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Home » Free Choice, Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo: Where is Justice?

Submitted by on September 3, 2012 – 3:00 amNo Comment | 4,186 views

Disturbing Questions

I was strolling into a cluster of trees intent on my morning prayers and was accosted by a thief who demanded my money. I don’t know what I was thinking, but here is what I said.

“Look I don’t have any money, but you aren’t going to believe me unless you beat me. After you leave empty handed, I’ll be lying here, beaten and unconscious, where someone is bound to find me. They’ll wake me and I’ll have to tell them what transpired. The story is bound to make the news because I’m a rabbi. The headlines will read Rabbi Assaulted During Prayer. The journalist is bound to ask how it feels to be assaulted for money just as I was praying for money. I’m going to have to wrestle with this disturbing question and I have no idea what to say. I’m going to end up looking foolish and you aren’t even going to get a penny out of this. Do you think, I concluded my plea, that you could spare us both the inconvenience and simply leave me alone? “

The man’s features softened and the telltale signs of a smile appeared on his face, but the shame of it is that I’ll never know his response because at that very moment, I woke up and discovered it was a dream.

It was a relief to know that I was never mugged, but the questions raised in the dream were disturbing. Why is it that prayers are so often left unanswered? As the old joke goes, a man once cried out in frustration, dear G-d, why don’t you answer my prayers? I always answer, came the reply, only sometimes the answer is no. Why is the answer so often no? The Torah promises reward for good behavior and punishment for bad, but why do many righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? Where is justice?where is justice - innerstream

The Hidden Hand

There was a time when Divine justice was manifest for all to behold. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, miracles commonly occurred for the righteous and sin was swiftly followed by punishment. It was difficult to deny the Divine presence when one witnessed his Handiwork. In those days the rules of justice were clear. Sin was punished and piety was rewarded. Today things are a little different. When G-d destroyed the Temple and exiled His people, He exiled Himself as well. He is every bit as present today as He was then, but He’s in hiding. His hand is concealed.

They tell a story of a Rabbi who challenged a congregant to attend services more often. The congregant insisted that he was always at service. So why don’t I see you, demanded the Rabbi. Ah, said the congregant, that’s because I’m in the secret service. Today, G-d is in the secret service. He is every bit as present as before, but His presence is concealed. When a Mitzvah is performed the reward does arrive, but it comes in circuitous ways. When a sin is committed punishment is meted out, but not always in ways that we can see.

It is not that the world is unjust. We all receive our just reward and punishment. G-d doesn’t remain indebted. But it’s not always in this lifetime. Sometimes justice catches up with us in the afterlife. In this life the righteous might not always appear to be rewarded for good behavior, but the reward awaits them in the hereafter. The wicked seem to live it up in this world, but it catches up with them when the time is right.

Worth the Wait

Does the delay seem unfair? I suppose it is difficult for us, the generation of instant gratification, to wait any length of time. We prefer to receive our just dues here and now, but good things, as they say, are well worth waiting for.

The Talmudic sages taught that one moment of reward in the world to come exceeds the beauty of an entire lifetime in this world.[1] Imagine the beauty of life. Eight decades of wonderful experiences, lovely memories, beautiful sunsets and exquisite pleasures all packed into a single moment. How glorious and uplifting that moment would be. And still that moment would pale in comparison to a single moment in the hereafter. If we could receive a reward comprised of tangible pleasures in this world or resplendent in the grandeur and glory of celestial grace in the world to come, which should we choose?

Imagine the following scenario. A five year old finds a wallet filled with stock certificates and returns it to its rightful owner. Filled with gratitude and ecstatic with joy the owner rewards the child with a certificate scheduled to mature twenty years henceforth with enough money to put the child through college. It’s an amazing gift, one any adult would covet, but the child is only five years old and is incapable of appreciating the gift’s significance. Our child would much rather receive a big red fire engine, especially one with a siren and lights.

The fire engine costs twenty dollars, the certificate is worth a quarter of a million dollars. Of course the certificate is better, but the child can’t be faulted for not wanting it. A child and doesn’t understand. If it doesn’t have ribbons and candy, it’s just not exciting.

We are that child. We cannot be faulted for our impatience and our desire to have our reward now. Who wants to wait for a spiritual reward that is intangible and irrelevant to our current frame of existence? Such rewards mean nothing to us, we can’t even imagine it. But we are not complete imbeciles; we can understand that there is more to existence than meets the eye and that just because something doesn’t look good doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

Back in the days of the temple G-d’s hand was evident and our rewards were immediate. Today we have to wait and in that sense it is bad. But on the other hand, what awaits us today is much greater than what we were given before and in that sense it is good.[2]

In summation, our prayers are always answered and the answer is never, no. But sometimes it is, not yet.

[1] Avot 4:17.

[2] The flip side is the teaching is that the whole of the hereafter cannot compare with a single Mitzvah in this world. The hereafter is where our service to G-d is rewarded, but this world is where we get to serve G-d. Suppose a soldier saved his king’s life and was rewarded. There is no question that he would appreciate the reward, but what he would cherish most and recount for his grandchildren is the privilege of saving the king’s life. The world to come is better than this world, but there is one thing about this world that outshines the entire world to come – the opportunity to serve G-d.

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