Harav Hagaon Ahron Halevi Soloveichik

The Tochacha

The Tochacha of the Torah has been attacked for basing its admonition on the motives of reward and punishment rather than upon the value of pure morality per se. The attack is twofold. Firstly, how can we explain in the light of the principle of reward and punishment the fact that there are righteous persons living in misery and wicked persons living well?

Secondly, how can those persons be regarded as moral, who serve the Lord for the sole purpose of reaping the promised reward and who refrain from sinning purely from fear of the attended punishment? Is there any good or evil here? Surely, the critics maintain, this is not morality but merely a commercial transaction.

The truth is that there is a moral demand to do good and to refrain from evil not for the sake of a reward. Nevertheless, there is reward and punishment. But the system is by no means like an automatic machine. Job’s friends said to him: you suffer and are miserable; that is proof that you have sinned. But Scripture does not agree with them. In Job it is told that G-d reprimanded Job’s friends for making this remark. We may not assume therefore that all who suffer are wicked and all who prosper are righteous. If it were possible to compute in advance simply and arithmetically the measure of reward and punishment, life would be turned into a double entry ledger with G-d. There is good and evil in this world. Man does not know whether his behaviour will be rewarded in this world. It is not possible to explain every disaster or to find reason for every good. Indeed, the problem does exist of a righteous man living in misery and of a wicked in happiness. But what lies behind all this?

Judaism has a double answer to this question. In the first place, man’s life on earth is but a part of the cycle of his existence. Ecclesiastes defined this in a wonderful antithesis when he said: “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgement that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. And I said in my heart, G-d shall judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is time for every purpose and for every work.”

Scripture does not dwell at length on the world to come; indeed it says very little on transcendent matters. But there can be no doubt that life in the world to come is the central medium of reward and punishment.