Isaiah 53:4-6 is strange enough:

4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
6 All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all.

Why would God punish anyone for others' iniquities? Irrelevant of whom this so-called servant refers to, why would God crush one object/nation/person/creature for others' "iniquities". What's the Jewish perspective on that?

Related: Giving your z'chus to someone else

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    @JimThio are you looking for a Jewish understanding of the text (who is being talked about and what it means) or a larger philosophical understanding of "no matter who it is talking about why would the model of '1 acts and another is punished' exist in any iteration?"
    – rosends
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 14:49
  • Yes. Why would God punish some guys for another? Christians believe it's just the way salvation works. What's jewish perspective?
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 13:15
  • I don't have a full answer just yet, but the idea that one person/group is somehow connected to and responsible for the behavior of another is not alien to Judaism even though a central tenet is that a man dies for his own sins. Rashi ties Is 53:11 to the priestly family's responsibility for the sins of others in Num 18:1 (though the metaphor would then have to expand with Israel as the "priest" of the world). When David counted the people, the people died. There is a sense of intertwining and responsibility. cf the 70 bulls on Sukkah 55b and atonement for the world.
    – rosends
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 13:58
  • "What business does G-d have doing X?" is basically heresy from most any religion's perspective, I'd guess.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


in the shaar bitachon (end of chapter 3) this verse is explained:

WHY THE RIGHTEOUS SOMETIMES SUFFER Nevertheless, I saw fitting to attempt to clarify this matter that should be to some extent satisfactory . The possible reasons why a tzadik is prevented from obtaining his livelihood without effort and must instead exert himself for it and be tested by it is as follows.

  1. A previous sin for which it is necessary to pay him for it, as written "the tzadik will pay in the land" (Mishlei 11:31)

  2. In the way of exchanging, to pay him more good in Olam Haba (the afterlife), as written "to benefit you in your end" (Devarim 8:16)

  3. To demonstrate his good bearing and good acceptance of suffering in the service of G-d, so that others will learn from him, as you know from the matter of Iyov.

  4. Due to the wickedness of his generation, G-d tests him with poverty, hardship, or sickness to demonstrate/contrast his piety and service of G-d unlike them, as written "Indeed, he bore our illnesses, and our pains he carried them" (Yeshaya 53:4).

The commentaries there explain:

(Pas Lechem: Here G-d knows that the people of his generation won't learn from him and they will get no benefit from this. Nevertheless, G-d tests him in order to demonstrate his level and worth and contrast it with them. That even though they are in enjoyment and he is in a life of suffering, they are ungrateful towards G-d while he is good with Him and serves Him in truth and wholeheartedly. The intent in this is so that they will acknowledge G-d's justice in the end of days when they will see the exceedingly great reward of the Tzadik. And like our sages said in Pirkei Avot 5:3, "Avraham was tested with ten trials..to show his high esteem."

Marpe Lenefesh: Due to the wickedness of the generation, sometimes G-d sends suffering to a Tzadik to atone for the sins of the generation (to avert disasters or the like), and without a doubt, his reward will not be withheld and the wicked will be paid what they deserve, as Rashi explained on the verse he cited)

Conclusion: we cannot understand G-d's ways but in the end everything will be balanced out.

  • Another reason to add to this list (i.e., that a tzaddik would be punished): the Berachot 7a mentioned here judaism.stackexchange.com/a/94759/1516. Also, this may occur because of a very small sin by the tzaddik, cf. Moshe Rabbeinu's being kept out of the Land for hitting the rock.
    – SAH
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 4:06

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