Reward and Punishment
God rewards those who fulfill His commandments and punishes those who transgress them. The ultimate reward is the World to Come, and the ultimate punishment is excision of the soul [the soul is cut off from any connection to the spiritual existence of the World to Come.]107 As the verse states, “Moses returned to God and said to Him: ‘The people have committed a grievous sin by making themselves a god of gold. And now if You would, please forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written.’ God replied to Moses: ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I shall erase him from My book.’”108 God’s reply to Moses shows that God is aware of who is faithful to Him, and who has sinned against Him; and that He will reward one and punish the other.
Theme: Fundamental to our understanding of the relationship between God and the world is the belief that all actions have consequences, whether good or bad. Any good that an individual does is ultimately rewarded and any evil is ultimately punished. In the physical world, every action creates certain inevitable effects. The first law of thermodynamics, for example, the law of conservation of energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Similarly, in the spiritual world there is a law of conservation of spiritual energy, which we call kedushah (holiness).109 The spiritual energy of our actions is never destroyed; its impact is eternal and affects the state of the soul even after the death of the body.110
A central aspect of this principle is our conviction that God is just, as the Torah states, “The deeds of the Mighty One are perfect, for all His ways are just. He is a faithful God, never unfair; righteous and moral….” 111 Even if we do not witness the reward of the righteous and punishment of the wicked in our lifetimes, we know that ultimately justice will be done.112 The slightest act of goodness is noted and rewarded,113 as are good intentions even if they do not come to fruition. If someone tried to do the right thing but was unable to succeed due to circumstances beyond his control, that intention too will be rewarded.114 At times, God may allow an evil person to be successful, but his deeds are not ignored; God “waits and eventually collects what is due to Him.”115 We realize that this world represents only a small part of reality, that our lifespan of 70 or 80 years is only a fraction of our complete existence. This understanding is central to the Jewish approach to life. We do not focus on other worlds (and life after death) to the exclusion of this world, but neither do we view this physical world as the totality of existence.116