The Gemorah in Brochos explains that Moshe asked Hashem the age-old question that has been asked over and over throughout the generations. We would do well to study and comprehend Hashem’s reply.
Why is it that there are some tzaddikim who enjoy a good and wonderful life, while there are other tzaddikim whose life is full of misery and suffering? Why is it that there are some wicked people who seem to be rich and successful, living a life of fun and joy, while there are others whose life is full of pain and tragedy?
When Hashem showed Moshe all the future generations, he saw how the great Rabbi Akiva would die a very horrible death. The Romans tore off his skin with metal combs, slowly torturing him to death. When he asked Hashem how this could be – “Is this the Torah and is this the reward?” Hashem’s answer was “Silence! So it has come to mind.”
Even Moshe, the greatest of all people, could not fully comprehend G-D’s ways. Sometimes one must remain silent!
This paradox seems to indicate that people are free to behave as they wish and there is really no true system of reward and punishment. Otherwise, how is it possible to comprehend what’s going on? A tzaddik is poor, sick and destitute, while a rosho lives a life of luxury, fame and honor. On the surface it seems to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. In fact, it chas v’sholom seems to contradict one’s belief that Hashem controls all that happens and that there is reward and punishment!
Yet the Gemorah in Brochos does tell us the answer Hashem gave Moshe. There are different degrees in a tzaddik. There is the perfect tzaddik, and the less than perfect tzaddik. Hashem in His great wisdom punishes the tzaddik in this world for even the slightest infraction. This way he will avoid getting a far worse punishment in the World to Come.
For the rosho it’s just the reverse. Hashem rewards the rosho in this world for the good he may have done, in order that he not get a share in the World to Come.
The Gemorah tells us that for three steps that Nevuchadnetzar took for Hashem’s honor he was rewarded with three generations of kingdom. No small reward for just three short steps!
The medrash tells us that for three tears that Orpah shed for here mother-in -law Naomi, she was rewarded with three mighty giant warriors. Even a rosho must get his reward for any good he does. Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim makes mention of this rather strange paradox. He expresses himself very strongly, saying that his belief has nearly slipped, because he was jealous when he saw the peaceful life of the sinners. In Tehillim ‘s Dovid says ” You put happiness in my heart when I saw that the grain and wine (of the wicked) grow greater” Rashi explains it as follows lf seeing the great reward given to the rosho for his small little mitzvah, one can take great reassurance. Just imagine how much greater will be the reward for those who give up all worldly pleasures and serve Hashem with their whole heart and soul!