Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Foundations of Faith
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

40. Reward and Punishment

The Jewish people are unique. The Divine Presence resides amongst them, and this situation brings both privileges and demands. When the nation as a whole senses God's presence in its midst, it possesses the power to lead a sacred and pure existence.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

The Rabbi said to the king of the Khazars, "You should be aware that genuine Divine service can be gaged neither by fancy words nor heartbreaking supplications, nor by weeping accompanied by the lifting of the eyes heavenward, nor through any other gesture or utterance that is not followed by action. Rather, genuine sentiments can only be gaged by deeds that are inherently difficult for one to perform, but that one nevertheless does with great desire and love.

"Such is the service of the Jewish people. We are commanded to make pilgrimages to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from wherever we reside. This journey involves many difficulties and expenditures, yet, all the same, the Jew fulfills this obligation with great happiness and joy. The Jew is likewise commanded to tithe the first and second tithes, as well as the tithe of the poor, to bring obligatory festival offerings, to leave the land fallow during the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, to make expenditures for the Sabbath and festivals, to abstain from work during those times, to bring a variety of sacrifices to the Temple for various reasons, and to observes laws connected to ritual purity and impurity.

"All of these commandments call for great effort and they all must be carried out according to detailed guidelines which have been given to us by God Himself. This is the nature of the Divine service of the Jewish people, a service which encompasses all aspects of life and which is carried out with great inner desire, lovingly and joyfully. This was how the Jewish people conducted their lives from the time that they entered the land of Israel and throughout the period of the First and Second Temples which lasted approximately 1,300 years. And had Israel followed the correct path, this way of life would have continued indefinitely."

When the king of the Khazars heard all of this, he said, "What nation could possibly uphold such a system of obligations as this?"

The Rabbi responded, "A nation that perceives that its source of reward and punishment—the Divine Presence—is in its midst. Such Divine providence is discernible in Miriam's punishment of spiritual leprosy immediately upon maligning Moses, and in the punishment of Nadav and Avihu who brought an inappropriate incense offering before God. The biblical phenomenon of house, clothe, and human leprosy was supernatural, not a normal sickness, and it was clear to all that such diseases were forms of Divine punishment. All of these punishments served to evidence the Divine Presence amongst Israel.

Just consider what happened to Israel when Achan took from the consecrated goods (Joshua ch. 7). A single individual amongst 600,000 sinned, yet because of him all of Israel was punished. Immediate, revealed punishments demonstrate God's providence over Israel and the Divine Presence which resides amongst them.

This, then, is the answer to the question, how is it possible for a nation to meet such demanding requirements? It is possible because the Jewish people are unique. They are not your normal nation. The Divine Presence resides amongst them, and this situation brings with it privileges - and demands. The many demands that come with being a unique nation demonstrate Israel's preeminence. When the the nation as a whole senses the presence of the God in its midst, it possesses the power to live a sacred existence, a pure existence.

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