The Innocent Who Suffer, the Guilty Who Prosper
There are righteous to whom it befalls as though they did wickedly, and there are wicked to whom it befalls as though they did righteously (Ecclesiastes 8:14).
“Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose: Moses sought three things before the blessed Holy One and they were granted to him. He asked that Shekhinah should rest upon Israel, and it was granted to him, as is said: [And how, then, will it be known that I have found favor in Your eyes, I and Your people?] Will it not be by Your going with us (Exodus 33:16).
He asked that Shekhinah should not rest upon the nations, and it was granted to him, as is said: That I and Your people may be distinguished [from every people that is on the face of the earth?] (ibid.).
He asked to know the ways of the blessed Holy One and it was granted to him, as is said: Let me know, pray, Your ways (ibid., 13). He said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe: Why is it there are innocent who prosper and innocent who suffer? And there are guilty who prosper and guilty who suffer?’ He said, ‘Moses, the innocent who prosper are innocent born of innocent; the innocent who suffer are innocent born of guilty. The guilty who prosper are guilty born of innocent; the guilty who suffer are guilty born of guilty.
The Master said: ‘The innocent who prosper are innocent born of innocent; the innocent who suffer are innocent born of guilty’—it is not so, as is written: Reckoning the crime of fathers with sons [and sons of sons, to the third generation and the fourth] (ibid. 34:7), and it is written: [Fathers shall not be put to death over sons,] and sons shall not be put to death over fathers. [Each man shall be put to death for his own offense] (Deuteronomy 24:16)—the verses contradict each other! This is not difficult. This [verse refers to] when they adhere to the deeds of their fathers as their own; that [verse refers to] when they do not adhere to the deeds of their fathers as their own, [as is written, Reckoning the crime of fathers with sons, with the third generation and with the fourth, for My foes, and doing kindness to the thousandth generation for My friends and for those who keep My commands (Exodus 20:5)].
Rather, He said to [Moses]: The innocent who prosper are completely innocent; the innocent who suffer are not completely innocent. The guilty who prosper are not completely guilty; the guilty who suffer are completely guilty. But this [saying of Rabbi Yoḥanan that all three requests of Moses were granted] departs from Rabbi Me’ir. For Rabbi Me’ir said: Two were granted to him, and one was not granted to him. As is said: And I shall grant grace to whom I grant grace (ibid. 33:19)—even though he is not worthy. And have compassion for whom I have compassion—even though he is not worthy” (BT Berakhot 7a).
As the proverb of the ancient says, “From wicked men does wickedness come forth” (1 Samuel 24:14).
“Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai [said]: It is permitted to confront the wicked in this world, as is said, Those who forsake teaching praise the wicked, but those who keep the teaching confront them (Proverbs 28:4). That was also taught by Rabbi Dostai son of Rabbi Mattun, who says: It is permitted to confront the wicked in this world, as is said, Those who forsake teaching praise the wicked. Should somebody whisper to you: But is it not written Do not be incensed by evildoers. Do not envy those who do wrong (Psalms 37:1)? Then you may tell him: Only one whose heart strikes him [with regret over his wrong doing] says so. Rather, Do not be incensed by evildoers—to be like them; Do not envy those who do wrong—to be like them. And so it is said, Let your heart not envy offenders, but in fear of YHWH all day long. [For if you keep it, there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off] (Proverbs 23:17). But this is not so! For Rabbi Yitsḥaq said: If you see a wicked man upon whom the hour is smiling, do not confront him, as is said, His ways come to pass in every hour (Psalms 10:5). And not only that, he is victorious in the court of judgment, as is said, Your judgments are high up above him (ibid.). And not only that, he sees his enemies’ [downfall], as is said, All his foes he enflames (ibid.). There is no difficulty. The one speaks of his private matters, the other one speaks of matters of Heaven.
Or if you wish, say that both speak of matters of Heaven, and still there is no difficulty. The one speaks of a wicked man upon whom the hour is smiling, the other one speaks of a wicked man upon whom the hour is not smiling. Or if you wish, say that both speak of a wicked man upon whom the hour is smiling, and still there is no difficulty. The one speaks of the completely righteous one, the other of one who is not completely righteous. For Rav Huna said: What is Why do You look upon traitors and stay silent, when the wicked destroy one more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:13)—can the wicked destroy one more righteous than he? Is it not written, [The wicked spies out the just man and seeks to put him to death.] YHWH will not forsake him in his hands [and will not condemn him when he is judged] (Psalms 37:32–33)? And it is written, No wrong will befall the righteous, [but the wicked are filled with harm] (Proverbs 12:21) Rather, he destroys the one who is only more righteous than he, but he cannot destroy the completely righteous one. And if you wish, say: It is different when the hour is smiling upon him” (BT Berakhot 7b).
“Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Zadoq said: To what are the righteous compared in this world? To a tree standing entirely in a place of purity, but its branches overhang to a place of impurity; when the branches are cut off, it stands entirely in a place of purity. Thus the blessed Holy One brings suffering upon the righteous in this world, in order that they may inherit the world that is coming, as is said, Then your beginning would seem a trifle and your latter day very grand (Job 8:7).
And to what are the wicked compared in this world? To a tree standing entirely in a place of impurity, but its branches overhang a place of purity: when the branches are cut off, it stands entirely in a place of impurity. Thus the blessed Holy One bestows good upon the wicked in this world, in order to destroy them and banish them to the lowest rung, as is said, There may be a straight way before man, but his end is the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12)” (BT Qiddushin 40b).
“Sons, life and sustenance do not depend on merit but מַזָּלא (mazzala), the flux of destiny. For [take] Rabbah and Rav Ḥisda. Both were righteous; one master prayed for rain and it came, the other master prayed for rain and it came. Rav Ḥisda lived to the age of ninety-two, Rabbah lived to the age of forty. In Rav Ḥisda’s house sixty marriage feasts were held, at Rabbah’s house there were sixty bereavements. At Rav Ḥisda’s house there was the purest wheaten bread for dogs, and it was not wanted; at Rabbah’s house there was barley bread for human beings and that not to be had” (BT Mo’ed Qatan 28a).
For there is no man righteous on earth who does good and will not offend (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
“Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishma’el says, ‘Since the righteous perform the Torah, which was given from the mountains of God, the blessed Holy One acts justly with them like the mountains of God. But since the wicked do not perform the Torah, which was given from the mountains of God, the blessed Holy One is exacting with them, even unto the great deep.’ Rabbi Akiva says, ‘The blessed Holy One is as exacting with these as with those: from the righteous He collects in this world for a few wicked deeds which they have done, in order to render them full payment in the world to come; while He gives ease to the wicked and pays them in this world for the few good deeds that they have done, in order to punish them in the world to come” (Tanḥuma [Buber], Emor 5).
“According to his merits and liabilities. As we have explained, he who does one mitsvah is treated well. He who is average, is a person whose merits and liabilities are balanced, the half of merits is below and the half of debts below. This is the secret of What is your petition, and it shall be granted to you, and what is your request? Up to half the kingdom, and it shall be done! (Esther 5:6). In the case of a completely righteous man, all his merits are above and his liabilities below. For a completely wicked man, his liabilities are above and his merits are below” (Zohar 3:111a, Ra’aya Meheimna Behar).
“If his offenses are many and his mitsvot few, then he receives his reward in this world, [and this] is a wicked man who prospers…. The Masters of Mishnah taught: Woe to him for whom the hour smiles, for he receives his reward during his lifetime” (Zohar 3:230b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
When the wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed forever (Psalms 92:8).