Beit Midrash

  • Sections
  • Revivim
To dedicate this lesson

Judgment on the High Holidays

In the opinion of many Jewish law authorities, the principal judgment on the High Holidays concerns the World to Come * Life in the World to Come is divided into two stages: the World of Souls, and the Resurrection of the Dead * "The reward of a mitzvah, is a mitzvah" – one who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will have events occur during the year that help him continue ascending spiritually * In general, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished, but the factors of judgment are profound and complex * Why do the righteous sometimes suffer, and the wicked live the good life in this world * Reward and punishment is according to the intensity and effort of the test * The effect of the judgment of ‘Clal Yisrael’ on the individual* What is Man judged for during the High Holidays?


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Prior to the ‘Yamim Nora’im’ (Days of Awe), I will dedicate this column to a deepening of the understanding of din (judgment). And although the topic is complex, studying it carries great benefit, because it involves attempting to arrange complex issues (a reader who wishes to understand these topics more thoroughly, can refer to ‘Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im’, Chapter 1).
Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the righteous are judged for life, and the wicked for death. And as we will learn further on, the meaning is life in this world and the World to Come, as well.

The Two Phases of the World to Come

Life in Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) is comprised of two phases. The first stage begins after one’s death, when his soul rises to the Olam HaNeshamot (World of Souls), which consists of Gan Eden for the righteous, and Gehinom for the wicked. The second phase will arrive after tikkun olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat HaMeytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are reunited with the bodies, and together, ascend endlessly (Ramban, Sha’ar Ha’Gamul; Ramchal, Derech Hashem, Part 1, section III).
The World to Come, in both its phases, is also called Olam HaEmet (the World of Truth), because in comparison to this world where falsehood prevails and the external appearance hides the inner essence - in the World to Come, the real status of a person and the true value of his actions becomes clear. And since the World to Come is immeasurably more important than this world, as our Sages said "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come" (Avot, 4:16), in the opinion of many Torah authorities one’s principle judgment on Rosh Hashanah concerns the World to Come.

Two Components of the Judgment Concerning the World to Come

The first component of judgment is that every year, all of one’s actions during the year are taken into account. For the good actions one has performed reward is reserved for the World to Come, and for his bad actions, punishment. However, the judgment determined on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if during the coming years one repents, he saves himself from the judgment of Gehinom, and increases his reward in the World to Come. And if, God forbid, a person has misgivings about his previous ways and regrets having done good deeds, he will inherit Gehinom and lose the reward that had been reserved for him in the World to Come.

The Opportunity to Get Closer to God

The second part of judgment is the opportunity to come closer to God in the coming year. A person who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities during the year that will help him continue ascending in Torah and mitzvoth, meriting life in the World to Come. While engaging in learning Torah – he merits added enlightenment and understanding; and when performing mitzvoth and good deeds – he merits added joy and blessing, a sort of sample of the World to Come. If, God forbid, one is judged for death, he is given tests and events in the coming year that are liable to turn him away from God, and forfeit the World to Come. Then, even if he engages in the study Torah – he has difficulty absorbing its Divine enlightenment, and when performing mitzvoth – he will not be able to feel the holiness and pleasure of the commandments properly. This is the meaning of our Sages statement (Avot 4:2): "One mitzvah will lead to another mitzvah, and one sin to another sin. Because the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the wages of a sin, is sin (Nefesh Ha’Chaim 1:12).

Reward is Called ‘Life’ and Penalty ‘Death’

In general, reward is called ‘life’, and penalty is referred to as ‘death’. The definition of life is a closeness and connection with God, the Source of Life, through which man merits all the good that God abundantly provides in this world, in the World of Souls, and in the World to Come. Given that the source of all good and pleasure in this world stems from the life that God showers the world – the reward in the World to Come is immeasurably greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are but a pale reflection of the Source of Pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: "One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world" (Avot 4:17). This is because in the World to Come a person can merit enjoying the splendor of the Divine Presence of God, his life force ever-increasing and growing infinitely stronger, whereas in this world, the Divine aura reaches us through partitions and a great constriction (tzim’tzum). Nevertheless, by adhering to God through the study of Torah and performance of the mitzvoth, a person can merit a bit of a taste of the World to Come in this world as well, and take pleasure in devotion to God.

In contrast to reward which is referred to as life, the general description of punishment is death, which is defined as being distanced from the Source of Life, which leads to an increase in troubles, until the eventual death of the body in this world, and the torments of the soul in Gehinom.

The Profundity and Complexity of Judgment

Although the rules of judgment are simple – for one who walks in the paths of God receives blessing in this world and the next, and the opposite for an evil person – the particulars of judgment are profound and infinitely complex. Consequently, there are instances in which a righteous person suffers poverty, illness, and dies an early death, and in contrast, a wicked person who continues his evil ways, and is rich and healthy. The most important point is that everything is intended for tikkun olam. I will now clarify.

Free Choice

For the purpose of tikkun olam, it is essential for man to have bechira chofshit (freedom of choice). Therefore, so long as the world has not reached its perfection, it is impossible for all righteous people to benefit from the good and all the wicked people to suffer because then, the choice would be predictable and dictated by the expectation of guaranteed, tangible reward, and the fear of definite, tangible punishment – and not out of a free and true choice of good. Therefore, the execution of judgment is extremely complex and its factors are numerous, so that there will always be righteous people who have to deal with suffering, and wicked people who seem to enjoy worldly pleasures. Thus, free will is not affected, and one who chooses good merits correcting himself, and the entire world.
In any event, when observing the long-term, for example, family matters and true happiness in life, we usually find that in this world the righteous merit blessing, and the wicked are punished. And this is the most important part of the test, for the yetzer hara (evil inclination) inclines one to observe the world superficially and in short-term, while the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) arouses an individual to perceive the deeper side and the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that even in this world and in the long-term righteous people generally merit good and the evil often suffer, free choice still remains, because in the short-term this is not evident.

When the Fate of a Person’s Destiny is Sealed

I will now begin to explain the particulars of judgment. There are people whose destiny is to be rich and to cope with the accompanying inclinations involved with wealth, and although such a person has many transgressions, he will remain wealthy. The entire judgment of Rosh Hashanah in this matter concerns how one will deal with being rich – will he be happy in his wealth, or suffer worrying over it. This is also the case concerning life in the World to Come – the judgment is whether his wealth will result in him being able to endure extremely hard or simple tests, or perhaps even help him in his service of God. On the other hand, there are those whose destiny is to cope with poverty, and even if such a person has numerous good deeds he will remain poor and his judgment concerns whether his poverty will be awful or bearable. In regards to the World to Come, the judgment is whether his circumstances of being poor will help him serve God, or interfere.
And then again, occasionally, as a result of special good deeds or grave sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

When the Fate of One’s Destiny is not Sealed

At times, a person’s determined fate is not completely sealed, but only sets the direction, but still allows for certain changes, and in such a case the judgment on Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person whose destiny it is to be rich – will he be only comfortable, wealthy, or very rich; and the same goes for the poor – will one be tight for money, poor, or destitute.

Is Wealth a Reward?

Sometimes, a person has no particular destiny to be either poor or rich, and consequently, his fate is not determined. Since he chose to do good deeds in matters relating to money and charity, he justifiably deserves to be wealthy, and continues to prosper so he can further ascend in his acts of righteousness and piety. At times, it is apparent to the One who knows all mysteries, that if a person merits wealth, his evil inclinations will overcome him and fear exists he will sin in pride, lust and stinginess, and lose his level of righteousness. And in such a case, since deveykut (clinging to God) is the most important attribute, upon which his very life in this world depends, Heaven has pity on him, and he is judged with hardships of making a living, in order to escape from the difficult test, and merit life in the World to Come. If one is not as deserving, he might merit wealth in this world, but will have to face difficult tests which are liable to lower him to the abyss.

According to the Enormity of the Test

There is another type of accounting: the intensity of coping and overcoming required of a person in order to choose good and avoid evil. The destiny of some people is that they were created with a very powerful evil inclination, or grew up in a difficult and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn only a little bit of Torah and do a few good deeds – this carries significant value, and they will merit great reward. As said our Sages said "l’foom tzara agra" (the reward is according to the suffering) (Avot 5:23). On the other hand, some people have a strong good inclination and grew up in a good environment and if they sin – they will be severely punished.

The Reward of the Wicked, and the Punishment of the Righteous in This World

There is another type of accounting: sometimes, an evil person who did a few mitzvoth is judged to receive all the reward for his mitzvoth in this world, so he will be doomed to Gehinom. And sometimes a righteous person who committed a few sins is judged to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden clean and pure.
And although reward and punishment in this world is incomparable to reward in the World to Come, such an accounting is proper and correct, because the evil person did the mitzvoth for external reasons – to be proud and boast; therefore, it is also fitting that he be rewarded in this fleeting world and not receive reward for it in the Olam Ha’Emet (World of Truth). This is also the case for a righteous person: since his main desire was to cling to God, if he accidentally sinned – just as his sin was superficial, so too, it is fitting for his punishment to be superficial in this world, and thus, be purified with no blemish remaining from the sin in the World to Come (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Section 2, 2:6).

Judgment of the Clal and the Individual

It is also important to understand that although the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is for the clal (the nation as a whole) and for each individual on his own, nevertheless, the judgment of an individual in this world is heavily influenced by the general condition of the nation – each nation according to its concerns. Indeed, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits receiving an abundance of blessing, the blessing is not affected by there being some individuals who are punished for their sins. Also, when the nation as a whole is punished, the punishment is not affected because some individuals merit reward. But sometimes there is a contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for example, when the nation is sentenced a difficult verdict such as destruction and exile, and then inevitably, the righteous are also punished. In any event, the judgment remains unchanged, for in the Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the righteous will receive their full reward, and the full completion will take place in the World to Come, at the time of Techiyat HaMeytim, when the souls return to be reunited with their bodies.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר