Tuesday, May 8, 2018

By Your Side

There are many metaphors in Jewish tradition that are meant to help a person understand the spiritual consequences of one’s actions. In a world in which reward and punishment for one’s actions are rarely immediately evident, it is often hard to conceptualize how, for example, eating a cheeseburger affects one’s soul.

For instance, it was recorded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Father, in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: “One who performs a single commandment acquires a single defender. One who commits a single transgression acquires a single prosecutor” (4:11).

The Mishna  uses the imagery of a court to serve as a reminder that, according to Jewish theology, each person faces a moment of judgment as they pass from this world into the afterlife. A simple transgression often seems innocuous. But, if a person were to picture an army of individual prosecutors as one and one and one, etc, added up, it might be quite worrisome, unless one remembers that it is balanced by all of the individual defenders one has acquired by performing good deeds.

There is, however, also a more immediate way one can understand Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s imagery. Those who acquire a defender, gain an advocate, an inner voice, that encourages them to continue performing positive actions. But, unfortunately, those who through transgression acquire a “prosecutor,”  also gain an advocate. Guilt and negativity are connected to the transgression and that, too, has a powerful effect on the soul.

Spiritual judgment is, in many ways, an ongoing process. Fortunately, almost no one is considered beyond hope because, as Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov concisely concludes: “Repentance and good deeds are like a shield against punishment” (ibid). Judaism, always encourages each person to assess themselves, so they may repent and strive to do better.

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