Rewards and Punishments in the View of the Rabbis

In the Bible, definite rewards and punishments from on high are only in a few instances brought into correlation with definite actions or classes of actions. By the Rabbis, this process was carried much further, and a number of precepts were assigned by them a specific value in the material or the spiritual field or both. Thus, they laid down that faith in God brings redemption, prophecy, and the inheritance of both worlds. The prayers of the priests, when accompanied by the observance of the people, are answered with the material gifts of health, wisdom, and a good reputation. Congregational worshippers are honoured with the Divine Presence; the individual who prays regularly is granted, among other material gifts, the blessings of children and good life. The study of the Law earns the assurance of the hereafter disinterested study brings also fame in this world and high honours in the hereafter. Sabbath observance, besides gaining the future world, qualifies one to celebrate the three pilgrim festivals also. The rewards for honouring and fearing parents are long life, the enjoyment of the Divine Presence, fame, and a prosperous land.
Similarly, with punishment: the judge who accepts bribes is punished with physical and mental blindness, and may also become poverty-stricken. Those guilty of slander and arrogance are reminded of the punishment of leprosy which according to the biblical account befell Miriam and Uzziah for these two sins. And the downfall of the Jewish State is attributed specifically to the three sins of bloodshed, over-bearing behaviour, and neglect of the study of the Law.

A. Melinek, “The Doctrine of Reward and Punishment in Biblical and Early Rabbinic Writings,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 285-286.

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