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I'm reading volume 1 of Strive for Truth, Rabbi Aryeh Carmell's English-language adaptation of Michtav Meeliyahu, and one of the first essays cites Chazal as explaining that one reason good things happen to bad people is so that the bad people can be rewarded for their mitzvos in this world so that they do not instead get better reward in the afterlife.

He questions why this is fair: after all, they did mitzvos, so why should they not get their reward where it's good? He offers two answers to that question:

  1. Their mitzvos were earthly, viz done for ulterior motives rather than to fulfill God's will, so they deserve earthly reward rather than postmortem closeness to God.
  2. They would enjoy earthly reward but not closeness to God, as their postmortem desires will match their earthly ones, so He gives them reward they will enjoy.

That's good and well for explaining why the quality of wicked people's reward is diminished: according to the first answer, the quality of the reward matches the quality of the mitzva performance, and, according to the second, the reward is precisely what they would enjoy.

But then there's the quantity. A previous essay says clearly that the entirety of pleasures to be found on earth for all time cannot compare to even a little bit of reward in the afterlife, and that's why there's no reward for mitzvos in this world. If that's the case, then where is the bulk of these wicked people's reward? They're getting rewarded in this world, which, yes, is the quality of reward they deserve, but aren't they missing out on the quantity they deserve? How is that just?

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    There are two questions that could be asked: unfairness and inconsistency. The former would be asking: how is it fair that they don't receive their fair share. The latter would asking why the wicked receive their reward here whereas the righteous receive their reward in the world to come. Assuming you are asking the former, then the question on that question is "who says God needs to reward at all?" who says it is unjust if he doesn't reward. Given that God need not reward at all, whatever reward he gives is out of kindness. There is thus no claim that it is unfair that he doesn't give more. – mevaqesh Jun 24 '15 at 17:38
  • Why do you assume that they are missing out on the quantity that they deserve? – Loewian Jun 24 '15 at 17:39
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  • @Loewian As I wrote in the question, "the entirety of pleasures to be found on earth for all time cannot compare to even a little bit of reward in the afterlife". – msh210 Jun 24 '15 at 22:32
  • @msh210 That hardly suggests that a Nazi who is nice to his mother is deserving of such. – Loewian Jun 24 '15 at 22:45
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We are dealing with real rishaim here, not just some guy who messed up and did something wrong. The point then is that Hashem doesn't want these real rishaim in Olam Habaah. In fact he gives them their reward in this world כדי לטרדן מן העולם הבא. If by them doing mitzvos they would get Olam Habaa, they would essentially be sneaking in with an undeserved reservation to an event they shouldn't be at. A rasha does not belong in Olam Habaa.

But, since Hashem does not hold back reward from anyone, אינו מפקח שכר כל בריאה, He pays them back somehow. Sometimes they get a happy life. Sometimes their kids or grandkids get the reward in their place. Sometimes the 'reward' is that their kids are 'zoche' to torture Klal Yisroel, like the reward Orpa got.

The point is not fairness in the way we or Hashem looks at it. It's just a matter of giving them something because they deserve something.

That's the end of the answer.Here's another related Mishna in Avos.

פרק ד - משנה ט רַבִּי יַנַּאי אוֹמֵר, אֵין בְּיָדֵינוּ לֹא מִשַּׁלְוַת הָרְשָׁעִים וְאַף לֹא מִיִּסּוּרֵי הַצַּדִּיקִים.

פי׳ הברטנורה: אין בידינו. כמו לא הוה בידיה [יבמות ק''ה ע''א]. כלומר אין הדבר הזה ידוע לנו מדוע דרך רשעים צלחה ומפני מה הצדיקים מדוכאים ביסורין. פירוש אחר, אין לנו בזמן הגלות לא משלוה והשקט שרגיל הקב''ה לתת לרשעים כדי לטרדן מן העוה''ב, ואף לא מן היסורים המיוחדים לצדיקים שהן יסורים של אהבה שאין בהן בטול תורה. כלומר יצאנו מכלל רשעים שאין לנו השלוה שיש לרשעים, ולכלל צדיקים לא הגענו, שהיסורים שלנו אינן של אהבה כיסורי הצדיקים:

פי׳ עיקר התוי׳ט: לא זו אף זו קתני, לא מבעיא שלות רשעים שאין בידינו, לפי שאנו יודעין שהוא רשע ורואים כי טוב לו. אלא אף זה יסורי הצדיקים שאפשר שנראה צדיק ואינו כן. והיינו דתנן ואף. מד''ש. ועתוי''ט: וקתני ואף דהא מלתא דפשיטא היא שאין בידינו השלוה אנתנו יגיעי הגלות, ובעי ר''י בזה לומר שלא נתיאש שנחשוב עצמנו כרשעים גמורים ושאבדה תקותנו ח''ו, ושגם אין אנו צדיקים ושכבר השלמנו מה שעלינו להשלים בתורה ובמצות. מד''ש:

  • Sometimes the reward is that their grandkids become geirim instead... While I agree with your first sentence, I'm not sure I agree with the remainder of your answer. – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 24 '15 at 16:08
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    Based upon where it occurs in Tanach the word connotes "falling away." Thus: "In order to allow the resha'im to fall away from (lose) Olam haba, Hashem gives them their reward in Olam Hazeh." It's not about kicking them out of the party, it's about letting them fall as they wish - getting temporal rather than eternal reward. – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 24 '15 at 17:36
  • This makes it an effective contrast/foil to tzadikim (Tzadik viRa lo), whose reward is withheld in Olam Hazeh even if they seek it (see: Rashi/Midrash by Ya'akov, who is punished for seeking menuchah in Olam Hazeh). This is a chessed so that Hashem may reward them better in Olam Habah. – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 24 '15 at 17:41
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For some reason, this makes me think of Esav selling the bechorah to Ya'akov - "Hineh anocho holech lamus, v'lamah zeh li bechorah?" Since the "reward" of the bechorah is only applicable after his own death, it has no NPV (net present value) to him. That's why Esav HaRasha (the quintessence of the type) can logically and rationally sell eternity for a bowlfull of soup - he's getting something for nothing!

To a rasha, there is no value for reward that cannot be measured in the physical/temporal sense. To them, the marginal value of reward after death, even if it's infinitely greater in quantity than the reward during life, is ZERO. Therefore, the qauntity is irrelevant.

Infinity*0=0

Since the rasha doesn't value the reward, justice would demand that they receive ONLY THE WORTH OF THE GOOD AS THEY VALUE IT. That they receive ANY reward in this world at all is an act of mercy - Hashem is giving them something for nothing! (according to them)

  • But don't you have "frum" reshaim who believe their mitzvos are worth something? – Clint Eastwood Jun 24 '15 at 12:28
  • @ClintEastwood Someone who genuinely believes in Hashem and sachar vi'onesh and is STILL a rasha is pretty much by definition not interested reward in olam haba. If they ARE concerned about Olam Haba, they probably aren't falling into the category of rasha as mentioned in this gemara. – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 24 '15 at 12:39
  • So you're saying I'm right, it's unjust, but God's hands are tied kivyachol? Meaning, the rasha deserves more, but there's kivyachol no way for God to give him more? – msh210 Jun 24 '15 at 13:05
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    infinity * 0 != 0 – Daniel Jun 24 '15 at 13:08
  • @msh210 NOT AT ALL! It's perfectly just to give the rasha NOTHING (since that is the value of the reward in their eyes). Giving the rasha Olam HAZEH is rachamim. – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 24 '15 at 13:38
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Daniel Listhaus explains based on Ma'bit (Beis Elokim, Sha'ar Ha'yesodos 42) that

as the Gemara says, it is truly impossible to reward a mitzva in this world

so that

when it comes to those who are being rewarded or punished in this world, it must be that their rewards and punishments are not actually from keeping or transgressing the Torah but rather for doing other things. What are these other things? What is there to be rewarded or punished for if not the based on the Torah? The answer is that rewards in this world are for people who do mitzvos shelo lishma.

And

when we do the mitzvos in this fashion, we are not truly fulfilling the mitzvos in the way they are supposed to be done commanded from the Olam Ha'Elyon, and therefore the reward for doing mitzvos in this way does not come from there either.

(See Gemara Berachos 7a): The tzaddik gamur (complete tzaddik) experiences only good in both this world and the next, while the rasha gamur experiences only bad in both worlds. When it comes to the gray area in the middle, it depends on who you really are which will define the rest of your actions. The semi-rasha who happened to have done a few mitzvos clearly does not care about the mitzvos as being direct commandments from Hashem, otherwise he would have tried to work himself towards being a tzaddik. Therefore, although his good deeds require reward, they will be rewarded for in this world. However, the semi-tzaddik who spends his life working towards the right side of the spectrum, although he may have a number of aveiros on his list, those will be punished in this world rather than in the next world because they are really lower-leveled aveiros since they were not done purposely or specifically to go against the word of Hashem.

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