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Does G-d Really Need to Punish the Wicked? Isn’t There a Better Way?

Does G-d Really Need to Punish the Wicked? Isn’t There a Better Way?

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Question:

I don’t understand. If we are all G‑d’s children, and G‑d’s mercy extends to all His creations, why did G‑d need to bring on such great harm as blight, plague, and the death of the firstborn to get the children of Israel out of Egypt? I understand that the problem was that the Egyptians were wicked and needed to be punished, and the Israelites were enslaved and mistreated, and something had to be done to free them. But couldn’t G‑d have found a better way?

Answer:

The entirety of history is a process in which the world is slowly purified and becomes a receptive channel for G‑d’s light. When it is still coarse, G‑dliness comes crashing in, because it is Infinite Light, and the world cannot contain such a light. But as we approach messianic times and the purification becomes more complete, miracles can land gently. The fall of the Communist Party was somewhat of a gentler miracle—a great miracle, but much gentler.

Today, amazing miracles are happening, far beyond the Exodus. But we all want to remain skeptics and prefer not to notice. If we open our minds and eyes, we will see extraordinary changes entering our world—in peace and tranquility.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Shoshana Cleveland May 6, 2013

To Anonymous of Ormond Beach, Florida I don't think Gd wants to punish anyone.

Let's take things as Zusya took them. He lived in a hovel and was sick, but he was radiantly happy. When asked to teach two students how to give thanks when bad things happen, he said, "You've come to the wrong person. Nothing bad has ever happened to me."

When the students pointed out Zusya's miserable situation,, Z. said, "Oh, that. Surely that is exactly what my soul needs."

If we take this attitude, we can be free of any thought of punishment. We can, however, examine our deeds and see if any of them can be improved. When deeds improve, situations often improve as well. That's a fairly typical life situation for most of us.

Of course, an oppressive government can turn that upside down and make a point of punishing the righteous. That gives the righteous the opportunity for great spiritual advancement, so they can be happy about it. But how many of us can claim to be righteous enough to be worthy of that kind of happiness? Reply

Michael Santa Barbara May 6, 2013

William Butler Yeats was a poet who wrote "Among School Children" I summarized the poem, written when he was about age 60, and then quoted the last two lines.

Those last two lines, it seems to me, tell us a great deal of what we, as finite beings, are capable of knowing about Gd. Not an "it". Not a "what". Not a punishment or a punisher..

A verb. Or, if you like, a process. Or both, or neither. But self-aware, and aware of us as partaking in His infinite awesome Dancing. Reply

Michael Santa Barbara May 5, 2013

William Yeats Among School Children When you are sixty
and walk among school children
because doubts die
and memories arise,
and questions come,
and you must ask
how can all be One?
Here is the answer
you must recall
to end your canker
to start your quest
to answer it all:

O body moved to music! O brightening glance!
How shall we tell the Dancer from the dance? Reply

For Hadassah in Chicago May 5, 2013

Eicha (Lamentations) 3:38. Reply

Jerry NJ May 5, 2013

"No, evil does not descend from above. It comes from within us, and returns back to us. How much more so when we spread wisdom, goodness and kindness."

True but everything and everything is enabled from above and created that way for a purpose. That leaves us with new creations within creation. Reply

Hadassah Chicago May 4, 2013

Dear Rabbi:
If you would be so kind as to write your insight to Isaiah 45:7, in light of your January 12, 2013 statement, "No, evil does not descend from above. It comes from within us, and returns back to us. How much more so when we spread wisdom, goodness and kindness."
Todah rabbah. Reply

Anonymous Arizona, USA April 1, 2013

Does G-d Really Need to Punish the Wicked Based on the question: Why do we human beings are always judging G-d on the punishment of the wicked? Why don't we judge the humans who kill innocent people. Who constantly curse others and hurt them because things are not done their way? The children of Yisrael were killed in the most horrendous ways. And all through the ages is still happening. Just because they worship the True Living G-d. Others cannot accept this monoteistic religion. Is this justified? Why so? We need to stop blaming the Almighty, blessed be He, for our wicked ways. He is the perfect Father, Love, and Faithfulness. He gives us everything, most importantly, the breath of life. And yet we are judging Him. How ironic could this be. STOP! Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman via mychabad.org January 13, 2013

Michael Michael, you are correct that the Torah has deeper and deeper levels by which we can understand it. But we also have a principle that, after all the deeper meanings have been discovered and expounded, the simple meaning remains just as firm and strong. Yes, that gives us a lot more work to do, and there are some things that a very hard to explain. But Torah was never meant to be easy. As much as the Torah provides answers, it demands questions. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman January 12, 2013

More to the plagues than punishment Years after writing this, I see that there is much more going on here than appears at the surface.

Basically, Egypt needed a detox. All the evil that had taken place in that country had become embedded in the very physical fabric of the land. When the Nile turned to blood, or the earth turned to lice, that was just a manifestation of that evil being released—much as a hives or sweating might manifest toxins being released by the body.

Only once that evil had been purged from the land, could the Egyptians let go of the Children of Israel. The detox was part of the Exodus, and it was a healing for Egypt, as well.

No, evil does not descend from above. It comes from within us, and returns back to us. How much more so when we spread wisdom, goodness and kindness. Reply

Anonymous NYC January 10, 2013

Don't forget Don't forget that the Torah is often a tool of imagery and is not always literal. A great column on this parsha is posted explaining how the plagues represent levels of the ego/conscience. Sometimes the Torah is not to be taken literally. That's the beauty of it....that we can interpret it in so many ways without losing sight of the true message it sends...that living an honest life in which you worship Hashem and Hashem alone, and a life in which you abide by the Golden Rule and perform mitzvahs and educate yourself, then you will be blessed eternally by Adonai. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA November 13, 2012

The G-d in which I believe... Is nothing like the one described. I believe G-d to be a rock of strength, divine goodness and love, and a great friend to all people. There is a choice to accept this G-d and be good, or not, and be evil. This is different, no? Reply

Anonymous ormond beach, florida October 26, 2011

I like the last post...????? There is no way to explain it..it doesnt make sense for an all loving omnipotent G-d to need to punish and kill his own children..It sits wrong with all of us..Some accept it as law others just shrug their shoulders and move on. I am sorry I cant. It is inconsistent with my view of Hashem. I cant follow a G-d that orders death and bloodshed..If that's Judaism then count me out, but i suspect judaism is much more. Jews have always been an obstinate bunch and I just wont accept any answer that condones or minimizes the death and cruelty in the Torah. Its written in black and white. So what is a Jew to do? If you listen to Orthodox Jewry, Chabad included, then we must accept it and move on. Hashem gave me a brain and a Neshama to say I cant. Reply

ms montevideo April 2, 2010

? what is the answer to the question? or was this an answer to a different question? Reply

Jason Leeds, UK July 30, 2008

reward and punishment Train up a child in the way she should go...And then praise her for having put it all away (even though we are the one who "really" put it away...If only G-d did that.

Posted By Sonia

Doesn't science quantify all the ways in which G-d does exactly that? Life is a classroom in which we learn morality via exactly such reward and punishment. Reply

ceciia Prague, Czech Republic June 12, 2008

Sonia Thanks for the great advice! I mean really. I couldn't make her do time out after all because you're right, she thought it was a game.

I think G-d does that as well, when I studied Kabbalah seriously, and Rabbi Freeman, please correct me if I'm wrong, I realized that when G-d says "I", He means do this too.

Pretty much like your advice. Though we have to seek the guidance, it doesn't come to us. Reply

Sonia June 12, 2008

Train up a child in the way she should go.... We are bigger than a four-year-old. We can put her through the motions we want her to do. We are free of any need to hit her. And how do you force her to stay in front of the wall if she is determined to do as she pleases? Just stand over her and if necessary gently place her hand on an object so she is "holding" it (enclosed in our own fist) and walk her over to where the object belongs, and keep doing that, very gently, despite her crying, until it's done, to show that we mean it, that she WILL put it away. And then praise her for having put it all away (even though we are the one who "really" put it away). And watch for the next time she puts away even one item, praise her specifically for that item and then encourage her to put away the rest. Watch for specific occasions to praise, and stop her at once if she does anything that is truly wrong. Avoid saying NO to harmless desires; save that for the biggies but enforce those biggies.
If only Gd did that. Reply

cecilia Prague, Czech Republic June 12, 2008

Purification Dear Rabbi,

Purification is something I can understand. And I began to see your point clearer when you posted on June 9. Punishment is so vindictive a word to be used when talking about G-d. I cannot believe that G-d punishes, because it sounds so narrow and it acts on a past event. It does not move forward as Creation does. I always marvel at how the motion of creation moves in consistent ways regardless of scale. What applies to nations applies to four year olds.

I never believed in punishing my four year old child until the teachers told me she's purposely not doing as she's told to test how far they would take their "threats", ofcourse the worst they could do was tell mommy and mommy is not a threat--hmmm. Too much Chesed is creating a little Pharaoh in the house.

Time to be Moses to my own kid. "If you do not pick up that mess, seven minutes infront of the wall will befall you!"

Purification is a good word. Thanks a lot. Reply

Frank June 9, 2008

We have miracles Those soft miracles that we have now--

We had them in Egypt too.

In those days those ones were not miracles.

The world was more innocent then. They did not have the horrors we have now, so there were Egyptians who thought that all religions were the same, or rather than the gods of one country were the same as the gods of another country. This was a commonplace attitude then.

The things that happened in Egypt were not nearly as bad as the things that have been happening this past 90 years or so. Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) June 8, 2008

Howard's Point This is definitely a valid point. So here's some explanation of how this process of purification works, as it is described in the writings of the Ramak, the Arizal and in the Tanya:
Purification means that the good stuff is separated from the bad stuff, like grain is separated from the chaff. So the good gets better, but the bad...

Eventually, however, once the bad is cut off from its source of vitality (the good), it must die. That's the drama of the curtains rising on the messianic times.

Today, we have some raw, outrageous evil in the world. At the same time, we have nations discussing moral issues that were never on the table before in history. Sometimes, in the same country you see the most dastardly crimes against humanity and unprecedented acts of kindness and generosity simultaneously (China's response to the latest earthquake, for example). Reply

Howard June 6, 2008

I was paraphrasing the rabbi, not in order to call anyone undeserving, but to say that people are no better today than in the days of the Exodus from Egypt.

The rabbi had said,

The entirety of history is a process in which the world is slowly purified and becomes a receptive channel for G-d's light. When it is still coarse, G-dliness comes crashing in, because it is Infinite Light and the world cannot contain such a light. But as we approach the messianic times and the purification becomes more complete, miracles can land gently.

Well, judging by the events of the 20th century (and the 21st so far), the world is at least as "coarse" and "impure" as was Pharaoh's world.

No intent to belittle or denouce or say ill of anyone, certainly not you or your friend. Reply