For what is Man Judged?

Alongside the judgement of Clal Yisrael, which is the central point of the High Holidays, every single individual is also judged * The individual’s judgement mainly concerns the World to Come, that is, the World of Souls and after the Resurrection of the Dead * The judgement on the World to Come also includes the path to it in this world – will one merit conditions in his life that will help him in Torah and Mitzvot, and what challenges will he face in order to fulfill his purpose * Reward is not evident in this world, in order to allow free choice. But for the most part, those who choose the good path and know how to take a deep look – realize that in the long run, they have been blessed

We learned in the previous column that the main judgement and prayer in the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays) is for Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), who reveal Malchut Hashem (the kingdom of God) in the world, thereby perfecting it. In this column we will examine the judgement of the individual, who’s ideal kavana (intention) should be to merit uniting with Clal Yisrael in Tikun Olam Be’Malchut Shadai (perfection of the world in the kingdom of God).

Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tzadikim (righteous) are judged for life, and rasha’im (wicked) for death, and as we will learn further on, the meaning is life both in Olam Ha’Zeh (this world), and Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) (Rosh Hashanah 16b).

The Two Stages of Olam Ha’Ba

Life in Olam Ha’Ba consists of two stages. The first stage begins after man’s death – then, his neshama (soul) ascends to Olam Ha’Neshamot (the World of Souls), where Gan Eden (Heaven) is for the tzadikim, and Gehinom (Hell) for the rasha’im. The second stage will come after Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat Ha’Maytim (the Resurrection of the Dead), at which stage the souls will be reunited with the body, and together, will have an infinite elevation (Ramban, ‘Shaar Hagemul’; Ramchal, ‘Derech Hashem’ Part 1, Chap. 3).

Olam Ha’Ba in its two stages is also called Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth), because in contrast to Olam Ha’Zeh where falsehood prevails and the external image obscures the inner essence – in Olam Ha’Ba, the true status of man, and the true value of his actions, is clarified. Seeing as Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely more important than Olam Ha’Zeh because “this world is like a lobby before the World to Come” (Avot 4: 16), in the opinion of many Torah Sages, the main judgement a person is judged on Rosh Hashanah is on Olam Ha’Ba.

The Judgement of Olam Ha’Ba

There are two components of judgement concerning Olam Ha’Ba. One is that every year, all the actions a person does during the year is taken into account – for the good actions, reward is reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba, and for the bad ones, punishment. However, the judgement on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if one repents in the coming years, he will save himself from judgement in Gehinom, and his reward in Olam Ha’Ba will be increased. But if, God forbid, he changes his mind, and regrets the good deeds he did, he will inherit Gehinom, and lose the reward that was reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba.

The second part concerns one’s ability to come closer to Hashem in the coming year. A person judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities throughout the year that will help him continue elevating in Torah and mitzvot, by way of which he will merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. When learning Torah, he will merit gaining additional enlightenment and understanding, and while fulfilling mitzvot and good deeds, merit gaining additional joy and blessing – me’ayn Olam HaBa (a taste of the World to Come). But if, God forbid, one is judged for death, he will encounter throughout the year challenges and events liable to distance himself from Hashem, and lose his Olam Ha’Ba. In such a situation, even when studying Torah, it will be difficult for him to absorb the Divine enlightenment in it, and even when performing mitzvot, he will not feel the kedusha (holiness) and oneg (pleasure) of the mitzvot properly.

What are “Life” and “Death”?

Overall reward is called chaim (life), and punishment is called mavet (death). The meaning of life is closeness and attachment to Hashem, the Source of Life, by which man merits all the good that Hashem showers in Olam Ha’Zeh, Olam Ha’Neshamot, and Olam Ha’Ba. Since the root of all goodness and pleasure in this world comes from life that Hashem showers to the world, the reward in Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are only but a pale reflection of the source of pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world” (Avot 4: 17). This is because in Olam Ha’Ba, one is able to enjoy the splendor of Hashem and revel in Him, and life in him becomes infinitely greater and intensified, whereas in this world, the Divine Light comes to us through screens and great reduction. Nevertheless, by adhering to Hashem in the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, one can also gain a taste of Olam Ha’Ba in this world, and gain enjoyment from de’veykut (adherence) to Hashem.

In contrast to reward termed chaim, the general name of punishment is termed mavet (death), which means distancing from the Source of Life, which causes the increase of distress, until the death of the body in this world, and agony of the soul in Gehinom.

The Complexity of Judgement and Free Choice

Although the rules of judgement are simple, namely, that a person who walks in the ways of Hashem is blessed in this world and the next, and one who is evil is punished in this world and the next, the details of judgement are infinitely profound and complex. Consequently, there are incidences where a righteous person suffers from poverty and illness and dies at an early age, and an evil person who persists his wicked ways in prosperity and good health. The main point is that everything is aimed at Tikun Olam. I will explain this a bit.

In order to perfect the world, man must have free choice. Therefore, as long as the world has not yet reached perfection, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good, and the wicked, to suffer. Thus, the rule of judgement is extremely complex and detailed, and thus, there will always be righteous people having to deal with anguish, and evil people that seem to enjoy the pleasures of this world. In this way, free choice is not compromised, and the person who chooses goodness, merits perfecting himself, and the entire world.

At any rate, when the long-term is weighed, for example, family relationships and true happiness in life, we find that in general, righteous people merit blessing in this world as well, and the wicked are punished. And this is the main challenge, for the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) inclines man to observe the world superficially and short-term, whereas the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) encourages man to look deeply and in the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that in general, even in this world the righteous usually merit favor and the wicked are tormented, free choice still remains, because in the short-term, things are not evident.

The Meaning of Judgement when Fate is Determined

I will explain a bit about the details of judgement: There could be a man whose destiny in life is to be rich and cope with the yetzer accompanying wealth – therefore, even if he sins a lot, he will be rich. All of the judgement on Rosh Hashanah in this matter is about the conditions of his life as a rich person – whether he will be happy with his wealth, or be agitated by worries because of it. Concerning his life in Olam Ha’Ba as well – judgement is whether his wealth will cause him to endure very difficult trials, easy trials, or may even assist him in serving Hashem. On the other hand, there could be a person destined to cope with poverty, and therefore, even if he has numerous merits, will remain poor – his judgement is about whether poverty will be unbearable or tolerable, and concerning Olam Ha’Ba – whether the conditions of his life as a poor person will benefit or hinder him in serving Hashem. In rare cases, as a result of special merits or severe sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

Judgement when Fate is Not Determined

Occasionally, a person’s destiny is not determined, but rather, sets the direction and allows for certain changes. In this case, the judgement of Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person destined to be rich – whether he will be well-off, wealthy, or extremely rich; for a poor person as well – whether he will be a little tight, downright poor, or destitute.

Sometimes a person has no special destiny to be poor or rich, and thus his fate is not permanent, but since he has chosen to act properly regarding money matters and tzedakah (charity), he justifiably deserves to be rich. In such a situation he will gradually become wealthier, so that he may continue growing in piety and righteousness. And other times it is revealed before the Knower of hidden thoughts, that if he were to gain wealth, his yetzer would overcome him, and he would be likely to sin in pride, lust, and greed, and lose his degree of righteousness. In this situation, since devotion to Hashem is the main factor, upon which his life depends, he is shown mercy and judged with difficulty in parnassa (earning a living) so that he can escape the difficult challenge, and merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. But if he was not so worthy, he may become rich in this world, but would have to face difficult challenges liable to relegate him to the worst of places.

According to the Extent of the Challenge

There is another consideration, namely, the degree of challenge it takes for a person to choose good and avoid evil. Some people, by the fate of their destiny, were created with a very strong evil inclination, or grew up in a harsh and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn a little Torah and do a few good deeds – it has tremendous value, and they will merit great reward. As our Sages said: “The reward is according to the suffering” (Avot 5: 23). On the other hand, there are people whose good inclination is strong, and grew up in a good environment, and therefore if they sin, they will be severely punished.

Reward for the Wicked in This World, and Vice Versa

There is an additional accounting, namely, that sometimes the judgement of a rasha who performed some mitzvot is to receive all the reward for it in this world, in order to be relegated to Gehinom. And at times the judgement of a righteous person who sinned a bit, is to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden pure and clean.

Although reward in this world is incomparable to the reward in Olam Ha’Ba, such judgement is just and proper, because the rasha did his mitzvot for superficial reasons – to boast and brag – consequently, it is appropriate that his reward also be in this fleeting world, and not to receive reward for them in Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth). And similarly for a tzadik, seeing as his main desire is devotion to Hashem – if he sinned by mistake, just as his sin is superficial, it is only fitting his punishment be superficial in this world, and be cleansed until no stain remains from it in Olam Ha’Ba (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Part 2, 2:6).

Judgement of the Clal and the Individual

Another point: Although judgement on Rosh Hashanah is for the nation as a whole and for each individual, judgement of the individual is greatly influenced by the general state of the nation – each nation according to its own state of affairs. Indeed, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits to be inundated with blessing – the blessing is not hindered because some individuals are punished for their sins; likewise, when the nation as a whole receives punishment – the punishment is not hindered because some individuals merit reward. However, sometimes there is a contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, such as when the nation is punished with destruction and exile, and in that case, it is inevitable that the righteous are punished as well. Even so, the judgement remains in force, for in Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the tzadikim will receive their full reward, and the entire completion will be in Olam Ha’Ba, at the time of Techiyat Ha’Maytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls will reunite with their bodies.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. To read the

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.