritual accomplishments, which find expression by acquiring for him eternity for the soul. Punishment is a natural result of man’s actions, as a non-meritorious person does not develop within himself the spirituality which would elevate him above the animal kingdom, and his soul is cut off and lost along with his body.
By delving into muskalot (intellectual/spiritual thoughts), which are related to the Divine, the human soul turns into something more actual and turns the person into a spiritual entity that does not require a body to exist. When the person dies, his soul gains the ability to exist independently after breaking free from its physical connections. The reward in the world to come is the spiritual life of grasping the Divine without separations. When a person’s spiritual side is not developed or is destroyed by such sins as those that bear the punishment of karet (being cut off), the soul remains bound to the body. As such, when the body losses life, so does the soul. According to this approach, we can understand how the world to come is nothing but a world of the spirits, whose true description no man, who is confined to a body, can fully grasp. Therefore, any descriptions in Chazal that seem to describe physical reality in the world to come are merely parables, whose job is to encourage man to act righteously. This is needed because spiritual descriptions will not relate to man in such a way that will give him the impetus to act properly. The “reward and punishment” that is mentioned in the Torah as existing in this world are not really true reward and punishment, which are only hinted at. Rather, they are an assurance that Hashem will provide help in enabling man the conditions to act upon his good will without the impediments that those who desire to perform misdeeds encounter.
According to the Rambam, the full level of Divine Providence in this world that is necessary to bring the type of “reward” that aids leading a life of mitzvot is the lot only of the chosen nation. In general, the laws of nature should hold true without distinction between the deeds of the righteous and the wicked. Providence is a direct result of connectedness to the Divine, spiritual force which gives life to all of the worlds.
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi adds an additional outlook on reward and punishment in this world. He says that its importance is less in regard to the outcomes of the reward and punishment than to the fact that they serve as a sign of Divine Providence. In other words, the correlation between a person’s actions and his lot can serve as proof of the connection between man and his Creator..
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