The problem, frequently mooted in the Bible, of reconciling the ideal justice of God with the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked in the world, was forced inescapably on the attention of the Rabbis by the downfall of the monotheistic Jewish State and the triumph of heathen Rome. They solved it by assigning capital importance to a factor which in the Bible is only vaguely and obscurely hinted at – the hereafter or future world. It became an article of faith with them that the righteous suffer only in this world, the reward for their good deeds being reserved for them in the hereafter, while the wicked receive all their rewards in the present world for their few good deeds, and await their punishment in the future world. The spheres of the righteous and wicked in the next world are designated the ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Gehinnom’ respectively. This view was first clearly stated by Rabbi Akiba, who finds in the biblical ascription ‘A God of Truth’ (Deut. xxxii, 4), a categorical affirmation of divine justice. God is very particular with both the righteous and the wicked. For He exacts payment for the few evils which the absolute righteous perform in this world, in order to give them a goodly reward in the future. Likewise, He gives abundant peace to the absolute wicked and pays them for the few good deeds they perform in this world, in order to punish them in the future.’ Similarly, when Rabbi Ishmael was being led out to execution together with Rabbi Simon b. Gamliel, he ascribed the latter’s fate to the offence which he had committed in delaying justice, implying that he, himself, too was about to suffer in this world for his sins.

A. Melinek, “The Doctrine of Reward and Punishment in Biblical and Early Rabbinic Writings,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 284-285.

Advertisements