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    Reward & punishment – Ekev

    Our portion this Shabbat confirms (Deut. 11:13-15) that there will be a reward for a good deed and punishment for a transgression.

    The problem is that it does not always work out that way. A good person does not make the receipt of a reward his or her motivation but expects that a reward will happen. Sometimes all they get is the opposite.

    One of the explanations is that what happens with me is not the entire picture. There is a lingering effect of what my ancestors did previous to my time.

    The Talmud (B’rachot 7a) quotes Rabbi Yochanan who says that Moses asked God why some righteous people suffer whilst others prosper, and some wicked people prosper whilst others suffer.

    God answered that a righteous man who prospers is clearly the son of another righteous man – but if he suffers it must be that he is the son of a wicked man. A wicked man who prospers is the son of a righteous man but the wicked person who suffers is the son of a wicked man.

    The Talmud is not entirely satisfied with this line of reasoning because we know from other sources (e.g. the commentaries on the Ten Commandments) that God visits the sins of the ancestors on their descendants only if the latter persist in their forebears’ sins.

    In the end Rabbi Meir says, quoting Ex. 33:19, God says, “I am gracious to whomever I choose and I have mercy on whomever I choose.”

    The outcome is that there are two aspects to reward and punishment – our deeds, and God’s will.

    Because we do not always know how God’s will works, we have to do our best to choose the way of righteousness. And if a reward comes, it comes.

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