Shabbat Parashat Tazria-Metsora| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Reward and Punishment - Part II - Based on Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pg. 320-2
[Last time, we concentrated on the Rambam’s approach that reward and punishment in the world to come is better described as a natural result of one’s spiritual state than as a result of Divine decree. One who has developed a strong spiritual side will fare better in the future, spiritual world, whereas one whose soul is sacrificed at the expense of his physical side will cease to exist when his body dies.]
Nefesh Hachayim (R. Chayim of Volozhin) stresses how natural reward and punishment are in this world as well. Since he explains how a person’s deeds create or destroy cosmic worlds, it only stands to reason that the deed-doer should himself be affected by his own actions. R. Yisrael Salanter and the Mesilat Yesharim explain the idea of reward and punishment in this world, which the Torah describes as physical, as follows. Reward and punishment are needed in this world to encourage and scare a person, respectively, to act as he should. In order for a person’s spiritual side to win out in the inner struggles with the physical side, Hashem must provide help by addressing the physical side in a “language it can understand,” with physical consequences.
Rav Kook puts much emphasis on the fact that the Torah discusses only the physical consequences and that they are primarily consequences that affect the group, not the individual, such as rain or drought, peace or war, etc. Judaism is interested in the welfare, first and foremost, of the community, which takes precedence even to the lofty idea of an individual’s spiritual eternity. In this purest form, religious philosophy strives to bring to the nullification of the private sphere, so that the individual will see himself as part of the nation. Just as the small lights of the stars cannot be seen while the sun is out, so too the world of the individual was downplayed as long as there was prophecy in the world. When prophecy ceased, the spiritual scope shrunk, and the encouragement to proper behavior which Chazal had to stress was on the individual side, which is of lesser significance even if it discusses the advancement of one’s spiritual side.
[This approach of Rav Kook helps explain his outlook on those who involved themselves in the building of Eretz Yisrael, not out of personal interest, but by negating personal interest on behalf of the community’s welfare. He saw in those who looked to build a simple, pure, communal life as people inspired with a vision that was a positive throwback to the one-time tendencies of our nation. He saw a potential that this approach would expand to serving Hashem in a more pure manner, where less stress would be put on personal welfare, whether in the upper or lower Garden of Eden. Rather, people should revert to looking at good deeds not as a means to an end, but as the essence of life itself.]
Reward and punishment have an important part in the moral outlook of Judaism, which sees justice as a foundation of the world and does not give value to forgiveness of sin without a basis. It would be antithetical to our beliefs if the outcome of the righteous and the wicked would be identical. That which was corrupted through the misuse of freedom of choice must be rectified by the ensuing stage of reward and punishment.
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