(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Reward and Punishment, and Creating Spiritual Garments to Wear in the World to Come
It states in this week’s Parashah, “You must realise that Hashem your G-d is the supreme Being. He is the faithful G-d, who keeps in mind [His] covenant and love for a thousand generations when it comes to those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Devarim 7:9).
These pessukim stand on top of the world! They teach us that there is the concept of reward and punishment! A person shouldn’t think that the world is a free for all. Rather he should realise that he is supervised, unique supervision to him! If he does something which is forbidden, he will have to pay for it. And if he does something good, Hashem Yitbarach will repay him in goodness. As Yirmiyahu the prophet said: “Great in counsel and mighty in deed, Your eyes are cognisant to all the ways of mankind, to grant each man according to his ways and the consequences of his deeds,” (Yirmiyahu 32:19), each person gets exactly what is due to him!
Our chachamim say, one who performs one mitzvah acquires one advocate. From each of the mitzvot that he performs, an angel is created, an attorney, who continually advocates for the person. If the person falls ill, the attorney stands before Hashem and says, Master of the Universe! I was created from this person’s deeds! And likewise the contrary. If a wicked person transgressed a sin he acquires an adversary. But Hashem is slow to anger and therefore we sometimes see that “the way of the wicked prosper” (Yirmiyahu 12:1), we see that Hashem Yitbarach draws out his anger for the wicked, wating for them to repent.
Sometimes however, the wicked person has no merit, yet despite this Hashem allows him to live a long time. This is because Hashem knows that he is destined to produce righteous children.
We find that this happened with King David a”h, when he arrived at the city of Bachurim. Shimi ben Geyra went out to meet him and cursed him. As it states, “King David came until Bachurim, and behold – a man of Shaul’s family was coming out from there, named Shimi ben Geira, and he was cursing as he was coming out! He pelted David and all of King David’s servants with stones, as well as all the people and the soldiers, to his right and to his left. And this is what Shimi said as he cursed, ‘Go out, go out, you man of bloodshed, you base man!’” (Shmuel II, 16:5-7), Shimi was so arrogant and abused King David!
At that moment, Avishai arose and wanted to execute Shimi, as it states, “Avishai ben Tzeruyah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? I will go on ahead and take off his head!’” (ibid.). But Kind David stopped Avishai, because he attributed the abuse that he received from Heaven to atone for a sin, as it states, “Hashem said to him, ‘Curse David’” (ibid.), and he did not agree for Shimi to be punished at that moment.
However, prior to his death, David ordered his son, “Behold, with you is Shimi ben Geira, the Benjamite from Bachurim. He cursed me with a powerful curse on the day I went to Machanayim; but he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by Hashem, saying, ‘I will not put you to the death by the sword.’ But now you should not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man” (Melachim I, 2:8-9), David commanded his son Shlomoh that he should kill Shimi.
What did King David do? “The king sent a message summoning Shimi, and said to him, ‘Build yourself a house in Yerushalayim and live there; you may not leave it [to go] anywhere. It shall be on the day that you leave it and cross over the Kidron Valley you should know well that you will certainly die’” (Melachim I, 2:36-37). Shlomoh warned Shimi that if he leaves Yerushalayim he will immediately kill him. “Shimi said to the king, ‘The word that my lord the king has spoken is good; so shall your servant do’” (ibid.). However after three years two of Shimi’s servants ran away and he left Yerushalayim to find them. This was considered a rebellion against the monarchy. Shlomoh became aware of this, “The king then commanded Benayahu ben Yehoyada, and he went out and struck him and he died” (ibid. I, 2:46).
In the meantime, between the time that Shimi had cursed David and until Shlomoh killed him, what happened? Shimi had a son, and from his seed Mordechai HaYehudi was born! If not for the fact that Hashem decreed more life for Shimi ben Geira, we would have lost Mordechai!
We don’t know the future, therefore we don’t always understand, why Hashem sometimes doesn’t rush to punish. If with Shimi ben Geira Hashem had immediately taken revenge, this would have been a great punishment for Am Yisrael because Mordechai wouldn’t have come into this world! On the other hand, not to forget that in the end Hashem does punish the wicked and gives good reward to the righteous. This is a strong, pure belief that we have, that we don’t see everything straightaway. But in the end everything is comprehended, this is the way things look. “You must realise that Hashem your G-d is the Supreme Being. He is the faithful G-d”.
It states in Megillat Rut, that Boaz said to Rut, “May Hashem reward your deed, and may your payment be full from Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Rut 2:12). One should contemplate that there is a repetition in the passuk, “May Hashem reward your deed” and afterwards “may your payment be full,” what is the novelle idea that “may your payment be full”? Would one think that it would be lacking?
This is understood as follows:
When a person fulfils a mitzvah, for example, he studies Torah, it states about him, “If you have become wise, you have become wise for your own good” (Mishlei 9:12), he does something good for himself. But there is also an additional dimension, that when his soul goes to heaven, he requires “garments”. Spiritual garments that honour him. This is called “the garments of scholars”, about which it states, “I donned righteousness, and it suited me” (Eyob 29:14), these garments are made from a material woven from Torah and mitzvot.
It once happened that Rebbi Eliezer, Rebbi Yehoshua and Rebbi Akivah, the greatest in their generation, went to the city of Ashkelon where Rebbi Yose HaGenan lived. On their way they saw an angel standing and he was holding beautiful garment, very respectful but with no collar. They asked him, “To whom does this garment belong?” He replied to them, “It is for Rebbi Yossi HaGenan, and therefore it is missing a collar, but for you awaits a much better garment than this!”
The chachamim went to Rebbi Yose HaGenan and said to him, “We are currently gathering money for a certain cause, help us!” Rebbi Yose replied that he is poor and has nothing to give them. He came home and turned to his wife Chulnit, his righteous wife asked him, “What happened?” He replied to her, “Our chachamim are here and I don’t know what to do!’ She said to him, “How can you turn away the greatest chachamim of the generation empty handed? You have a field, sell half of it and you will manage with just the other half! Then you may give the money to the rabbanim!” Rebbi Yose listened to her because he was righteous and generous. Indeed he sold half of his field and he gave the money to the rabbanim for tzedakah.
Afterwards, Rebbi Yose HaGenan began ploughing his field, and the plough fell into a ditch and the cow broke its leg. Hashem enlightened Rebbi Yose, he saw that the pit collapsed opening up because it was full of coins. From this treasure Rebbi Yose became extremely wealthy. (In the Jerusalem Talmud, Horayot, part of this story is related but not stating that it was Rebbi Yose HaGenan but rather Aba Yehudah.)
Rebbi Yose said, “It was to my benefit that my cow broke its leg!” The rabbanim said, “You should know that we have now seen your garment that it is complete. Its collar is finished in merit of the mitzvah of tzedakah!”
If so we have learnt that a person who performs mitzvot has created for himself respectful garments. But a poor person who studies Torah and doesn’t fulfil mitzvot! His soul will lack garments. Understandably this is from a spiritual perspective, as these people are called in the Zohar “naked souls”. This is the truth that someone who fails to observe the mitzvot, his soul is embarrassed in the true world, such a person’s soul is in a sorry state!
Similar to this is related in the Talmud (Avodah Zara 17a), that Rebbi Elazar ben Durdiya, originally called Elazar who had previously committed many sins. One day Hashem inspired him to repent. He repented and sat on the floor and cried. He remembered his sins and cried until due to his extreme pain he died! A Heavenly Voice stated, “Rebbi Elazar ben Durdiyah is ready for Olam Haba!” Rebbi (Rebbi Yehudah HaNasi, also known as Rabbeinu HaKadosh) heard this, cried and said, “One may acquire his world in one moment!”
We need to ask, why did he cry? On the contrary, he should have rejoiced! Rebbi cried because Rebbi Elazar merited to make teshuvah, which is great. But he didn’t manage to fulfil mitzvot, so lamentably, his soul will arrive in the True World and will have no respectable garments! Therefore Rebbi cried, because if Rebbi Elazar had fulfilled mitzvot his soul would have had respectable garments to cover itself with.
This is the explanation of what Boaz said to Rut, “May Hashem reward your deed” and afterwards also, “may your payment be full,” you shall not just receive honourable clothes, or just a reward, but both of these. A complete reward and also honourable clothes! This is the kindness that Hashem Yitbarach bestows, beyond the letter of the law! Hashem Yitbarach pays reward! And conversely also there is punishment! This is an important principle in our pure belief, and we must continually remember this.
A watchful eye, a listening ear and also your deeds are written in a book! (Avot 2:1).