The reward and punishments written in the Torah are intended primarily for the entire nation, and are meant to be fulfilled in this world * The blessing is realistic: A nation that lives a Torah and faith-based life – is wiser, invests more, has more families, and is more successful in all spheres of life * When the State of Israel lives according to the Torah, its security, scientific, and economic success will make it exemplary for the Gentiles * On Rosh Hashanah we pray primarily for the crowning of Hashem as King through the nation * In the exile, crowning of Hashem as king was expressed mainly in our cry that He save us; in the Land of Israel, the crowning of Hashem means accepting responsibility and building a society according to the ways of Torah
The Question of Reward and Punishment
It is widely believed that the reward and punishment written in the Torah in affairs concerning life in this world are mainly directed at the individual, who, if he follows the ways of Torah and mitzvot will merit wealth and happiness, and a good and healthy life. If so, a question arises – how is it that there are tzadikim (righteous people) who suffer from poverty, illnesses, and deprivation, and in contrast, rasha’im (evil people) who enjoy riches, good health, and esteem.
Indeed, our Sages said: “The length of one’s life, the number of children he will have, and his livelihood, depend not on merit, but rather on mazal (good fortune)” (Moed Katan 28a). All of these virtues are not dependent on one’s merit, but on his mazal, in other words, his fate, or the destiny he was assigned when born. The Gemara brings evidence of this from the lives of two of the great Amora’im – Rabbah and Rav Hisda, who were both tzadikim — in times of drought, both of their prayers were answered. Rav Hisda lived ninety-two years, and Rabbah lived only forty years. In Rav Hisda’s house, sixty weddings took place, and in Rabbah’s house, sixty cases of bereavement occurred. In Rav Hisda’s house wealth abounded – even the dogs were fed the purest wheaten bread (‘loshon guzma’ – not to be taken literally), while Rabbah’s house was poverty-stricken – they didn’t even always have cheap barley bread to satisfy their needs.
The Remuneration Spoken of in the Torah is intended for the Clal
Rather, the main reward and punishment for the individual are in Olam HaNeshamot (the World of Souls) and Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come), whereas the reward and punishment written in the Torah are written for Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), for the Torah talks of rainfall and economic blessing that descends from Heaven over the entire Land of Israel, and a general state of health, fertility and peace, victories over enemies and a praiseworthy status in the world, and above all, the dwelling of the Shekinah (Divine Presence). And as for punishment, in contrast, drought, a curse on the crops of the Land, poverty and famine, epidemics, defeat at the hands of our enemies, the concealment of the Shekinah, servitude to other nations, and exile.
A nation’s general situation, of course, greatly affects each and every individual, for indeed, even if an intelligent and industrious person is born in a poor country torn by wars, his life will be short and miserable. In contrast, someone born in a rich and developed country, even if he is not so talented and diligent, will live a comfortable life.
Freedom of Choice
If the main reward and punishment in this world was intended for the individual, we wouldn’t have bechira chofshit (freedom of choice), and no expression of the tzelem Elokim (image of God) in man, for if every sinner was punished on the spot – no one would ever sin, and if for every good deed a person received an immediate reward – everyone would be tzadikim. However, when the judgment is for the Clal, in any case, it progresses in a long and complex process, and an individual’s fate depends largely on his overall destiny, and not by his choice. Thus, each individual chooses his path according to his beliefs and values.
In any event, the precise and correct judgment remains unchanged, for, in Olam HaBa, each individual will receive exactly what he deserves.
A Glimpse of the World to Come in this World
All the same, a little bit of the reward in Olam HaBa descends from above and is revealed in this world, for indeed, a person who chooses the good path – merits emunah (faith), and consequently, everything that happens in his life, fills him with meaning; even when he suffers torment, Hashem is with him, and his anguish is eased. On the other hand, one who chooses evil, even if he enjoys the pleasures of this world, his life is empty and meaningless, and ultimately becomes loathsome. Besides that, the more we look at the longer term, we see that even in this world, the tzadikim usually merit greater blessing.
The Natural Blessing of Torah Life
Let’s return to the Torah’s guidance – if we follow the ways of Hashem we will merit receiving favor and blessing, that will come to us in a natural way. This is one of the most important objectives of Torah study – explaining the logic of how the observance of Torah and mitzvot gives value and meaning to all fields, and thus, is blessed. Even if such an advantage is indicated by a few percentage points on an individual basis, and consequently does not violate bechira chofshit, when it comes to an entire public living by the light of Torah – the blessing is wonderfully abundant.
In other words, if we comprehend the Torah properly, we will better understand the value of education in general, and the development of science in particular (as explained in Rambam, the Gaon of Vilna, and many more), and as a result, it would be reasonable to assume that our children will, on the average, reach better academic achievements by a few percentage points than is customary in developed countries. Thanks to recognizing the value of work and its contribution to tikun olam (perfecting the world), they will exert a bit more effort acquiring a quality and useful profession, and at their jobs, will probably reach a slightly higher level on the average than is customary in developed countries. Thanks to setting regular times for Torah study throughout the week, and in particular on Shabbat, they will merit a little bit more inspiration in development, creativity, and assimilating Torah values in their fields. Thanks to modesty and moderation, each individual relative to what he or she has, they can spend more years studying the profession or science they chose, and reach slightly better achievements in their fields.
Thanks to emunah and adherence to tradition, all these values will continue to be strengthened, and will also add social cohesion and a sense of camaraderie. Thanks to the Torah guidance of family life, more families will live in love and happiness, and merit raising more children to Torah and mitzvot, and all other good deeds. Thanks to emunah, there will be greater willingness to contribute to the nation in the army and in settlement of the country; the security situation of the state will improve, and of course, this improvement will reflect on all other areas.
In order to realize all this goodness for the long-term, of course, everything has to be founded on the belief in Hashem and His Torah, with all its values and morals.
The Vision for the State of Israel
If indeed we do merit adhering to the proper path, we can assume that the State of Israel’s GNP (Gross National Product) will be, on average, higher than the other developed countries. We will continue advancing in the fields of social welfare, improve the educational system, and then, within two generations, the average wage in Israel will be twice as high as in the most developed countries. The Nation of Israel, living in its Land, will multiply, grow stronger, and lead the world in terms of ethics, science, and economics.
Diaspora Jews, of course, will long to make aliyah and take part in the success, and even those “lost in the land of Assyria, and those dispersed in the land of Egypt” will seek to discover their roots, and return to their People and their Land. And a great, powerful, and populous nation will proclaim faith and justice to the world, paving the way for moral education and intellectual development for the benefit of mankind, innovating methods and technologies for longevity and quality of life, and thus, in a natural way, we will merit seeing the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision: “In the end of days, the mount of the Lord’s Temple will be established above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.’ The Torah will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2: 2-3).
Rosh Hashanah Prayer
Consequently, our main prayers in the Yamim Nora’im (the High Holidays) concern the general condition of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, and this is the main judgment rendered on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, in the Birkat Ha’Yom (blessing of the Day) in the Amidah (silent) prayer, our main request is for the dwelling of the Shekhinah and the revelation of His kingdom in the world, upon which blessing is contingent: “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and his sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”
The Crowning of Hashem – Accepting Responsibility
A person may think that the foundation of emunah is self-effacement and the recognition of man’s uselessness as opposed to the greatness of Hashem, and thus, his whole prayer is just a cry for help, that Hashem will do everything, save and redeem us. However, according to everything we have learned in the Torah, from the ways of our Avot (our forefathers) and tzadikim, the meaning of crowning Hashem is the fulfillment of the Torah in all its glory, by means of which, all blessings in the Torah are continually revealed, and this is the way the kingdom of Hashem is revealed in the world.
In this manner, Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) is much greater, since not only does Hashem bestow upon us plenty from above, but rather, by our following in the path of Torah and mitzvot – Divine abundance already inherent in man and the world is continually revealed. As it is said: “Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from Heaven. Yes, Hashem gives what is good, and our Land yields its produce.” (Psalm 85:12- 13).
This is how Hashem is crowned in the world in the proper manner.
However, when God forbid, we are in terrible exile, all we have left is to cry out to Hashem, and this is the way we proclaim His kingdom – that we have not lost faith He will redeem us. But when He begins to redeem us, and we have the ability to act, then, it is our duty to fulfill the Torah in practice, and do all we can to realize its guidance and blessings. This is the true de’vaykut (devotion) to Hashem – that all of life is all revealed through our faith and actions.
We Forgot How to Crown
As a result of the agonies of exile, to a certain extent, we have forgotten how to reveal the kingdom of Hashem in the proper way. This is because, on account of the sins that led to exile, His kingdom is revealed to us through punishment, the most severe of which is exile with all its terrible sufferings, and consequently, all we have left is to cry out to Hashem. However, this is not the appropriate way, for the punishment came as a result of of the forsaking of Divine guidance in the world. In other words, the problem was not that we did not cry out to Hashem, but rather, that we went astray after idolatry, and sinned in murder, incest, the torment of orphans and widows, distortion of justice, baseless hatred, unethical behavior between man and his fellow man, desecration of Shabbat, and slave bondage. As a result of this, all the work in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was individual; society fell apart, and all the curses in the Torah came upon us. If we do not make an effort to be redeemed from exile on our, willingly, then: “This is what Hashem Elokim says: As surely as I live, with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, I will be your king!” (Ezekiel 20:33).
We must pray on the Yamim Nora’im, they should be for the good, that we merit working in conjunction with Hashem in the revelation of His kingdom, through the powers, talents, and initiative that Hashem has given us, and by doing so, we will merit receiving all the Torah’s blessings in a natural way, all of which are songs and glory to the King of the world.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.