Life’s Difficulties

Question

Archive: Though I am a pious Jew, my life has been filled with serious illness, financial struggles, and early deaths in my family. Am I being punished for being good?

, 3 years

Answers

  1. Of course not. One cannot be punished for being good. However, sometimes, one can undergo trials and difficulties because one is good. God has set up the system of reward and punishment in such a way, that for the most part, everything is “paid for” in the next world. This means, one is rewarded for one’s mitzvos and punished for one’s aveiros, not in this lifetime, but in Olam HaBa. For some people, such as the totally wicked, God may decide to “reward” them for the few mitzvos they have done, in this lifetime, “paying them up” here, and sentencing them to eternal purgatory after their death. On the other side, the totally righteous may be punished in this lifetime for the few sins they have inadvertently committed, which admits them immediately into Heaven after their death, without having to be punished at all.

    There are, of course, certain mitzvos that are beneficial to a person during his life, as they have built-in rewards. Honoring one’s parent may be rewardable by long-life; giving Tzedaka may be rewardable financially. At the same time, some aveiros are also punishable immediately. Not fearing God sufficiently, not paying attention to events, not learning a lesson from tragedies are some examples of behavior that may result in immediate retribution. God wishes us to be constantly aware of Him, and of our role as His servants. Where necessary, we may be “hit” with reminders that we aren’t paying enough attention.

    A person’s life is relatively short. The 80+ years that one may merit to live is just a moment in the larger tapestry of time, and mortals generally do not have the vision to view events within their proper context. Someone may suffer in life for reasons unrelated to them. Sometimes one may be punished for the sins of a father or grandfather, just as one might get all the “breaks” in life as a reward for the good deeds of an ancestor. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to understand why things happen, other than to believe firmly that God is in charge, and that everything is running according to His plan.

    The Talmud tells us that a great Rabbi once merited to accompany Eliyahu the Prophet on his divine “errands”. Bear in mind that Eliyahu had “died” over 1,000 years earlier (he was really taken to Heaven alive). The Rabbi and Eliyahu spent a night as guests of an hospitable farmer and his wife. In the middle of the night, the Rabbi observed how Eliyahu went outside and killed the farmer’s cow – their only source of livelihood. The next night, the Rabbi and Eliyahu were treated shabbily by the servants of a rich man. That night, Eliyahu went outside and fixed the rich man’s crumbling wall. Eliyahu later explained his strange behavior to the Rabbi. The farmer’s wife was supposed to have died. By killing the cow instead, Eliyahu saved her. There was a treasure buried beneath the crumbling wall, which would have been discovered, had they fixed it. This way, it would not be discovered. The point of all this is that we don’t know why good things or bad things happen, but if we did, it would definitely make sense. Believing in God is the key. He created the world and created us, all for a purpose. We must strive to fulfill that purpose, pray for what we want, and accept what God gives us.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team