A Man Should Always Regard Himself as though He were Half Liable and Half Meritorious

by tillerofthesoil

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“Rabbi Akiva used to say: All is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The shop is open, the shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, and the hand records. Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. The collectors regularly make their daily rounds and collect payment from a person, whether he realizes it or not. They have [a record] on which they can rely; the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet” (M Avot 3:20).

Our Rabbis taught: A man should always regard himself as though he were half liable and half meritorious: if he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for weighting himself down in the scale of merit; if he commits one offense woe to him for weighting himself down in the scale of liability, as is said, yet a single offender destroys much good (Ecclesiastes 9:18)—on account of a single offense which he commits much good is lost to him.

Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on said: Because the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority, if he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for turning the scale both of himself and of the whole world on the side of merit; if he commits one offense, woe to him for weighting himself and the whole world in the scale of liability, as is said: yet a single offender—on account of the single offense which this man commits he and the whole world lose much good.

Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said: Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels in the end, he destroys the former, as is said: The righteousness of the righteous shall not save him on the day of his trespass (Ezekiel 33:12) [cf. Numbers 20:24]. And even if one is completely wicked all his life but performs repentance in the end, he is not reminded of his wickedness, as is said, and in the wickedness of the wicked he shall not stumble on the day he turns back from his wickedness (ibid.). Yet, let it be regarded as half offenses and half merits! Resh Laqish said: [It means that] he regrets his past [in that case his righteous past is completely disregarded].

‘All who rehearse Scripture, and Mishnah, and [have] a worldly occupation [lit., דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ (derekh erets), the way of the land], will not be quick to offend, as is said: And the triple cord will not quickly be snapped (Ecclesiastes 4:12). And all who do not יִשְׁנוּ (yishnu), rehearse, Scripture, nor Mishnah, nor [have] a worldly occupation, do not belong to יִשּׁוּב (yishuv), civilization’ (Mishnah).

Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Tsaddoq said: To what are the righteous compared in this world? To a tree standing entirely in a place of purity, but its branches overhang a place of impurity; when the branch is cut, 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 to come, 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, its branches overhang a place of purity: when the branch is cut, it stands entirely in a place of impurity. Thus the blessed Holy One bestows good upon them in this world, in order to drive them away and dispossess them to the lowest rung, as is said: There may be a straight way before a man, but its end is the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12)” (BT Qiddushin 40a–b).

“Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: ‘Whoever fulfills a single mitsvah in this world—it ushers him into the world that is coming… and whoever commits a single transgression in this world—it clasps him and ushers him into the day of Judgment” (BT Sotah 3b).

“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 liabilities 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).

“Rabbi Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi, became ill and fell into a coma. When he recovered, his father asked him, ‘What did you see?’ He replied, ‘I saw a upside-down world: the upper below and the lower above.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you saw a clear world. And how are we [situated] there?’ He replied, ‘Just as we are here, so are we there’” (BT Pesaḥim 50a).

“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] (BT Berakhot 7b)” (Zohar 3:230b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).

 “Rabbi El’azar said, ‘If the scale is evenly balanced—offenses on this side, merits on that—what does the blessed Holy One do? He tips it toward Kindness, as is said: Yours, Master, is kindness (Psalms 62:13).’ Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Ḥanina said, ‘What does the blessed Holy One do? He snatches one writ of debt from the offenses, and immediately the merits tip the scales, as is said, He lifts iniquity and passes over transgression (Micah 7:18)’” (Midrash Tehillim 30:4).

“The son of David will not come until the [last] coin has gone from the purse [i.e., until all debts have been paid]” (BT Sanhedrin 97a).

Rabbi Shim’on replied: If the blessed Holy One had not created the evil impulse and the good impulse, which are light and darkness, there would not have been any merit or liability for the man of בְּרִיָּה (Beri’ah), Creation. So man was created with both, as it is written: See, I have set before you today life and good and death and evil, that I charge you today to love YHWH your God, to go in His ways and to keep His commands and His statutes and His Laws (Deuteronomy 30:15). They asked him: Why all this? Better He had not created darkness. Then man would have no reward or punishment as opposed to being created and having to offend, thereby causing much [damage].

He said to them: It was right to create him in this way because Torah was created for his sake, for it contains punishments for the offenders and rewards for the righteous. Thus, there can be no reward for the righteous or punishment for the offenders without the man of בְּרִיָּה (Beri’ah), Creation. He did not create it a wasteland. He formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). They said, ‘Indeed, we have certainly now heard what we had never heard before. It is now clear that the blessed Holy One did not create anything that he did not require’” (Zohar 1:22a, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).

“If a man strikes many coins from one stamp they all resemble one another, but the Supreme King of the Kings of Kings, the blessed Holy One, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: ‘The world was created for my sake’” (BT Sanhedrin 37a).