The Gift of Justice

In the past couple of weeks, I posted a number of essays showing that reward and punishment are the effects of the person’s action. First, that in order for history to progress toward the messianic age, good must reinforce and perpetuate itself, and evil must self-destroy. Then, we looked at sources that say that reward and punishment are consequences of who we are. Third, we saw that there are two groups of theories about how action impacts the self, and how that impact would impede our ability to receive Divine Good.And yet…Avraham pleads with Hashem to show pity on Sedom and Amora. Moshe repeatedly begs (and in one case demands!) pity for the Jewish people. We ask Hashem to reward the righteous and punish the wicked in separate berakhos of Shemoneh Esrei three times every weekday. Doesn’t all this presume that Hashem is personally meting out reward and punishment, that we can ask Him to temper it with Divine Mercy?The two perspectives co-exist in the Torah’s description of the generation of the flood.

And Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the world, and that every dream of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all day. Hashem “regretted” that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His “Heart”. Hashem said, “I will erase this man that I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.” …
The earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with violence. G-d saw the earth, and, behold, it was destroyed; for all flesh had destroyed their way upon the earth. And G-d said to Noach, “The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; Here, I will destroy them with the earth.”

– Bereishis 6:5-7,11-13

The “end of all flesh” is described as occurring on its own, something which Hashem observes — punishment as a consequence. And yet, the actual destruction is something Hashem declares He will do Himself, due to His “regret” — meting out punishment.

The chapter asks us to hold both perceptions simultaneously, neither to the exception of the other.

The Sifri on parashas Re’ei notes that Hashem “placing before us a blessing and a curse; a blessing that you listen and a curse if you do not listen” implies that the blessing is inherent in the listening. Similarly, Hashem’s words to Qayin (Bereishis 4:6), “Why are you angry? And why are you crestfallen? For if you do good, you would be lifted up, and if you do not do good, your sin will pursue…” Here too, Qayin’s fate is described as being caused by his action, to the point that Hashem questions why Qayin turns to Him.

The Sifri presents two opinions. (And a personal point of satisfaction, the debate is between two sons of R’ Yosi haGelili. Brothers arguing, how familiar!)

Rav Eliezer b”R Yosi haGelili supports the “causal” position. In one version, he brings another supporting pasuq from Mishlei (18:21) “‘Death and life are in the control of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit (consume its dividends).’ One who loves [good] speech eats its fruits; one who loves evil eats its fruits.” In the second version brought by the Sifri, his proof is another verse (11:31), “The righteous in the world yeshulam are paid (in the passive, with no one named as repayer), even more so the evil and sinner!”

Rav Yosi ben Rav Yosi haGelili disagrees. “The Torah says (Mishlei 16:4), ‘All of Hashem’s actions are for His sake, and even the wicked for the day of evil.'” Punishing the wicked is Hashem’s action, not the wicked person himself’s.

As we saw in the essay “The Mechanism of Teshuvah“, caused punishments are more effective. Parents try to change an undesired personality trait in a child by teaching the child that the action has negative consequences. These consequences are broken down into two classes: they can be imposed, a punishment meted out by the parent; or they can be natural, the normal consequences by cause and effect. For example, a child could learn not to touch a stove by either getting slapped on the hand each time she reaches for it, or by touching it once and getting hurt. The first is safer, the other is more effective.

The causal approach also mitigates the problem of theodicy, “Why bad things happen to good people, a central religious issue and one that notoriously lacks a definitive solution. It is obviously desirable to remove G-d from being the direct cause of human pain.

On the other hand, a G-d who does not directly and personally punish evil and rewards good, appears far too distant and irrelevant. It is difficult to worship or pray to such a Deity. In fact, in order to become the kind of person who deserves better, we daven, engaging in a personal relationship with the A-lmighty. The causal perspective demands the personal one.

This could well be the key to why we have both perspectives.

And in truth, there are hints that the contradiction is an illusion created by the human perspective.

It’s kind of like the question of omnipotence and miracles: Since Hashem knows everything and can do everything, there is no reason for nature to be imperfect. Why then would He need to “tweak” things with nissim? Many answers are offered. The Ramban offers two answers in parashas Bo, the Maharal and R’ Hutner argue (in two very different ways) that nissim are not tweaks but actually part of the mechanism, etc… One of the Ramban’s answers is that nissim were written into the rules when they were created. (As I understand him, that the law is that fluids seek the lowest point except for the 22nd of Elul, when the Jews reached the Red Sea, and again 40 years later when they reached the Jordan.)

To apply the parallel idea here:

Hashem is the both the One Who created the system of supernatural law that would cause any automatic sechar va’onesh, as well as the One Who would be imposing it personally. When he set up the law, Hashem did it cognizant of every outcome of it. The law would include knowledge of each instance, no less than if Hashem intervened at each instance. The difference is merely when the decision was made. And since Hashem has no time, no “when”, do they really differ?

The same resolution that would explain how miracles can exist while the rules don’t need second-guessing would explain who personal reward and punishment can exist even while being automatic. Each option is a simplification of the Divine Truth whittled down to fit into the human mind. It seems possible to get a glimpse of how they could be describing the same reality.

The duality is one central to our perception of Hashem: The imminence of the personal Giver verses the transcendence of the One Who set up perfect rules of justice.

This, in turn, is the product of a basic paradox in the human condition.

“It is the nature of good to have someone to whom to be good.”

(Derekh Hashem 1:2:1.
The same idea is found in
Rav Saadia Gaon’s Emunos veDei’os.)

With these words the Ramchal explains Hashem’s purpose for creating man. In the Torah, Hashem introduces the idea of creating people with the words “let Us make man in Our Image, like Our Semblance”. The ultimate good the Creator has to share with us is His own “nature”. The gift of being free-willed, having the capacity to make meaningful decisions, and to create. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to be G-d-like, and therefore create it himself, to positively influence others. Man the creature, receiver of G-d’s Good vs. man the creator who lives in His Image.

Man the recipient sees reward and punishment, miracles, all the ways in which G-d interacts with us as things we get from Him. A gift perspective.

Man the creative being sees these things as the tools with which he works. Reward and punishment et al are systematic because only in that way can we use them as tools with which to create.

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