Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 6 June 2015 / 19 Sivan 5775

Shemoneh Esrei: The Thirteenth Blessing: Part 3

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“May Your compassion be aroused, L-rd, our G-d, and give a good reward to all who truly believe in Your Name.”

Why is it necessary to ask for a “good reward”? Are not all rewards from G-d good?

G-d rewards both the wicked and the righteous. But how can that be? Why do the wicked deserve to be rewarded?

Since a person is usually not all good or all bad, a righteous person may be punished in this world for his negative deeds, and a wicked person rewarded in this world for his positive ones.

According to the above we can grapple, to some degree, with a perplexing subject in Jewish thought. Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer? This is also stated in the Mishna in “Ethics of the Fathers”: Rabbi Yannai says, “It is not in our power to understand either the tranquility of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous.”

G-d wants to give the best reward possible to the righteous. However, there must be an accounting for their sins. To atone for the minor sins they may have committed, G-d sends them a measure of suffering in this world to rectify their souls. Thus, when they arrive in the World-to-Come they will be granted the ultimate good. This is the meaning of “good reward”: Since G-d wants to give the righteous a good reward for all eternity, He causes them minor suffering in this world.

For the wicked it is the opposite. Since they do not deserve eternal reward in the next world, G-d pays them for the little good they may have done in this world. The reward is insignificant, to say the least, in comparison to what they would receive in the next world for those good deeds. He also may hold back punishment from the wicked in order to punish them more harshly later. All of this is because the truly wicked increase in their negative behavior against G-d and deserve receiving the harshest punishment. The righteous, however, deserve to be judged with kindness, since it is their desire to do the will of their Creator.

According to all of the above we can see that it is G-d’s compassion for His loyal children that sometimes brings on worldly suffering. This is however motivated out of love, just as a father chastises a son whom he loves. And just as the same father does not chastise a stranger, since he does not love Him, G-d also does not chastise the wicked, since they do not deserve the close relationship that this form of Divine discipline entails.

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