“[Hashem] pays back His enemies in their lifetime to destroy them.” – Devarim 7:10
Rashi explains that this pasuk means Hashem pays back His enemies in this world so that there will be nothing owed to them in the World to Come, and then they can be destroyed.
The Rishonim tell us that one of the worst punishments a person can possibly suffer is to be given his reward in this world. Since our stay on this planet is so fleeting, if a person is paid the reward for his good deeds in this world rather than in the World to Come, it is to his eternal misfortune – and something Hashem will only do in retribution for wickedness.
This concept is difficult to understand. If this person is an enemyof Hashem, why does Hashem have to pay him any reward at all, whether in this world or the Next? Why not simply destroy him?
One of the manifestations of the immature person is a sense of entitlement. I am entitled to every benefit under the sun. I am entitled to life, health, and well-being. That is a given; that is the starting point. It’s all coming to me. And even if I grant that you have done something for me, what have you done for me lately? This attitude of entitlement strains many relationships, and creates many difficulties in our serving Hashem.
The Chovos Ha’Levavos explains that one of the realities of life is that a person isn’t entitled to anything. A person has to earn what he enjoys. We are the recipients of much good – not because we are entitled, not because anything is coming to us, but because Hashem gives freely. Hashem owes us nothing.
In reality, we are deeply indebted to Hashem for everything He does for us. If a person ever wanted to enter into judgment with Hashem, comparing what Hashem has given him versus what he has given back, even the greatest tzaddik would fall woefully short and would have no reward waiting for him. However, as long as a person lives in accordance with the Torah, then what he receives in this world remains a gift, free to him without expectation of anything in return, and his reward remains intact in the World to Come.
Therefore, this question is powerful. If the Torah describes someone as an enemy of Hashem, then Hashem should simply act with strict justice, charge him for all he received in this world, and there would be no reward left. Why does Hashem have to bother even paying him back with reward in this world?
Why Did Hashem Create This World?
The answer to this question lies in understanding why Hashem created this world.
The first, most basic understanding a person must come to if he wants to relate to Hashem is that Hashem lacks nothing. Hashem is complete. When Hashem created this world, it wasn’t for Him. It was for us. It was to give of His good to others. We are the recipients of that good. When Hashem put us on the planet, it was so that we could earn our reward in the World to Come – the ultimate good for man. There we can enjoy Hashem’s presence, there we can bask in His glory, and there we can enjoy the ultimate happiness that man can find. There is nothing in it for Hashem. Hashem is the Giver.
Hashem also recognized that man will likely veer of course during his lifetime. According to strict judgment, man should then immediately lose his lease on life. The King of kings created you and told you not to do something, but you had the audacity to violate His will. The punishment should be immediate and severe. However, man will inevitably sin, so the world cannot survive strict judgment. Therefore, Hashem created the world with the system of rachamim. Now when man fails, the middah of rachamim calls out to forgive him and overlook what he has done. According to strict judgment, of course, he is completely guilty. But rachamim says, “There were mitigating factors that influenced him – environmental, social, and personal factors.” And so Hashem has mercy.