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Thought for the Day: Encouragement and Direction, Not Reward and Punishment

When I had been at my current job for about a year, I was approached by my (very) difficult manager.  He asked me gleefully, "You've been here about a year, so you know a fair amount about the projects we have going.  What is the one project you would want to avoid at all costs?"  My heart sunk, because I knew this was his "cute" way of telling me about my new assignment.  I saw one of the directors (from the business side, so not my manager's direct boss) and asked if I was being given this assignment as a punishment.  He replied, with a big grin (but also sincerity; I actually quite like this director), "Not at all, Michael.  You are a man of faith, and only a man of faith could make it through this project."

Chazal give us a powerful mashal to explain why we have have so many dietary restrictions while the goyim have only one (they also aren't allowed to saw a leg off a living animal and eat it).  The mashal (brought by Rashi in chumash, which is why I know it) is about two patients in a hospital.  The doctor is making his rounds with a nurse.  After examining the first patient, the doctor instructs the nurse that he is on a very strict diet; no exceptions, no matter how he pleads.  They go to examine the next patient and the doctor tells the nurse that the patient is to be given anything he wants; whatever makes him comfortable and happy, give  him.  After as the doctor is leaving, the nurse expresses how sorry she is for the dire predicament of the first patient.  "Yes, " says the doctor, "he's sick, but Baruch HaShem he'll make it if he sticks to the diet.  The second fellow, however, is beyond help.  That's why I told you to give him whatever he wants; we just want to make him comfortable."

There are difficulties, trials, and plenty of pain in this world.  There is also joys and pleasures.  The painful events are not punishments, and the joys are not reward.  Chazal tell us that "s'char b'hai alma leika"/there is no reward in this world.  By the same token, there is no punishment in this world.  This world is for no purpose other than a preparation for the coming world.  Those who merit are themselves being prepared for eternal life.  Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, Yaakov Avinu all had trials that stagger the imagination; captivity, poverty, loss of children, famine, just to mention a few.  Because they were great people, they endured and grew from great challenges.

There are also those who don't merit eternal life on their own, but are needed in this world to help those who are.  Paroh, Bilaam, Amaleik, and Hitler fall into that category.  They certainly had there share of pleasure and success, but it was all for nothing but to provide the environment that Klal Yisrael needed for there growth as a nation.

Of course we cry when we are hurt and we comfort those who are in pain.  We also laugh with pleasure and rejoice with those who are celebrating simchos.  The events cause the crying are not punishments; the simchos that bring us to laughter are not rewards.  Instead, each of those is tailor made to direct us and lead us to do the appropriate hishtadlus -- crying, laughing, comforting, celebrating, and so on -- that we need for perfection of ourselves and the entire creation; because that's the only reason we are here.

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