Reward and Punishment
If you will not change from what I do, because
of these occurrences, but continue
to walk contrary to Me, then I will also
walk contrary to you, and will punish you
another seven times for your mistakes.
Once again, we have arrived at the parshah
of reward and punishment. The only thing
is, though, as the Talmud states, there is no
reward in this world for mitzvos performed
(Kiddushin 39b). If so, why then does the
Torah speak as if there is, promising worldly rewards for loyalty to Torah,
and punishing results for straying from the path of Torah?
To answer this question, there is an idea that I heard last week in the
name of Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita, told over at his Thursday night shiur,
Jerusalem, in advance of Pesach Sheni. He was explaining why it is that
Sheni falls each year on the day of Chesed Sh’b’Hod, the Middas
HaYom of Day 29, in the Omer Count.
Rabbi Shapiro explained that the trait of Hod, like the word modeh, to
which it is related, means agreement, or admission. However, usually it
to our agreement of God, to our admission to Him, and praise of all that
He does for us. Rather, explained Rabbi Shapiro, it actually refers to
admission to us, as occurred in the Torah with respect to Pesach Sheni:
“There were people who were ritually unclean from a dead body, which
prevented them from performing the Pesach-Offering on that day. They
came before Moshe and before Aharon on that day and complained,
“We are unclean from a dead body. Why should this prevent us from
offering to God in its appointed season with the rest of the Jewish people?
Moshe answered them, “Wait, and I will see what God has to say
concerning you.” God told Moses, “Tell the Children of Israel that, if any
person throughout the generations will be ritually unclean because of a
dead body, or will be far way, he can still bring a Pesach-Offering to
God.” (Bamidbar 9:6-10)”
In other words, God told Moshe Rabbeinu, the people had a valid complaint,
and Heaven was prepared to accommodate them, and others with
the same problem throughout the generations. Hence, the laws of Pesach
Sheni, a sign that Divine admission, and a chesed to be sure, and
explained Rabbi Shapiro, it falls on Chesed Sh’b’Hod — the kindness of the
Based upon this explanation of hod, we can answer another question to
do with the holiday of hod and hodayah, of admission and praise, the
of Chanukah. The question: Why was the military victory not enough to
establish the holiday of Chanukah? Why, as the Talmud explains, did the
people of that time not feel the need to establish a new holiday until
the miracle of the Menorah occurred, when the oil burned for seven extra
days (Shabbos 21b)?
The answer is that, before we can establish a new holiday, like Purim or
Chanukah, we have to know that Heaven agrees with us. That’s the hod aspect
of Chanukah. Fine. However, the question is, why wasn’t the military
victory enough to act as a Heavenly approbation, sufficient enough to
a new rabbinical holiday?
Because, it says:
“One who trusts in God will be surrounded by kindness “(Tehillim 32:10);
even an evil person who trusts in God will be surround by kindness.
(Midrash Tehillim 32:10). It further says: “Many are the agonies of the
Wicked” (Tehillim Ibid.) … because they do not place their trust in The
Holy One, Blessed is He. (Midrash Tehillim Ibid.). The Ramban says
something similar: This is why it says, “Trust in God and do good”
37:3), and it does not say “Do good and trust in God.” Rather,
[from this we learn that] trust in God does not depend upon good deeds
at all, but rather one should trust in God whether he is righteous or evil.
It concludes, however, with “do good” because if you do not [do teshuvah
from past sins] then they will exact payment from you nevertheless.
The Holy One, Blessed is He, is very patient, and will find the time to
take payment from you (Sefer Emunah v’Bitachon, Ch. 1). (Sha’arei
Leshem, p. 114)
Hence, we see, that the fact that a great miracle has happened for someone
does not necessarily mean that God agrees with his general behavior
and lifestyle. Rather, it may just mean that the person had the appropriate
amount of trust in God at the right moment, enough to cause a miraculous
salvation and get him out of his tough spot.
However, as the Ramban points out, once his troubles are over, the
clock starts ticking again, as God anxiously waits for him to do teshuvah.
Should the person fail to do the appropriate teshuvah for past sins in
spite of the miraculous salvation he enjoyed as a result of his truth in
Heaven still lowers the Divine boom on him for those past sins.
That is why the military victory was not enough to warrant the
of a new rabbinical holiday. Their remarkable success on the battlefield
did not necessarily mean that God agreed with the level of spiritually
of those who experienced it. Rather, they had thought to themselves, it
might have only been in the merit of their bitachon, their trust in God at
time, that they overcame an enemy far larger and more powerful than they
However, had the miracle of the oil not occurred for them after they had
returned to the defiled temple to reinstate it, the Chashmonaim could have
simply used whatever impure oil they had found in the meantime. That’s the
law. And, in eight more days, when they would have produced new pure
oil, they would have then resumed the usage of pure oil. Knowing the
Chashmonaim, they would have been grateful to God just for all of that.
Instead, God insisted on performing the “extra” miracle of the oil burning
seven extra days, miraculously. It’s as if God went out of His way, so-
to show the heroes of that time just how much their self-sacrifice had
made an impression on Heaven, and to show them that God was on the
same page as they were, because they had put themselves on the same page
as God. The miracle of the oil was the Divine stamp of approval, the sign
that Heaven was modeh to the Chashmonaim, indicating that they had Divine
approval to establish a new holiday called Chanukah.
Though Eisav may want success for success’s sake, Ya’akov lives for Divine
approval. It is the ultimate compliment, the ultimate validation of one’s
existence when Divine Providence does something “extra” that seems to
say, “Hey, good going. We like what you’re doing, and want you to know
it.” We are hardwired to feel meaningful when we experience Heaven’s
of what we do, and to feel empty when the opposite occurs:
“After some time, Kayin brought a food offering to God from the fruit of
the land. Hevel also brought [an offering], but from the firstborn of his
sheep and of their milk. God favored Hevel and his meal-offering, but
not Kayin and his meal-offering. Kayin became very angry and dejected.
God said to Kayin, “Why are you angry, and why are you dejected? If
you did the right thing would I not accept it?” (Bereishis 4:3-7)”
Last week, a midrash was mentioned regarding the death of Shaul
HaMelech and his sons while in battle. However, there is another midrash
regarding that fateful battle that killed the first king of Israel, and
heirs to the throne.
The Midrash states that, when Shaul HeMelech went to battle that day,
God called together His Heavenly Court and said:
“Come, take a look at what I have created …” God told them, since the
angels had voted against the creation of man.
“This man knows,” God explained to the Heavenly Hosts, “that today he
will die in battle …”
He knew this because, as it says in the Book of Shmuel, Shaul had consulted
the dead, the soul of Shmuel HaNavi, before that day, and the dead
prophet had told the worried king of his impending death in battle.
“And yet,” God says with pride, so-to-speak, “he goes out into battle as
if he has a chance to win! And, not only this, but he takes his own sons
him, though he knows that they will die in battle as well this day! This
alone justifies the creation of man!”
It’s the ultimate compliment. For, though it is nice to receive compliments
from one’s fellow man, Divine approval is the highest form of compliment
one can receive, and the true source of self-worth. When people
give compliments, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what we are doing is
meaningful to Creation. It may just mean that our actions are meaningful to
the person giving the compliment, which can be contrary to the purpose of
Hence, the mishnah teaches:
“Rebi said: What is the proper path a person should choose for himself?
Whatever brings glory to himself [before God], and grants him glory before
others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) as with a
major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos.” (Pirkei Avos
Before something can bring a person glory from other people, it has to
first bring him glory before God; only then can the compliments from people
have any real meaning. Indeed, they can even be taken as Divine compliments
coming through the mouths of human beings, another way of God
confirming that we’re on the same page as He is.
Which brings us to this week’s parshah. Clearly, as the Talmud states,
the Torah is not discussing the reward that God plans for those who
his mitzvos, or the punishment to be meted out for having strayed
from Torah. Rather, God is telling us that success in this world, for the
who keeps Torah, is a Divine sign of approval; it is Heaven being modeh to
The negative consequences, likewise, for straying from Torah, are
Heaven’s way of expressing its disapproval. As the Talmud says, even a
bit of suffering should be enough to make a person consider his actions and
look for something to rectify (Brochos 5a). Otherwise, he is going to get
more of the same, until he wakes up.
Unless, that is, he does not want to know what Heaven is thinking. Bad
move. For, once a person deals with Heaven on that level, measure-
Heaven deals with him on the same level, and that makes it next
to impossible to rectify anything. Having broken the connection between
himself and Heaven, the line of Divine communication no longer functions
for him, setting him spiritually adrift:
“If you will not change from what I do, because of these occurrences, but
continue to walk contrary to Me, then I will also walk contrary to you,
and will punish you another seven times for your mistakes”. (Vayikra
We all know how nice it can be when another person makes a positive
comment about what we do. However, there is nothing better, nothing more
meaningful, nothing more validating that a compliment from Heaven, and it
is what we are supposed to spend our lives pursuing. Chazak!
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.