Sometimes a person is destined to be neither rich nor poor. Rather, his destiny is not fixed; if he chooses well in matters of money and charity, then he deserves to be wealthy so that he can continue to improve his piety and charity. Yet sometimes it is known to the Knower of secrets that if a certain person were to become wealthy, his evil inclination would overcome him and perhaps make him arrogant, lustful, and stingy; he would no longer be righteous. Since people’s relationship to God is the most important thing and their eternal life depends on it, heaven has mercy upon him and sentences him to struggle to make a living. This way he avoids the difficult challenge and is more likely to earn a place in the next world. Without such mercy, he may become wealthy in this world but face challenges likely to corrupt him.
Another consideration is how difficult it is for a person to choose good or avoid evil. Some people are born with a very strong evil inclination or grow up in very difficult and toxic environments. If they manage to study a bit of Torah and do a few good deeds, it is extremely impressive, and they will receive immense reward. As the Sages say, “In accordance with the pain is the reward” (Avot 5:23). Other people are born with a strong good inclination or grow up in a supportive environment. If they nevertheless sin, they will be punished severely.
Another consideration is that sometimes a wicked person who has done a few mitzvot is rewarded for them in this world, so that he is utterly destroyed in Gehinom. Similarly, sometimes a righteous person who has committed a few sins receives his punishment in this world, so that he can ascend, pure and clean, to Gan Eden. Even though reward and punishment in this world are trivial compared to the next, these judgments are still just and proper, for the wicked person performed mitzvot with superficial motivations, because he wanted to show off and impress people, so it is fitting that his reward be given in this superficial, transient world, rather than in the World of Truth. In contrast, the primary interest of the righteous person was closeness to God. If he sinned accidentally, just as his sin was superficial, so is his punishment. This will purify him and he will enter the next world without blemish (Kiddushin 39b; Derekh Hashem 2:2:6).
These are some of the factors that go into judgment, and there are also collective factors that will be elaborated on in the next section. The main point from the human perspective is to repent and return to God, for even if we do not understand the profundity of the judgment, we are certain that repentance and good deeds are always good for a person. Reward is primarily in the next world and secondarily in this world. As long as a person is alive in this world of free choice, his actions are of incalculable value and earn him eternal reward. This is as the Sages say, “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the whole of life in the World to Come” (Avot 4:17).