Satan, Tests & Punishment


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Question: Dear Sir, You say that G-d does not reward the wicked and does not punish the righteous, but doesn't he send Satan to test the righteous as he did with Job? Didn't Job suffer great losses?



Mesora:  First of all, you are not quoting me, since I am convinced by the Torah’s words and accounts that God does in fact reward and punish. This is proven by numerous cases in the Torah. God further discusses His system of justice in Ezekiel 18.


"Satan" is not accurately translated when taken to mean an animated, vicious being other. That is the Christian ethic. According to Maimonides and others, Satan is synonymous with the "yetzer hara" (instinctual drives). Satan means, in Hebrew, "to turn aside". The Satan in each of us, simply put, is our instincts. When "Satan speaks", it must be understood to mean that our instincts are "speaking" to us, "luring" us, turning us aside from the right path. It would also be unjust for G-d to create such a being as the Christian Satan, and additionally, not inform us.  


G-d will "test" the righteous. But this too must be understood. According to Nachmanides, G-d "tests" someone, not of course for G-d's learning, but to actualize one's potential, when otherwise it would not be actualized, and potential reward would be lost. Testing is not a punishment, but the opposite, a vehicle by which G-d affords an individual greater good. Nachmanides makes it clear that G-d only tests those who will pass the test. Otherwise, no good would be realized and the test would be superfluous. By G-d allowing Abraham to go through the activities leading up to slaughtering of his son Isaac, Abraham demonstrates his level of his love for G-d, when otherwise he might not have had the chance. This, according to Nachmanides, serves two purposes, 1) to actualize Abraham's benefit, and 2) to teach others how far one should go in their love of G-d.  


It should also be clear that unless one is wholly righteous, perfect intellectually, and without sin, only this rare individual will never be visited with punishment, and will further, be protected from natural tragedies. Most of us however are not this perfect, and will encounter pitfalls of life, as this is part of nature. Sometimes we feel that G-d is punishing us. With insight, we can detect that we have brought about our own suffering, or that the suffering we endure is simply part of the design of nature. For example, those living on volcanic islands will suffer from lava flows, whereas those who were smart enough to vacate, will not. Volcanoes, then, are not a punishment from G-d, but ill fate suffered by those inhabiting such regions and do not relocate to safer locations.