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RE'EH - REWARD AND PUNISHMENT
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your G-d, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your G-d, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other G-ds, which you did not know. (First possuk in this week's Parsha)
Adapted from Rav Schwab on Iyov (8:7)
The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni on Iyov teaches us that the righteous in this world are analogous to a tree whose trunk is implanted in a clean place but whose branch extends to an unclean place. If this branch is cut off, the entire tree remains only on clean ground.
This Midrash expresses a very profound thought, which is the following. We are accustomed to thinking that our main lives are lived here on earth, and after death our souls go to Olam Haba, the World to Come, for reward or punishment. Actually, however, only a small part of us lives in the physical world. Our real life is lived in Olam Haba. That spiritual world is not merely an extension of life on earth; rather, it is where the real person lives. Only a part, "a branch," of the real person has been brought to live in the physical world. The real person, his "trunk," is his spiritual existence in the Olam HaNeshamos, the world of the souls, the world in which malachim, angels, spiritual creatures, live. Only a "branch" of the "real person" has been brought to live in the physical world, from the moment he is born until his neshamah is returned to the Olam HaNeshamos. The Midrash describes the physical world as מקום טומאה, an unclean place - as opposed to the Olam HaNeshamos, "the pure place," where the main body, or "trunk," of one's existence lives.
Everything that happens to a human being in this world only happens to his "branch"; and when this "branch" is cutoff, when his soul leaves this world, the "trunk" of his existence, "the real me," remains firmly intact in the Olam HaNeshamos. At that time, man's whole existence is described as standing fully in a pure place; the entirety of the person is now in its full spiritual vitality.
The Midrash continues: Just so, G-d causes the righteous to suffer in this world so that they may inherit the World to Come, as it says: "Your beginnings will be difficult, etc."
This Midrash is telling us that that if HaKadosh Baruch Hu, in His wisdom and justice, sees fit to cause the righteous to suffer in this world for any infraction which they may have done, it is only the "branch," of the real person that is suffering; the "real person" does not suffer. And after death, when "the branch is cut off," the real person will live a blissful endless existence in the Olam HaNeshamos as a reward for his righteousness while he was living in the physical world. "Your end will be very great."
The Midrash continues and explains that the reverse is true of the wicked: Sinful people in this world are analogous to a tree which is implanted in an impure place and whose branch overhangs a clean and pure place. If its branch is severed, it would leave the entire tree standing only in an impure place. So does HaKadosh Baruch Hu endow the wicked with happiness in this world so that, in the World to Come, they will reach the lowest level.
For the sinful person, that which was supposed to be only a "branch" of his life - his existence in the physical world - has become his "trunk," his main existence. His main life is his sinful existence in this world. Any good deeds he does will be rewarded in his main life, leaving almost nothing for the World to Come. Nevertheless, as long as he is alive, and "the branch remains together with the trunk," there is still hope that the tree can receive healthful nutrients from the good deeds which he may have done, and an impure life can be reversed. However, once this person dies without having reversed his sinful life, and has, in effect, cut off his "healthy branch," his "trunk," his main being, has died. Consequently, his life in the World to Come can be only on the lowest level of spiritual existence.
To illustrate this idea, the Chofetz Chaim would tell the following parable. He had a friend who owned many valuable pieces of gold-framed art which he kept in a protected inner room of his house. After many years, he came to his friend's house and noticed that these very valuable objects were now hanging in the hallway of his house. When he inquired why he had moved them from his "inner sanctum" to the hallway, his friend told him that that private room had been destroyed by fire, and therefore he now hung the pictures in the hallway.
Similarly, said the Chofetz Chaim, all happiness, satisfaction, honor, etc., which a person enjoys in this world should really be received on a spiritual level for eternity in Olam Haba, the real world. However, if one loses his share in Olam Haba due to his aveiros, if his share in that eternal world is "destroyed by fire," then the reward which he was to receive on a grand scale for eternity is given to him on a reduced level in "the hallway," in this world, which is really the ante-chamber to the "main house," the World to Come.
In a similar vein, others (HaGra, Aderes Eliyahu) comments about human life in our physical world. It is a life which is very small. Its days are few in comparison to the endless spiritual life in 0lam Haba; and one's physical life is only the beginning of one's real life in 0lam Haba, which is called the final existence, which, if man earns it, will be very high and tall. So do not lose sight of the fact that no matter how much one is suffering in this world, he can still look forward to his real existence in the infinite world of Olam Haba, where he will be rewarded for his righteousness and good deeds here on earth.
The Midrash adds another idea as follows:
You will find that whoever suffers at the beginning will find relief at the end. This means that the blessing of HaKadosh Baruch Hu comes at the end of suffering. One of the examples cited by the Midrash is the life of Avraham Avinu. As a young man he was thrown into a fiery furnace but miraculously survived; he was exiled from his father's house; and he was severely tested by G-d ten times. But at the end of his life, the Torah tells us: And Avraham had grown old, having come to the days, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything (Bereishis 24:1). The Midrash also cites examples of the lives of Yitzchak and Yaakov who similarly suffered early on in their lives, only to find real blessing and satisfaction at the end of their lives.
The Midrash is telling us that in the ordinary course of human lives, G-d does not normally bless people with windfalls such as the winning of a lottery or sweepstakes. On the contrary, life normally begins with hardship, toil and trouble and then, if one merits it, one slowly sees G d's blessing in his life as his fortunes begin improving.
But if somebody is showered with great wealth or other good fortune, he should know that this is a nisayon, a test, just as surely as poverty and suffering are a test of man's true understanding of what HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants of him in his life here on earth.
Similarly, the Midrash applies the same concept to the Jewish Nation. Before the Jewish nation reaches its goal and the high point of its development at the time of Moshiach, it, too, will have gone through long golus years of suffering, trials and tribulations. This is supported there in the Midrash by a quote from Yeshayahu (2:2): And it will occur at the end of days, that the mountain of the House of Hashem will be firmly established at the head of the mountains, and it will be the exalted of the heights, and all the nations will stream to it.
The same idea is inherent in the prophetic words regarding the Moshiach: For I shall bring my servant, Zemach (Zechariah 3:8). The name for Moshiach used here is Zemach, which means growth, and conveys the idea that Moshiach will be the outgrowth of the trials and tribulations which the Jewish nation has experienced throughout its history.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network