And Jesus said to the people: “Understand this: The measure that you hand out is the measure that will be handed back to you, and perhaps with even more severity.”
What Jesus teaches here is what some would call karma. What goes around comes around. If you act mercifully toward others, someone in the future will act mercifully toward you. If you act unjustly toward others, someone, at some time, will act unjustly toward you. Indeed, the ancient rabbis of the Talmud expressly taught this “measure for measure” doctrine: “The Holy One, blessed be He, metes out reward and punishment to us in the same way that we mete out reward and punishment to others.”
Thus, the Mishnah, Judaism’s Oral Law (see, “The Law: An Incomplete Torah?” post of April 29, 2010), relates the story of Hillel, the great sage who lived in Jerusalem in the generation before Jesus. One day, Hillel saw a skull floating in a stream, causing him to remark: “Because you killed another, someone killed you; and that person will himself be killed by another.”
This idea of “measure for measure” is grounded firmly in the Jewish (and later Christian) view of reward and punishment. Thus, we read in the Torah:
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and then the LORD’S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.
The moral is clear: Comply with the commandments, and all is well. Don’t comply, and there will be big problems.
Nonetheless, how far does this “measure for measure” go? When a child is beaten to death by sadistic and evil parents, does anyone believe that the child did something evil? Importantly, in Judaism, a boy under 13 (12 for a girl) is fully incapable of sin. Indeed, during the Holocaust, 1,500,000 of the Nazi’s innocent victims were children. They were the innocent among the innocents.
We, therefore, strive to make sense of the world and the bad things that happen to righteous people and innocent victims. But the reality is that there are many times where we are simply at a loss to explain the suffering of the righteous. This was the great moral of Job: an innocent man who suffers horrific afflictions.
Thus, in trying to respond to the perpetual problem of evil befalling the innocent, the ancient rabbis also taught, “It is not within our power to explain why the wicked are at ease while the righteous suffer.”
I welcome your comments.
Copyright 20111 by Ira L. Shafiroff. All rights reserved.