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Peninei Halakha > Days of Awe (Yamim Nora'im) > 01 – Judgment, Reward, and Punishment > 08. Individual and Collective Judgment in Eretz Yisrael and in Exile

08. Individual and Collective Judgment in Eretz Yisrael and in Exile

It is important to know that even though on Rosh Ha-shana the Jewish people as a whole as well as each individual are judged, the judgment of the individual is strongly impacted by the general state of whichever nation that person belongs to. This is as we learned about the nation of Israel in the section dealing with blessings and curses:

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. I will grant peace in the land…. You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword…. I will be ever present in your midst; I will be your God, and you shall be My people…. But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments…I in turn will do this to you: I will wreak misery upon you – consumption and fever, which cause the eyes to fail and the body to languish; you shall sow your seed to no purpose, for your enemies shall eat it…. I will break your proud glory. I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper, so that your strength shall be spent to no purpose. Your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit…. I will lay your cities to waste and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors…. And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin…. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies but shall perish among the nations; and the land of your enemies shall consume you…. (Vayikra 26:3-38)

Sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of the individual. For even if the nation as a whole merits a shefa of blessing, this does not mean that a few individuals cannot be punished for their sins. Similarly, if the nation as a whole is punished, this does not mean that a few individuals cannot be rewarded. However, sometimes there is a contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of the individual. For example, if a harsh decree such as destruction or exile has been issued against the nation, the righteous, perforce, will also suffer. Nevertheless, the judgment stands, and the righteous will receive their reward in the world of souls, in Gan Eden. Similarly, if the nation as a whole is good, the wicked will not receive their punishment in this world but in the world of souls, in Gehinom. Judgment will be completed in the next world, when the dead are resurrected and souls reunite with their bodies.[6]

It is also important to be aware that when the Jewish nation is in exile and the Temple lies in ruins, God’s role in the world is deeply hidden. It appears as if God has left the earth and evil rules the world; the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. The same forces of evil that destroyed the Temple allow the wicked to prosper. Just as the Shekhina is suffering in exile, so too, the righteous are drowning in pain and suffering. Additionally, when harsh decrees are passed against the Jews, all individual Jews suffer as a result.[7]

Though it seems unjust that the righteous suffer more, being righteous means experiencing more pain over Israel’s exile; as long as the honor of heaven is being trampled by the nations, the righteous take no joy from this-worldly pleasures. Their sorrow and mourning for Zion and the Temple allow them to cling to the Shekhina and draw redemption nearer. For this, their reward is very great.

[6]. The sin of Adam created a division between the worlds and between body and soul. This division is the “death” that was Adam’s punishment. His soul and body were separated. As a result, reward and punishment cannot be fully realized in the physical world. Rather, a small part is meted out in this world and a larger part in the World of Souls (i.e., in Gan Eden and Gehinom). Reward and punishment are completed at the time of the resurrection of the dead, when the physical world will be perfected, the worlds will be reunited, and body and soul will become one again. Part of the uniqueness of the Jewish nation is that it represents the unity of body and soul, vision and deed, even in our current imperfect world. Even when the Jewish people are damaged spiritually or physically, their spiritual and physical core remain. Therefore, even in this world, they experience true life. See the next section.

[7]. Similarly, Tanya (Igeret Ha-teshuva, ch. 4-6) explains that at a time of destruction and exile, we can fathom “neither the tranquility of the wicked nor the suffering of the righteous” (Avot 4:15), for God’s role is concealed, and the power of impurity is strengthened by sins. This is the meaning of the exile of the Shekhina. It is imprisoned by the husks of impurity, and the goodness directed toward it is hijacked by the sitra aḥra (the “other,” demonic side) to strengthen the wicked and harm the righteous. In times of exile, the divine punishments of karet and death at the hands of heaven are not carried out, so many who deserve to die live long and happy lives.

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Editor: Nechama Unterman