Why Do The Righteous “Suffer”?
“… the Almighty—the Great, the Powerful, and the Awesome [One]—Who neither exercises favoritism nor accepts bribes. Who performs justice for orphans and widows and loves the convert to give him bread and a garment.” (Devarim 10:17-18)
Mrs. Simchon finally had a few moments of quiet. She decided to relax by reading her newspaper. She went to her mailbox and was upset to see that her newspaper was missing. Later that afternoon, her husband noticed that the newspaper was in the mailbox. The next day, the same thing happened. The newspaper was missing in the morning and reappeared in the afternoon. This time, the newspaper was a little crumpled. Mrs. Simchon was very upset. She put a sign on her mailbox that read, “Do not take the newspaper! If you do, you are a thief!” The following morning, Mrs. Simchon went to get her newspaper. She was shocked to see that her neighbor, Mr. Weiss, was reading it. She was very upset and disappointed. Clearly, Mr. Weiss was the thief who had taken her newspaper previously. This was hurtful to Mrs. Simchon since Mr. Weiss and his wife, as well as his children, had done many favors for the Simchon family. Now Mrs. Simchon realized that Mr. Weiss was not as good a person as he had seemed. He was just a lowly thief! She expressed her angry thoughts to her husband. Her husband agreed that it wasn’t nice to do and that he would talk to Mr. Weiss about it. Mr. Simchon said that despite this, it was not a reason to forget about all the good things that Mr. Weiss had done for them in the past. He was still a good person even though he slipped-up in this regard. They still owed him a debt of gratitude which they should continue to show him. He said, “After all”, we ourselves are not perfect. (The Elucidated Tomer Devorah on the work of the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi)
The Talmud (Brachos 28B) records a story about Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Zakkai, the towering Torah giant of his generation. When he fell ill, his students came to visit him. When he saw them, he began to cry. He told them that he feared Heavenly judgement which was so unlike the judgment of man. He said that if he were being judged by a flesh and blood king, he could maintain hope of eventually being freed from prison…. Furthermore, a flesh and blood king could be appeased with words and even bribed with money. Despite that, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai would still fear the judgement of a flesh and blood king. Certainly, he would be even more afraid when brought to judgement before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, … who cannot be appeased with words or bribed with money.
The Torah (Devarim 10:17) tells us that Hashem does not show favoritism and does not accept bribes. What does it mean that Hashem does not accept bribes? Rashi explains that Hashem can not be appeased by a monetary bribe. The Taz (Divrei Dovid Turei Zahav) questions Rashi’s explanation. How can a person possibly bribe Hashem-the whole world belongs to Hashem?! You are not giving anything to Hashem if it already belongs to Him! The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) answers that the attempted bribe that is being referred to is when a sinner offers a korban to Hashem or sanctifies his money to Hashem. Hashem despises the attempted “bribe” because the sinner did not repent from his sins.
In a similar vein, the Chasam Sofer (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) connects this to the pasuk that follows, “Who performs justice for orphans and widows, and loves the convert to give him bread and a garment”. The Chasam Sofer says that there are some people who do acts of tzedakah and chesed. They build orphanages, homes for the elderly and for the poor, yet they disregard and scorn other mitzvos. The pasuk teaches that since they show contempt towards fulfilling other mitzvos, they should not think that they could bribe Hashem with their acts of tzedakah and chesed. One can’t compensate for a lack of observance through acts of charity and kindness.
The Tur HaArokh (Devarim10:17) says that even a totally righteous person, who committed just a single sin, cannot remove his sin by trading off the reward for the performance of a mitzvah. Rabbeinu Bachya, the Ramban (Devarim10:17), the Rambam and Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 4:22) say that Hashem does not accept the performance of mitzvos as atonement for transgressions. One cannot trade one for the other. For example, if one had 1000 merits and only one sin, one mitzvah does not wash-away the one sin, leaving the person with a total of 999 merits. Hashem will punish the individual for his one sin (unless he repents) and leaves the reward for the 1000 mitzvos fully intact. Hashem calculates mitzvos and sins in separate calculations, rewarding the performance of mitzvos and punishing the transgressions.
Why doesn’t Hashem allow a mitzvah to cancel a sin? Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (The Elucidated Tomer Devorah on the work of the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi) explains it beautifully, that Hashem does it for our benefit. It is due to Hashem’s kindness, that Hashem does not allow a mitzvah to cancel a sin. A mitzvah that one does is priceless! It ascends to the highest heavens, coming to Hashem. It says in Tehillim (5:5) that sins, however, are not allowed entrance to the highest heavens. They are suppressed. Since mitzvos are on such a lofty level, it is not possible to receive such a wonderous reward in the physical world. Therefore, using the reward of a mitzvah to cancel a sin would be like trading a million-dollar bill (the reward for a mitzvah) for a 25-cent candy (cancelling the sin)! Since a mitzvah does not cancel-out a sin the mitzvah remains and we are able to receive the highest and most spiritual kind of reward for that mitzvah. That reward will last for eternity!
However, there are some rewards which we do receive in this world. We are rewarded for the dividends of certain mitzvos. The principle of those mitzvos is reserved for us in the next world.
Sins, on the other hand, can be “repaid” in the physical world. One can repent and cleanse himself from his sins. If he does not repent, he can still be cleansed from his sins through experiencing suffering. Even when one is not totally cleansed of his sins through the suffering that he endures in this world, there is a limit to how much punishment he will receive in Gehinnom to cleanse him from his sins. However, the reward for a mitzvah is eternal!
We can learn from Hashem’s actions not to suppress the good that someone does for us.
Even when someone does something bad to us, we should not focus only on the bad. One should not cancel the goodwill that he feels for a favor done to him by the harm that his friend caused. For example, Reuven did a favor for his friend, Shimon, by carrying his heavy bags on his bicycle.
An important notebook fell out and got dirty.
Shimon should remember Reuven’s help and not just remember that the notebook got dirty.
The reward for doing a mitzvah is eternal. It is more valuable than any reward we could possibly get in our lifetime, in this world. Since the reward for a mitzvah is so great, it would be a terrible loss for us,
if Hashem would take away one of our mitzvos to cancel a sin.
Fortunately, Hashem does not let a mitzvah cancel-out a sin.
Sometimes evil people seem to be experiencing much success, in this world. Hashem is repaying them in this world, where the payment is not as valuable, for any good that they may have done.
On the other hand, Hashem cleanses the righteous in this world of any sins that they may have done, with punishments that are finite.
Hashem shows His love for the righteous. Although Hashem rewards us for the dividends of certain mitzvos now, the principle of the reward for the mitzvos Is given in the next world,
where the reward is priceless and eternal.