Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reward and Punishment in the Torah Teaches Humanity To Take Their Fate Into Their Own Hands.

In my last post, I discussed “miracles” and focused on those that are “naturally impossible”. Rambam also lists another category of “miracles” – the “naturally possible”. Examples are:

Occasional occurrences - the plagues of locust, hail and plague (dever) in Egypt

Common Occurrences –that can happen in all lands and times. Examples of such are the splitting of the altar while Yerovam was on it (Melachim 1:13:3) which is common for newly built structures. The torrential rains brought about by Shmuel during the harvest (Shmuel 1:12:17).The blessings and curses in the Torah.

As discussed in the last post, “miracles” are like flag posts that point out and teach a lesson. For common occurrences that are usually seen as normal and even occasional occurrences that are rarer, something more has to be added to make them stand out and teach something. They therefore have to have an additional component to make them stand out. They therefore have to have one or more of the following conditions:

They happen when predicted by a prophet, as was the case with Shmuel and Yerovam.

They come in exaggerated form, greater than usual such as the plagues in Egypt mentioned above לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ, וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן. (Shemot 10:14 also see Shemot 9:24 and 9:6).

They are constant as the blessings and curses in the Torah were.

The first condition, prediction of the prophet, is quite obvious. The second one, where the occurrence is in an exaggerated form, apparently also requires the first condition, the prediction of the prophet to make it stand out. Interestingly, the cases Rambam brings as examples, the plagues in Egypt, also had Moshe predict them. I cannot think of a case where the second condition alone was enough to make the occurrence stand out. (The locust at the time of Yoel was also predicted). But the third condition, the one that is generally referred to as Schar Ve’onesh - reward and punishment - needs to be fleshed out much more.

To really understand Rambam’s view of reward and punishment and its relationship with Torah we have to take a step back and look at humanity from an historical perspective. We live in an era where the scientific method is part of our normal thinking and there are very few who still question it. That was not so for much of human history. At the time Torah and Judaism came into existence, when Moshe Rabbeinu brought us the Torah, man was completely dependent on the vagaries of nature without any hope to take his fate into his own hands. He saw the world as populated by good and evil spirits who controlled the physical world and the only recourse was to placate them. It would take millennia to overturn this mindset. It is a gradual process that is still ongoing. It teaches that man has to learn and understand his environment and take his fate into his own hands. That is what the Torah teaches us. We can take control of our fate and there are consequences to our actions. It is the first commandment the Torah gives to humankind and sets it as its general goal and purpose.

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם

אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ

בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת


28 And God blessed them; and God said unto them, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.'

The way for humanity to exit the dark ages of superstition and helplessness is a long process. It teaches man that there are no spirits, just one God, the First Cause, and that everything He caused into existence is logical and sensible imbued with a great wisdom that is incumbent on us to learn and discover. It is this revolution in thinking that slowly is taking humanity on the long road to

כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ, דֵּעָה אֶת-יְהוָה, כַּמַּיִם, לַיָּם מְכַסִּים.

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. {S} (Yeshayahu 11:9)

This educational process includes the idea that there are consequences to our actions. They are not always immediately apparent. Some actions have an immediate impact others may take some time for results to be seen, but ultimately we are responsible for our own fate. Those are the blessings and curses of the Torah – reward and punishment. Rambam in Hilchot Ta’aniyot 1:2-3 teaches –

ודבר זה, דרך מדרכי התשובה הוא: שבזמן שתבוא צרה ויזעקו לה

ויריעו, יידעו הכול שבגלל מעשיהם הרעים הרע להן--ככתוב "עוונותיכם, הטו

אלה לכם, וזה הוא שיגרום להם להסיר הצרה מעליהם.

אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם

אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק

במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות: הוא שכתוב בתורה, "והלכתם עימי,

בקרי. והלכתי עימכם, בחמת קרי" (ויקרא כו,כז-כח),

כלומר כשאביא עליכם צרה, כדי שתשובו--אם תאמרו שהוא קרי, אוסיף עליכם חמת אותו קרי.

This [type of prayer] belongs to the ways of repenting. When a disaster occurs and they cry out for it and blow trumpets, all realize that this came about as a result of their misdeeds as it says, “Your sins brought this about upon you”. This [realization] will cause the disaster to lift.

Should they not cry out or blow trumpets, saying that this thing happened in normal ways of the world, that this disaster is just a serendipitous occurrence, this [kind of thinking] is cruel for it encourages them to stick to their errant ways bringing more disasters. That is the meaning of the verse “should you walk with me serendipitously, I will walk with you in the wrath of serendipity”. In other words, when I bring down a disaster upon you, so that you repent, and you will attribute it to serendipity, I will add to you the wrath of that serendipity.

In a letter to the sages of Marseilles, which I quoted in the past, Rambam blames the destruction of the temple on the Jews turning to spirits rather than arming and defending themselves while engaging in diplomacy! Repentance in this context is making ourselves aware that it is up to us to figure out how to prevent a disaster. We have to accept responsibility for our actions or inactions and take our fate into our hands.

The “miracle” of the blessings and curses of the Torah are seen as teachings when they are constant. When the Jews followed the path of Torah, abandoned the ways of superstition and idolatry, acting on their convictions and consequently lived peacefully on their land, they taught humanity that our actions have consequences. They taught that unlike the other nations who rely on spirits and therefore are dependent on the vagaries of nature, we Jews take our fate into our own hands, because we believe that HKBH created the world with wisdom. It is up to us to understand it and act accordingly. Coming back to our treatise on Resurrection and the verse in Devarim 4:19, we read –

וכבר זכר בתורה שהוא מופת מתמיד, ר"ל תיקון העניינים

עם העבודה, והפסדם עם המרי. אמר "והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם"

ומפני זה אמרו "אין מזל לישראל", רצו לומר שתיקונם והפסדם אינם לסבה טבעית

ולא על מנהג המציאות, אלא נתלה בעבודה ובמרי. וזה אות יותר גדול מכל אות.

וכבר בארנו שזה בדין צבור ובדין יחיד כמו שיראה מן המעשה ההוא והוא נאות

לאומרו ובזרעך עד עולם.

ומן המאמר המפורסם באומה "ראה אדם ייסורין באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו".

והוא העניין בעצמו הוא המכוון ג"כ באומרו "אשר חלק ה' אלהיך אותם לכל

העמים תחת כל השמים, ואתכם לקח ה'.. להיות לו לעם נחלה כיום הזה". ר"ל

שענייניהם אינם נוהגים עניין מנהג שאר האומות, אבל ייחדם השם בזה המופת

הגדול שיהיו פעולותיהם תמיד נקשרות בתיקון ענייניהם או בהפסדם.

It is already mentioned in the Torah that the fact that things work out [for the Jews] when they act [correctly] and do not work out when they transgress is a permanent sign [that we are not dependent on the vagaries of nature]. That is the meaning of the Rabbi’s saying “Yisrael do not depend on luck”. That is their well-being or mishaps do not depend on natural events or vagaries of existence but rather on their [correct] actions or transgressions. That is a greater sign than any other sign [that there are consequences to our actions]. We already explained that this applies to both the public and the individual. (I cannot translate the end of the sentence, as I do not understand it. See R. Sheilat in note 90 that he suspects the text is corrupt). That is also seen from the famous saying “When a person sees suffering coming upon him he should look at his deeds”. [IOW we are to blame for our own suffering and should not shift the blame to others]. That is also the meaning when he says “אֲשֶׁר חָלַק יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֹתָם, לְכֹל הָעַמִּים, תַּחַת כָּל-הַשָּׁמָיִם - which the LORD thy God has allotted unto all the peoples under the whole heaven –

וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְהוָה - But you hath the LORD taken”. Meaning that their [the Jewish people’s] matters are not like those of other nations [who rely and depend on vagaries of nature]. God has particularized them with this great sign [teaching to others] that their actions are intimately tied to their well-being or the mishaps.

Rambam disagrees with commentators and Rishonim who read this verse as affirming that Jews are different and under the influence of HKBH while the rest of the world is under the auspices of the stars. He understands that Jews are a paradigm for the world as a people who understand that HKBH has given the world to humanity to conquer and thus control his fate. Unlike the beliefs of the nations who believed, that man depends on outside forces like the stars and the vagaries of fate.

This post is already much too long. I will come back to this in my next post.


  1. William Dwek says:

    The Swine Flu is common in PIGS.

    This is a clear indication that it is the Dayanim (“Judges”) and “Rabbis” of today who are the PIGS and swines.

    They twist and use the Torah for their own power and commercial benefit.

    They are corrupt. And they are interested in only one thing:


    Not the Torah.

  2. William Dwek says:

    When “dayanim” and “rabbis” use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this is the behaviour of a swine i.e. a Pig.

    No other “rabbi” will ever act against another “rabbi” - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

    Therefore, the “rabbi” and “dayan” will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

    The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Am Yisrael can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

  3. William Dwek says:

    1. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may use lies. They turn the innocent into the guilty, and the guilty, become the innocent. They will not hesitate to tell lies in the Synagogue.

    2. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may steal. They steal and siphon off money for themselves, from the community and individuals.

    3. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may commit murder. They may shame a Jew in public, even repeatedly. This is one of the most vile acts of murder in Jewish law – and they know this.

    4. The “dayan” and “rabbi” will not hesitate to use Lashon Hara (the “Evil Tongue”) to suit his own ends. Slander and gossip. This too, is one of the worst acts of murder in Jewish Law. Their slander is never challenged by the community, because they hold positions of power. And the slander may begin with the Rebbetzin herself.

    5. The “dayanim” and “rabbis” worship idols and other gods. Their only god is Money. Especially the “Dayanim” – the “Judges” who sit on a Beit Din. They only care about their high incomes and retirement packages. They have little or no love for the Torah or Hashem.

    In the case of Lubavitch/Chabad, all their rabbis are carrying out a form of Avodah Zarah – strange worship. They are using mediation and intercession. This is completely forbidden, and against the Torah. We are only allowed to pray to Hashem, directly ourselves.

    6. When the NAME of Hashem has been taken in Vain – repeatedly - by reshaim, the “rabbi” will turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the


    This is the abhorrent behaviour of a Pig.

    This is an extremely severe and dangerous situation.

    There is NO forgiveness for this evil sin and aveirah.

    7. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may also offer large bribes, tell lies and bring False Witnesses – when he in fact has committed the crime. These are heinous acts of the most despicable kind. This is especially vile when the “dayan” is sitting on a “Beit Din.”

    8. The “rabbi” may commit adultery. And when he gets divorced, he may spread slander about his own ex-wife, blackening her name – when in fact he was at fault.

    9. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may also desecrate Shabbat – if it suits him. He will use physical violence to assault another Jew or Jewess at any time. This evil and venomous behaviour is 100% against the Torah.

  4. Eliyahoo William Dwek:

    A further word of advice regarding those who masquerade as a ‘dayan’ ‘rabbi’ or false ‘mekubal’:

    1. These men may knowingly and willingly, deliberately deceive a Jew or Jewess. e.g. in the area of shidduchim, or offering to perform a ‘pidyon nefesh’.

    This abhorrent and deceptive behaviour has caused tremendous harm to people who are innocent and trusting.

    2. Do not ever ‘kiss the hands’ of these men (which they might offer to you in public).

    3. And do not be duped into queuing and waiting, to see them for their ‘brachot’ (‘blessings’). They peddle ‘brachot’ purely for their own selfish gratification and ‘kavod’ (‘honour’).

    Their duplicitous behaviour is nothing short of deception and cunning. In short they are abhorant and causing so much harm to amm israel. They prey on the vulnerable, and those who are naïve, unsuspecting and trusting of these pedlars.

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