What is the primary idea of “Reward and Punishment”? To answer this question, a few sources are required reading. In his 11th of his 13 Principles, Maimonides writes as follows:
“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins - and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”
In chapter nine of his Laws of Repentance, Maimonides commences with an explanation of a foreseen problem: the Torah views the World to Come as our ultimate reward. Therefore, Maimonides questions – for the reader – all the blessings and curses contained in the Torah, to be received by us “on Earth”. If we are to receive blessings, land, children and great harvests as a response to mitzvahs, we are confused as to whether this is our reward, or if the World to Come is our reward. Maimonides resolves this question, explaining that God’s promises of Earthly blessings are not the end good for man. These blessings are granted to those who follow the Torah lifestyle, seeking Torah study and love of God as their primary concern. For these people, God grants them all their needs so they might be sustained here and enabled to study, thereby earning them their eternal life in the World to Come. Earthly blessings are a means.
Maimonides is in agreement with the Talmud, “There is no reward for Mitzvahs in this world” (Kiddushin 39b). Much is taught on that page in Kiddushin. One idea is that we receive no reward for mitzvahs in this world, exemplified by the son who respected his father’s wish to ascend to the loft and send away the mother bird and capture the young. For both commands – honoring his father and sending away the mother bird – the Torah promises “long life”. However, the son died while descending from the loft. The Talmud then asks, “Where is the long life of this son?” The answer: “long life” guaranteed by the Torah for mitzvahs, is interpreted in this Talmudic portion as life in the World to Come. Another idea we learned from this portion is that those with more merits than sins will receive punishments here to pave the way for a pristine existence in the next world, free from punishments. Since we all sin, we must pay the price for our sins, and fortunate are we that the price we pay is temporal, here on Earth, and not as the wicked receive: a loss of the World to Come. What a tragedy. Having approached the topic of evils that befall man, let us elaborate.
Maimonides writes that the evils of man are one of three types (“Guide”; book III, chap XII): 1) natural causes, like floods; 2) human interaction, like war; and 3) self-inflicted problems, the last, Maimonides states is the largest cause of our problems. Of course, God may also afflict us, but this would not satisfy the requirement of an “evil” as God’s afflictions are in fact welcomed remedies: “For those who God loves does He rebuke.” (Proverbs, 3:12)
Now, let us consider: if there are but three types of evils, and a forth category of God’s afflictions, how is it that we might remove these evils or afflictions? We would either, 1) remove ourselves from areas and conditions most probable of experiencing nature’s wrath. Thus, we would not build our homes near volcanoes or in valleys that flood, and if sick, we would research medical treatments; 2) we would establish courts, police and foster peace so men do not harm each other; and 3) we would educate ourselves away form anything that might harm us, minimizing or removing self-inflicted problems of all types. To remove ourselves from God’s afflictions, we would follow his Torah system: we would not sin, and we would strive to educate ourselves at every turn, to enjoy the most tranquil and rewarding lifestyle. And if we do see that God has afflicted us, we would follow what the Torah teaches from the prophet, “Let us search and examine our ways and return to God”. (Lamentations, 3:40) God says that through introspection and abandoning our evil, we will return to God, and rightfully true as well, God will then abandon His punishments. Therefore, according to God’s Torah system, any other action cannot remove one’s problems. We must reverse our course that brought us to a problematic state in life.
This is so reasonable, we are therefore greatly disturbed that the religious of our own people who completely discard our Rabbis, the Talmud, and God’s very words. Last month we were approached by one organization Tzintz.org that promised fertility and great fortune for anyone who sponsors a reprint of a dead Rabbi’s works. Today, we were again approached by another organization called Chairotel.com that promises fertility, recovery, spouses, and other promises. On their website, they write this:
“As part of an ancient custom, Jews from all over the holy land travel to the gravesite of R’ Shimon bar Yochai and study the Zohar on his grave with a mixture of trepidation and awe. All the while aware of the countless miracles that have taken place at the very same site, the visitors give charity and utter heartfelt prayers on the spot, drawing on the reserve of holiness and power etched in the stone and vested in the earth surrounding the resting place of R’ Shimon.”
Chairotel.com asks for money to pour cold drinks for gravesite visitors, and promises fertility, recovery, spouses, and other promises. They also claim “holiness and power” exist in the Earth at this location. Their approach pays no attention to Maimonides’ words, to the Talmud in Kiddushin, which says there is no reward for mitzvah on Earth, and to God in Lamentations who says that we must change our ways if we are to be forgiven. Jacob too told his barren wife that she must pray to be entitled to children, and that he – Jacob – was powerless. If Jacob was powerless, these organizations are wrong to violate the words of our patriarch.
Torah rejects this notion that by performing an unrelated mitzvah, we will correct our wrong in another area that makes us barren, or sick. Sforno states this openly, “A mitzvah does not atone for a sin”. (Exod. 32:33) Therefore, if one is barren, she must investigate her ways and repent to earn God’s kindness, and children. Or she may simply require medical treatment. But the notion that Chairotel.com supports is against the Torah, and reason. Giving money for this mitzvah can in no way make a sick person recover, if God wills the person sick due to his sins. We cannot avert God’s punishments with unrelated activities, or even with mitzvahs.
Tzintz.org writes on their website and in their ads that the dead Rabbi will be an “advocate” for whomever reprints his books. What does the Torah say about seeking intermediaries and advocates? Maimonides states in Laws of Idolatry 2:1 that it is prohibited to create an intermediary between one’s self and God. This is classified as Avodah Zara, idolatry. Otsar Tefilos says as follows (weekday morning Shmoneh Essray, “Oseh Shalom Bimromav”) “For we have a great fundamental; it is not fitting to pray to any creation in the world and to request any assistance from it, except from God alone.” Furthermore, Maimonides classifies one as a “min” (heretic) anyone who “worships a star, a constellation or anything else, that it should be an “advocate” between him and God.” (Laws of Repentance, 3:7) It makes no difference if the advocate is dead Rabbi. To further the sin of such practitioners, Maimonides also states that those who mislead the Jewish nation have no share in the World to Come. (ibid; 3:6, 3:10) In 3:10, Maimonides includes even those who mislead the Jews on a small matter…how much greater is their sin when they steer Jews away from our fundamentals?
As these ads appear in national Jewish papers, it is equally upsetting that Rabbis, columnists, and leaders well aware of such philosophies do not speak out to defend Torah truths, and protect the innocent masses from falling prey to these fabrications, harboring vain hopes. It is cruel to keep other Jews in the dark, allowing the lies of these organizations to proliferate unopposed. A concerned Jew is obligated to rebuke a fellow Jew, and to educate others on imposter philosophies. Do not be misled by the popularity of these philosophies, or of their association with names like Rav Shimon bar Yochai. As Maimonides taught, intermediaries and advocates are against the Torah. Certainly, God can hear each one of us without the “assistance” of dead people. And God will not remove His punishments unless we remove our sins…doing other mitzvahs like these groups claim will not atone for a sin we still repeat.
I urge all responsible Jews, teachers and Rabbis to write any Jewish publication that supports these organizations, and protest their ads. Write to the organizations as well, and inform them that you reject their false claims, which violate Torah fundamentals, and mislead the masses…both are grave sins.
If many of us voice our rejection of these popular practices, we can correct Torah distortions, and dissuade further misconceptions. We will return Jews to the authentic, reasonable Torah fundamentals voiced by true leaders such as Maimonides and our prophets. But if we are silent, we allow further deviations.