The 11th Ani Maamin (of the Rambams 13 Principles of Faith) states, I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress His commandments.
If we believe that G-d rewards and punishes, why do we sin? For most of us punishment is a deterrent and reward is an incentive. If we truly believe that there are consequences for every action, would we ever sin and why aren’t we just doing good deeds?
There are two possible answers. 1. We really do not believe that G-d punishes and rewards. 2. We believe in reward and punishment but are willing to chance the possibility that somehow we will get away with it.
The rational for getting away with it results when we think that we can repent (do Teshuva) and G-d will forgive and not punish. Sometimes we actively decide to sin now and repent later (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur time). Other times we feel that when it judgment day arrives the overall balance of good Vs bad in our records will be in our favor.
The truth is that the whole principle of reward and punishment is a belief and not a fact. We might believe that it is a fact but if we are completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that feelings and intuitions are more responsible for our belief in reward and punishment than having empirical evidence to confirm a doctrine of consequences. It is the absence of absolute proof of consequence that allows an otherwise religious personality to rationalize sin and sinning. It is the absence of absolute proof that allows us to not do a mitzvah. It is the absence of absolute proof that categorizes the doctrine of consequences as the 11th Principle of Faith and not a fact.
My Grandfather Zt”l (of blessed memory) in his Sefer Darash Moshe explained (Bereshis 1:6 & Divarim 30:19) that the human is not the only creation endowed with free will. In fact the angels also possess free will. The difference is that the angels awareness of G-d, His will, and the consequences for listening or not listening to His commandments is a fact and not a belief. It is the certainty of their knowledge of cause and affect that guarantees their compliance to His wishes. Therefore, it is as if they have no other choice but to listen.
My Grandfather Zt”l compared the angels knowledge of consequences to our knowing that fire will burn us and cause great pain. No one in his right mind would willingly put his or her own hand in fire; (obviously there could be extenuating circumstances or pathologies that would be the exceptions) yet, we have the free will to do so if we wish.
The ability to do something will be severely limited by the consequences of that action, if the consequences are known and believed. Every parent and teacher knows that discipline is in direct proportion to the believability of his or her threats. Do as you have threatened to do, and they will believe and listen to your instructions. Do not do as you threaten to do, and they will not believe and they will not listen. The angels have free will to either listen or not listen to G-d, but they also know the absolute truth of the doctrine of consequences. G-d does and will reward and punish. For the angels it is as willful as our not putting our hands in fire. We know there will be a consequence and therefore we will not do it. The angels also know there will be consequences, good or bad, and therefore they do G-d’s will.
Believing that our actions have consequences is the most powerful motivator possible. If every action had an immediate reward or punishment, our free will would cease to exist. We would only do as He commanded and we would never transgress His wishes. Because G-d does not immediately reward and punish we have the freedom to decide whether we will or will not believe in His consequences.
Imagine if every mitzvah performed would add $1,000.00 to your bank account. Imagine if every sin transgressed would deduct $1,000.00 from your account. Imagine if every mitzvah performed would infuse every fiber of your being and consciousness with exquisite feelings of pleasure, joy and well – being. Imagine if every sin would wrack your body with indescribable pain and mental agony. Who among us would ever stop seeking out the next mitzvah opportunity?
What is the reward for a single mitzvah? What is the reward for a single moment of faith? What is the punishment for a single sin? What is the punishment for a single moment of lost faith? In this weeks Parsha we see the extraordinary power of a moment of faith as well as the devastating consequences for a moment of lost faith.
When the Spies returned from their mission to spy out the Promised Land, two heroes emerged. Kalev and Yehoshua. Yehoshua was the quintessential servant of Moshe, and Kalev was the strongest and most courageous of all. Separately and together, Kalev and Yehoshua had withstood the pressures of their peers during their mission and returned to Moshe determined to speak the truth.
The opening report was direct and truthful. The land truly flows with milk and honey and these fruits are proof of the lands bounty. However, also note that the nations that presently inhabit the land are equally impressive. Fortified cities, powerful warriors, sons of giants, and our old enemy Amalek.
Kalev, the representative of the tribe of Yehudah, realized that the Spies were about to launch their plot, so he jumped in with the following confirming statement of encouragement. And he said, regardless of how impressive the inhabitants appear, we can take the land! We can be victorious! Had the other Spies echoed Kalevs enthusiastic optimism, the nation would have proceeded inexorably to capture Eretz Yisroel, build the Bais Hamikdash, and usher in the messianic age. Tragically, that didn’t happen. Instead, the Spies demoralized the nation with their pessimism and negativity.
Kalev and Yehoshua attempted to once again regain and regenerate the nations trust. The land that we saw is good. G-d has promised it to us and G-d can do whatever He wishes. Giants and fortified cities are nothing before the power of Hashem! Please, we beg of you, do not loose faith in G-d. Do not rebel against Hashem! Unfortunately, their heroic attempt failed, and if not for G-d’s intervention, the people would have killed Kalev and Yehoshua.
The Torah’s account of the events clearly identified Kalev’s leadership, foresight, wisdom and courage. He attempted to divert the Spies even before their report became insidious. The Chofetz Chaim explained that Kalev let the other Spies believe that he was a part of their plot so that he would be in a better position to undermine their conspiracy. Yehoshua, on the other hand, was known to be the servant of Moshe and could not be persuaded to go against Moshe’s leadership. Therefore, Yehoshua was kept out of the plot and was only able to respond after the plot had begun.
In Pasuk 14:24, after Moshe secured G-d’s forgiveness for the nation, G-d singled out Kalev for special mention and reward. Whereas the rest of the generation who witnessed my greatness and glory will die in the desert and not merit to inherit the Land, Kalev, My servant, who exhibited such faith in Me will enter the Promised Land and his children will inherit the land. Furthermore, in Divarim 1:36, Kalev’s unique position and reward is repeated in Moshe’s final words to the Bnai Yisroel.
My Grandfather Zt”l asked the following question. Why was Kalev deserving of such a great reward? If he had successfully challenged the Spies and won back the nations faith, we would understand why G-d gave such a reward. However, even on the basis of G-d rewarding our good intentions, it would not explain the degree of G-d’s appreciation to Kalev. In the end, Kalev failed! The people lost their faith! Why was he still deserving of such reward?
Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt”l explained as follows. When the Spies gave the first part of their report, the nation already began to get discouraged and loose faith. However, when Kalev stepped forward and enthusiastically expressed his own faith and optimism, the people regained their faith and optimism. Had the Spies remained silent, the disaster of the Spies would have been avoided. Tragically, the Spies immediately attacked Kalevs singular voice and the nation again lost their faith in G-d. Yet, for that one short moment, it was Kalev who had renewed the nations faith in G-d and Moshe.
A moment of faith is like a moment of life. The Halacha demands that we transgress the Shabbos in order to protect and save even a moment of life. Likewise, a moment of faith in G-d is of equal importance. How much more so when it is the faith of a nation!
The reward for Kalevs moment of success was to be eternally connected to the people and the Land. He and his descendents inherited the portion of Israel containing Chevron and the Cave of Machpelah. According to some commentaries he eventually ascended to the position of Shofet Judge, following the reign of Yehoshua. (Asniel ben Kenaz)
King David, the great-grandson of Ruth the Moabite, was a direct descendent of Eglon, king of Moab. Why did an evil man like Eglon merit to be one of the progenitors of Mashiach? The Talmud tells us that when Ehud (the Shofet who followed Asniel) approached Eglon with the intention of killing him and saving the nation from his evil oppression, Ehud announced to Eglon, I have a message for you from G-d! The Navi recorded that upon hearing the name of G-d, Eglon rose from his throne in honor of G-d. His reward for that single moment of recognition was to be a progenitor of Mashiach!
The Talmud tells us that the evil Nevuchadnetzar rose to become emperor of the world because of a single time that he honored the name of G-d.
What is the price or value of a single mitzvah? What are the rewards for a single moment of faith? For that matter, contemplate the value of a word of encouragement or a smile.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.