1-Good things happen to good people. Because God rewards good behavior. [Lev 26:3-13]

2-Bad things happen to bad people. Because God punishes bad behavior. [Lev 26:14-45]

3-Good things happen to bad people. Because they are rewarded for their few instances of good behavior, leaving the bulk of their punishment for the World to Come. [Lev. R. 27:1]

4-Bad things happen to good people. Because they are punished for their few instances of bad behavior, leaving the bulk of their reward for the World to Come. [Lev. R. 27:1]

Why should (1) and (3) [or (2) and (4)] be different? Is the answer that what happens to an individual depends on just HOW good or HOW bad he is? And how does one measure that? Source?

  • Yerushalmi peah 1.1 רובי זכיות ומעוטי עבירות נפרעים ממנו מיעוט עבירות קלות שעשה בעולם הזה בשביל ליתן לו שכרו משלם לעתיד לבא אבל רובי עבירות ומעוטי זכיות נותנין לו שכר מצות קלות שעשה בעוה"ז בשביל לפרע ממנו משלם לעולם הבא אבל הפורק ממנו עול והמיפר ברית והמגלה פנים בתורה אע"פ שיש בידו מעש"ט נפרעי' ממנו בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 3:04
  • I think Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah and Shaar Hgemual from Ramban will answer your questions as these works are all encompassing our tradition.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 3:08
  • 1
    Related, if not duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/85560/… judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/60599/…
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 6:22
  • You forgot 1. the heredity/reincarnation - "פוקד עון אבות על בנים" and 2. some suffer for the "whole generation" and 3. some sins are punished here and some in the afterlife(?) 4. Some people are born bad and some are intrinsically good. Therefore IMHO that it is absolutely impossible to trace any form of causality. That said, the principles you mentioned can apply in theory, but their mixture is impossible to apprehend.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:36
  • There is no answer. Or, to paraphrase RYBSoloveitchik, "Any answer to theodicy will be emotionally cold or intellectually dishonest, and usually both." Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


Why do bad things happen to good people?

Since antiquity, philosophers have toiled to answer the question of why good people suffer. I read the novel "Creation" by Gore Vidal but did not find any satisfying answer by the two philosophers, Confucius or the Buddha. Though well-intended, there are, to them, two possibilities. Either (1) G-d is not all-good or all-powerful or (2) karma dictates that people should suffer as explained in reincarnation.[1] Both explanations are not satisfactory. I take a third approach. As Rambam pointed out, there are three things that cause suffering (evil). I think Maimonides answered this well.

Since G-d is good, He doe not emit evil. Evil is the result of three things, (1) people harm themselves when stepping in front of a red light or (2) people harm others as when one nation decides to dominate over another or (3) natural law, although good for the world at a whole as when a hurricane cleans the earth may harm people residing near the proximity.

What is sin?

The biblical portion of Behar warns the Israelites to observe G-d’s commands. If they do they are promised property and will “dwell securely on the land” (Leviticus 25:18).

Sin is a transgression of the divine commandment. Though there is two ways to understand sin. The emotional adherents carry unresolved guilt while the rationalist improves. They avoid the destructive sense of guilt and direct their emotions to constructive thought. Surprising as this may sound, “sin” is actually not in the Hebrew Bible. The word is chet, and it means “to miss the mark.” One can imagine an archer releasing his shaft and shooting an arrow, realizing that he missed his target. What do you do when you miss your target? Do you beat your chest, weep devastatingly, and create all kinds of ceremonies to “atone” for the missed shot? No. You consider why you got the disappointing results, reach into your quiver, and shoot again. This rational approach examines why one failed and asserts not to repeat the loss.

What is repentance and how does one do teshuva?

Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 2, explains that the sinner must realize their mistake, resolve not to repeat the mistake again, employ proper habits not to repeat it, and go on with their lives. This concept of chet is mind oriented. It shows how a person can perfect themselves and improve society.

Anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms

Maimonides explains that G-d does not have emotions. Thus, G-d does not get angry when you sin. As explained above, chet is a time for improvement. Why then, does the Torah describe G-d with anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms? It is because as Rabbi Ishmael explained, “The Torah speaks in the language of people.” The Bible uses figures of speech because it was composed in a way so that the ancients could grasp its teachings and understand it.

What is reward and punishment and how does it work?

The biblical portion of Eikev starts with Deuteronomy 7:12 and details what righteous Jews can expect if they act according to the commands. For example, Deuteronomy 7 promises grain, fruit, wine, oil, cattle, flocks, goats, and not infertility, illnesses or enemies. Deuteronomy 11 promises additional rain and grass for the animals to eat. It seems that Jews act righteously only to gain something back in return, namely rewards. But isn't reward and punishment a childish idea? Perhaps scripture speaks of reward and punishment as a way to stimulate proper behavior.

Mishnah Avot 1:3 certainly thinks so when it states:

“Be not like the servant who serves a master on the condition of receiving a gift; but be like the servant who serves a master not on the condition of receiving an award.”

The Mishnah Avot d’Rabbi Natan disagreed, arguing, “Is it conceivable that a laborer works all day and does not take his pay home in the evening?”

What did Maimonides think

Maimonides stood in stark constant and was opposed to the childish notion of reward and punishment. In his introduction to the tenth chapter of the talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin, Chelek, he wrote, “There are many different opinions, but these are based on differences in understanding.” He felt that when the soul departed the body, it would not enjoy eternal bliss at Garden of Eden nor would the wicked burn in the fiery flames of Gehinnom. He felt that people would not be rewarded in the time of the Messiah or “the world to come,” nor is reward doled out in the resurrection of the dead, he believed this to be spiritual. He rejected these ideas as childish, comparing them to a child who needs to be bribed by candies or an adult by money or reputation as a rabbi. As it would be ridiculous to imagine that G-d punishes fish, so to, G-d does not reward nor punishes people.

“All this,” says Maimonides, “is shameful. It is only necessary because of the immature nature of people who need bribes. They make the ultimate goal of study something other than the study itself.”

He then quotes Antigonos (who also felt that no one should expect payment), and Midrash Sifre commentary on Deuteronomy 11:13:

“Should a person say: I will study Torah so that I will become wealthy... so that I will be called ‘rabbi,’... so that I will receive payment in the world to come. Behold, it is written: ‘to love your God.’ Everything that you do, do only out of love.”

True, the Decalogue promises a reward of a long life for the observance, but it is for the masses who need to be told how to act by morality. Rather than accept the usual approach, the Rambam felt that the "Garden of Eden" story was a parable which taught a person how to act properly. In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Shemoneh Perakim, he agreed with the Greek pagan Aristotle, that one should act accordingly and restrain themselves from excess in order to follow the middle path or, as commonly called by Maimonides, the Golden Mean. This path avoids extremes and promotes proper habits. Rambam sees the Tree of "good and evil" in the parable not as a distinction from right and wrong but from truth and falsehood. Meaning, that people should evaluate every situation, determine the best course of action, and act intelligently, not morally because morality is only a set of rules for the general public who needs to be told how to act in any given situation, but is by no means conventional.

Thus, Lev 26:3-13, Lev 26:14-45, Lev. R. 27:1, are related. They are related in which they promise little in hopes of stimulating the general public to act without promises of reward. Simply stated, a good person prefers good acts because it is the right thing to do and avoids evil because it is wrong.


Maimonides felt that people should develop their intellect to learn what is truthful. Of course, Maimonides was careful to permit the masses to believe in the immature notions if it helped them psychologically. But the ultimate reward is for those who seek the truth and study its content. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz adored Maimonides so much so, that he repeated his teachings in almost all of his books. Indeed, the first paragraph of the shema, Deuteronomy 5:4–9, reflects this rational approach, while the second paragraph, Deuteronomy 11:13–21, promises rewards for the masses, who otherwise, would be promoted to abandon the mitzvah, G-d, and His Torah altogether.

[1] Genetics, disease, drugs and diet can all effect an embryo, and are scientifically proven. Reincarnation is not proven. Why imagine a reason, when science provides an explanation?

  • What does any of this have to do with the question at hand? OP isn’t asking why bad things happen to good people, or any of the other points you discuss here, but rather what determines whether one is rewarded in this world for his merits or only in the next world.
    – DonielF
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 5:45
  • @DonielF I answered his question perfectly. Everything else was for context. The answer: redward and punishment does not exist. It is childish. It turns people into dogs. Do a certain trick and you get a treat. G-d wants us to do good for the sake of good. A truly good person prefers good acts because it is the right thing to do and avoids evil because it is wrong. We shouldn't act in hopes of heaven.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:34
  • Reward and punishment is a Christian concept. the Pope says. "Be good and accept Jesus and you will go to heaven. Do not and you will burn in hell for all eternity." Jews shouldn't follow the ways of Christianity (idolatry).
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:38
  • You describe Ahavas Hashem and Yiras Hashem in their ideal forms. That doesn’t mean that reward and punishment don’t exist. OP quoted several explicit paragraphs of the Torah which say that they do. You say every day the passage of והיה אם שמוע which makes that point. Maimonides, whose legacy you claim to champion yet end up tarnishing with posts like these, says very clearly that it’s one of the thirteen principles of faith (Peirush Hamishnayos, introduction to Chelek).
    – DonielF
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:40
  • @DonielF As Rabbi Ishmael said, “The Torah speaks in the language of people.” Thus the Torah promised reward and punishment for the masses but not for the philosophers. Rambam also wrote many of the 13 principles for the less educated public, but he believed the first few about G-d.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:51

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