The Eleventh Principle is that He, may He be exalted, rewards him who obeys the commands of the Torah and punishes him who violates its prohibitions; and, that the greatest of His rewards is the World-to-Come while the severest of His punishments is "being cut off."This seems to indicate that the belief in the afterlife or the "World-to-Come" is part of the belief that there is reward and punishment. Therefore, it is essential for us to understand the varying opinions about reward and punishment if we are to understand the afterlife and vice versa.
In order to have this discussion I think we must first look in the Gemara in Kiddushin (39b) where the views of the afterlife are hinted at and reward and punishment are discussed (Translations from Gemara are Soncino):
This Mishna seems to be telling us that reward and punishment are things that are given over in this world, as well as the afterlife. Rashi explains that "He is well rewarded" implies in this world and when it says "And he inherits the land" this refers to the World-to-Come. The Gemara will now discuss this idea. Continuing in the Gemara (ibid):MISHNAH. HE WHO PERFORMS ONE PRECEPT IS WELL REWARDED, HIS DAYS ARE PROLONGED, AND HE INHERITS THE LAND,BUT HE WHO DOES NOT PERFORM ONE PRECEPT, GOOD IS NOT DONE TO HIM, HIS DAYS ARE NOT PROLONGED, AND HE DOES NOT INHERIT THE LAND.
This Braisah, let's call it Braisah A, (Tannaic literature, for a similar version of this found in the Mishna see Mishna Pe'ah) implies that it is only for these few commandments that a person is rewarded in this world and in the afterlife. Therefore, the Gemara tries to explain the apparent contradiction by saying (ibid),GEMARA. But a contradiction is shewn: These are the things the fruit of which man eats in this world, while the principal remains for him for the future world. Viz., honoring one's parents, the practice of loving deeds, hospitality to wayfarers, and making peace between man and his neighbour; and the study of the Torah surpasses them all.
Said Rab Judah: This is its meaning: HE WHO PERFORMS ONE PRECEPT in addition to his [equally balanced] merits IS WELL REWARDED, and he is as though he had fulfilled the whole Torah.Thus, Rav Yehuda is explaining that our Mishna is dealing with a person that has equal amounts of sins and righteous deeds and then does a good deed. That good deed will cause him to be rewarded. Therefore, our Mishna is teaching something different than Braisah A. Our Mishna teaches us that a righteous act, meaning fulfilling a commandment, helps a person earn reward in this world and the afterlife if he has an equal amount of sins and righteous deeds (He now has 101 merits and 100 sins, before it was 100 merits and 100 sins). However, this leads to an untenable understanding of Braisah A:
Hence it follows that for these others (quoted in Braisah A) [one is rewarded] even for a single one! (And that makes no sense. How can a person have an infinite amount of sins and one good deed yet still be rewarded in this world and the next?) Said R. Shemaiah: That teaches that if there is an equal balance, it tips the scale.According to Rav Yehuda's explanation, we would conclude that Braisah A means to tell us that even if a person only does one righteous deed (one of the deeds in Braisah A), but has a list of sins he is still rewarded. This is remarkable and can not be true. Therefore, Rav Shemiah comes along and tells us Braisah A is only saying if a person has an equal amount of righteous deeds and sins, if one of the righteous deeds is on the list stated in Braisah A, they are still rewarded (even though this person has an equal amount of sins and merits).
Now that we understand the difference between Braisah A and the Mishna, because for some reason (which I am not going to explain now) they can't contradict each other (or be teaching the same thing), the Gemara quotes another Braisah, let's call it Braisah B, that seems to contradict this perfectly reasonable explanation that was proposed by Rav Yehuda and Rav Shemiah.
Yet is it a fact that he who performs one precept in addition to his [equally balanced] merits is rewarded? But the following contradicts it: He whose good deeds outnumber his iniquities is punished, and is as though he had burnt the whole Torah, not leaving even a single letter; while he whose iniquities outnumber his good deeds is rewarded, and is as though he had fulfilled the whole Torah, not omitting even a single letter!According to Braisah B it seems to be that a person with more righteous deeds than sins is punished while a person who has more sins than righteous deeds is rewarded. This seems to contradict the interpretation offered by Rav Yehuda and Rav Shemiah of the Mishna and Braisah A. The Gemara now puts forth two possible explanations as to why Braisah B is not a problem. The first explanation is Abaye,
Said Abaye: Our Mishnah means that a festive day and an evil day are prepared for him,I am going to explain Abaye according to Tosfos and talk about Rashi later because I think Rashi believes in something I am going to discuss later (see Tosfos' question on Rashi). Tosfos, in the name of Rabbeinu Tam, explains (My translation),
The Mishna prepares for a man a good day and an evil day in this world. [Also,] Braisah B's "IS WELL REWARDED" is explained just like it is in the Mishna [with regards to someone who has more sins than merits] there are times that [G-D] makes a good day for him (even though he is really wicked) in order that he accept his reward for a righteous deed in this world and on that day (that he is being rewarded) he is similar to someone who fulfills the whole Torah. However, the majority of the life of a wicked person is filled with bad because his sins are greater than his merits. [The explanation of] And it is bad for him [is with regards to someone who has more merits than sins and] there are times [G-D] makes for him a bad day in order to cleanse him of his sins in this world. On this [bad day] he is like one who burned the whole Torah. However, the majority of the days of a righteous person are filled with good because his merits are more numerous than his sins.According to Tosfos, Abaye seems to explain Braisah B as discussing a different idea about reward in this world. Braisah B agrees, according to Abaye, with Rav Yehuda and Rav Shemiah's explanation of the Mishna and Braisah A . According to Braisah B, if you are a wicked person (more sins than merits) and you perform a righteous deed then you will be rewarded in this world. However, the majority of your days will be filled with punishment. If you are a righteous person (more merits than sins) and you sin then you will be punished in this world. However, the majority of your days will be filled with good. The originality of Braisah B is that it tells us a wicked person is still rewarded for his good deeds in this world and a righteous person is still punished for his wicked deeds in this world.
However, Rava comes to offer an alternate explanation. He says,
Rava says, that Braisah B does not contradict anything, rather it is a dissenting opinion. He would explain Braisah B in the following way, according to Tosfos: A person who has a majority of merits and a minority of sins is punished in this world for his sins in order that he should receive the maximum amount of reward in the next world and a person who has a majority of sins and a minority of merits is rewarded in this world for his merits in order that he should not be rewarded at all in the World-to-Come. Braisah B disagrees with the Mishna and Braisah A since they hold the opposite, the righteous are rewarded in this world and the wicked are punished in this world.Raba said: This latter agrees with R. Jacob, who said: There is no reward for precepts in this world. For it was taught: R. Jacob said: There is not a single precept in the Torah whose reward is [stated] at its side which is not dependent on the resurrection of the dead.
We assume, according to Rava, that the Mishna and Braisah A are according to the mainstream views, that is why they must be reconciled. However, since Braisah B is according to a "Singular" opinion (known as Daas Yachid) it is not a contradiction to the Mishna and Braisah A even though it argues on them.
This is where we see the two views on reward and punishment. Rav Yaakov clearly holds that there is no reward given in this world and Rava explains that this is the view of Braisah B, a dissenting Tannaic opinion. However, Rava is implying that the Mishna and Braisah A are of the opinion that reward and punishment are meted out in this world according to who actually deserves it. Essentially, the Mishna and Braisah A believe, as we stated earlier, a righteous person should be rewarded in this world and a wicked person should be punished.
Rabbi Akiva seems to have a similar understanding to Rav Yaakov, according to Tosfos, that is seen in Ruth Rabbah (6:4, translation from artscroll)
One time [Elisha] was sitting and studying in the valley of Ginosar and he saw a man who ascended to the top of a date palm on the Sabbath, took the mother bird with the young, and descended safely. On Motzei Shabbos, [Elisha] saw another man ascend to the top of the date palm tree, he took the young after he had sent away the mother bird, he descended, and a snake bit him and he died. Thereupon, [Elisha] said, "It is written, 'You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and will prolong your days' (Devarim 22:7); where is this second man's good and where is his prolonging of days?" And [Elisha] did not know that Rabbi Akiva had publicly expounded that verse as follows: "So that it will be good for you" in the world that is entirely good, "and you will prolong your days" in the world that is entirely long (i.e. the World-to-Come).Here we also see that Rabbi Akiva understood that reward is not given to a person in this world, but in the World-to-Come. (In fact, Rabbi Akiva explains this verse in the exact same way Rav Yaakov does.)
However, if you have not noticed, Rav Yaakov, according to Tosfos, seems to imply that reward and punishment are given in this world even though he states, straight out, that they are not. According to Rava's explanation of Braisah B, Rav Yaakov says, in Tosfos' opinion, that reward is given in this world, at least, to a wicked person so that he should not get it in the next world and that punishment is given in this world, at least, to a righteous person so that he will not receive it in the World-to-Come.
This idea, that a righteous person can receive punishment in this world in order to receive his full capacity of reward in the world to come is also brought down in the name of Rabbi Akiva in Sanhedrin 101a:
This Gemara also teaches us a new idea. This new idea is that any person, not just a wicked person, can receive his reward in this world and thereby lose his reward in the World-to-Come. It has even been explicitly stated in Tractate Arachin (16b):Rabbah b. Bar Hana said: When R. Eliezer fell sick, his disciples entered [his house] to visit him.He said to them, ‘There is a fierce wrath in the world.They broke into tears, but R. Akiba laughed. ‘Why dost thou laugh?’ they enquired of him ‘Why do ye weep?’ he retorted. They answered, ‘Shall the Scroll of the Torah lie in pain, and we not weep?’ — He replied, ‘For that very reason I rejoice. As long as I saw that my master's wine did not turn sour, nor was his flax smitten, nor his oil putrefied, nor his honey become rancid, I thought, God forbid, that he may have received all his reward in this world [leaving nothing for the next]; but now that I see him lying in pain, I rejoice [knowing that his reward has been treasured up for him in the next].’ He [R. Eliezer] said to him, ‘Akiba, have I neglected anything of the whole Torah? He replied, ‘Thou, O Master, hast taught us, For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.
The School of R. Ishmael taught: Anyone upon whom forty days have passed without [divine] visitation (some version of suffering), had received his world (his reward for the good things he has done in this world).The final proof we can bring that Shows Rabbi Akiva believed there is reward for righteous deeds in this world is found in Gemara Shabbos (156b):
Clearly, Rabbi Akiva holds that the reward for a good deed can be actualized in this world. Therefore, we see Rabbi Akiva holds that reward and punishment are meted out in this world. However, he also seems to be holding that reward can be "saved up" for the World-to-Come. Either way we look at it, Rav Yaakov, according to Tosfos, and Rabbi Akiva are holding that reward and punishment ARE given in this world, so I am unsure how they can be understood to be saying that reward for fulfilling the commandments in this world does not exist according to Tosfos.From R. Akiba too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For R. Akiba had a daughter. Now, astrologers told him, On the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On that day [of her marriage] she took a brooch [and] stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated [sank] into the eye of a serpent. The following morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. ‘What did you do?’ her father asked her. ‘A poor man came to our door in the evening.’ she replied, ‘and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to her. Thereupon R. Akiba went out and lectured: But charity delivereth from death’: and not [merely] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
The truth is, maybe this is not the correct way to understand Rav Yaakov. Maybe Tosfos' question on Rashi is not a good question. Also, If we remove Tosfos' understanding of Rav Yaakov then Rabbi Akiva and Rav Yaakov might not be saying the same thing. That would remove some very challenging difficulties. Perhaps this is the route to follow? However, to understand a possible answer, we must understand the possible views of how G-D interacts with this world, we have to understand divine providence.
According to Rambam, as stated in the "Guide For The Perplexed" (3:51), divine providence only rests on those who have intellects that qualify them for divine providence. All other beings are left to "chance."
Divine Providence is constantly watching over those who have obtained that blessing which is prepared for those who endeavor to obtain it. If man frees his thoughts from worldly matters, obtains a knowledge of God in the right way, and rejoices in that knowledge, it is impossible that any kind of evil should befall him while he is with God, and God with him. When he does not meditate on God, when he is separated from God, then God is also separated from him; then he is exposed to any evil that might befall him; for it is only that intellectual link with God that secures the presence of Providence and protection from evil accidents. Hence it may occur that the perfect man is at times not happy, whilst no evil befalls those who are imperfect; in these cases what happens to them is due to chance...It is now clearly established that the cause of our being exposed to chance, and abandoned to destruction like cattle, is to be found in our separation from God.The idea of "chance" is something that I have referenced before (Individual Divine Intervention) and can be found in the Gemara (Mo'ed Katan 28a and Shabbos 156a-b). (According to the Rambam these Gemaras are talking about chance and not planetary influence because he does not believe in astrology.) In Mo'ed Katan it seems to be that "chance" is the dominant force ruling the world.
We see that most things in life are not dependent on good deeds or sins, but on "chance." Great people are able to pray for things like rain, but that is a rare exception.Raba said: [Length of] life, children and sustenance depend not on merit but [rather on] mazzal (chance). For [take] Rabbah and R. Hisda. Both were saintly Rabbis; one master prayed for rain and it came, the other master prayed for rain and it came. R. Hisda lived to the age of ninety-two, Rabbah [only] lived to the age of forty. In R. Hisda's house there were held sixty marriage feasts, at Rabbah's house there were sixty bereavements. At R. Hisda's house there was the purest wheaten bread for dogs, and it went to waste; at Rabbah's house there was barley bread for human beings and that not to be had.
However, this seems to be an argument in Tractate Shabbos:
It was stated. R. Hanina said: Chance (The planetary influence) gives wisdom, chance (the planetary influence) gives wealth, and Israel stands under chance (planetary influence) (This view is in accordance with Rava from the Gemara in Mo'ed Katan). R. Johanan maintained: Israel is immune from chance (planetary influence)...Rab too holds that Israel is immune from chance (planetary influence). For Rab Judah said in Rab's name:...Here we see that there is an argument whether chance is the dominant influence among the Jewish people or if G-D intervenes in the lives of Jews for righteous deeds. According to Rava and Rav Chanina G-D does not really intervene in the lives of righteous Jews. Only if they pray for a specific type of intervention are they able to receive direct divine intervention. Otherwise, even the completely righteous are left to "chance." On the other hand, Rav Yochanan, Rav and Rav Yehuda seem to be of the opinion that G-D will intervene for those that are extremely righteous even if they do not pray. This is best seen in the cases that follow in the Gemara in Shabbos (ibid):
This is the first of three cases, but I think the point is clear. Therefore, I believe we can explain the apparent contradiction between Rav Yaakov's stated stance according to Tosfos and what we see in reality based on his view of divine providence. But first, let's explain the argument between Braisah B (which goes according to Rav Yaakov) and the Mishna and Braisah A (which goes according to Rav Yehuda and Rav Shemiah). If you noticed, the argument for whether Israel is governed by "chance" (excluding most possibilities of divine intervention) and whether Israel is not governed by "chance" (allowing for much more divine intervention) is between Rava (among others) on one side (Rava, the one who states Rav Yaakov's opinion) and Rav Yehuda (the same Rav Yehuda that explains the Mishna as referring to reward in this world). Essentially, Rav Yaakov can be said to be holding that divine providence is extremely limited (in accordance with Rava) and "chance" is what governs most occurrences in this world, therefore, righteous deeds are not rewarded in this world. Whereas, Rav Yehuda and his compatriots (Rav Shemiah and Abaye to name a couple) hold Israel is not ruled by "chance" (however, chance can effect them if there is no divine intervention) and divine intervention occurs all the time for righteous deeds. This is the foundation of the argument between Rav Yehuda and Rav Yaakov.From Samuel too [we learn that] Israel is immune from "chance" (planetary influence). For Samuel and Ablat were sitting, while certain people were going to a lake. Said Ablat to Samuel: ‘That man is going but will not return, [for] a snake will bite him and he will die.’ ‘If he is an Israelite,’ replied Samuel.'he will go and return.’ While they were sitting he went and returned. [Thereupon] Ablat arose and threw off his [the man's] knapsack, [and] found a snake therein cut up and lying in two pieces —Said Samuel to him, ‘What did you do?’ ‘Every day we pooled our bread and ate it; but to-day one of us had no bread, and he was ashamed. Said Ito them, "I will go and collect [the bread]". When I came to him, I pretended to take [bread] from him, so that he should not be ashamed.’ ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to him. Then Samuel went out and lectured: But charity delivereth from death, and [this does not mean] from an unnatural death, but from death itself....
We can explain Rav Yaakov very easily now (not like Tosfos). According to Rav Yaakov G-D does not intervene and allows "chance" to rule the world. Therefore, we can explain Braisah B as follows:
He whose good deeds outnumber his iniquities is punished, and is as though he had burnt the whole Torah, not leaving even a single letter;This means that a person who performs good deeds is left to "chance" and "chance" will be harsher to him than G-D would be. He will be treated just like someone who completely rejects the Torah. And the second part of Braisah B is as follows:
while he whose iniquities outnumber his good deeds is rewarded, and is as though he had fulfilled the whole Torah, not omitting even a single letter!It is beneficial for a wicked person to be governed by "chance" because "chance" will be much kinder than G-D. In fact, "chance" will treat this wicked person just the same as if he were completely righteous.
If we interpret the Gemara like this then Rabbi Akiva is not similar to Rav Yaakov at all. Rabbi Akiva actually believes in reward and punishment in this world. The distribution of reward and punishment may be different than how it is explained in the Mishna and Braisah A, but he still believes in reward and punishment in this world.
Also, I believe this interpretation is how Rashi understands the Gemara. I will now quote Rashi as he explains Abaye (the interpretation that Tosfos argues on).
Said Abaye: Our Mishnah means that a festive day and an evil day are prepared for him: For we learned it is good for him (he is rewarded) and it is bad for him (he is punished) that it is made for him a festive day and a bad day. Someone who does an extra righteous deed that makes him have a majority of merits it is established for him in this world a festive day because he is repaid (punished) for his sins and it is fixed for him to have a festive day in the World-to-Come. [However, someone who does a righteous deed but] he has a majority of sins and we learn it is bad for him, because it is made for him an evil day for he is paid the reward for his righteous deeds here [in this world] to fix for him a bad day [in the World-to-Come.]So, according to Rashi, Abaye is explaining Braisah B in accordance with Rabbi Akiva. However, it is not in accordance with Rav Yaakov. In fact, according to Rashi, Braisah B is just another idea that fits with how reward is distributed in this world. Rashi is saying that Braisah B, according to Abaye, tells us G-D can choose to reward someone in this world or in the next. Just like the story in Sanhedrin (101a) by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was worried that Rabbi Eliezer had already received all of his reward in this world because he had only experienced good in this world. However, once Rabbi Akiva saw that he was suffering he immediately knew that a "Festive Day" was set aside for him in the World-to-Come. Also, this fits well with the story of Rabbi Akiva's daughter in Shabbos (156b). She was clearly rewarded in this world for her act of kindness and that is why Rabbi Akiva started teaching that "Giving charity can save you from death."
To clarify Rashi's opinion on how to understand Abaye, the Mishna is saying that if a person performs one good deed and he had equal amounts of sins and merits, he is rewarded in this world and the World-to-Come. Braisah A is saying that if a person has an equal amount of sins and merits, but one of those merits is from the list of righteous deeds in Braisah A, he is still rewarded in this world and the World-to-Come. Finally, Braisah B, according to Abaye, is teaching us something very important. Even though the Mishna and Braisah A teach us reward is distributed in this world as well as the next, Braisah B tells us that it is possible G-D will choose to cause punishment in this world to a righteous person in order for him to receive more reward in the World-to-Come and that G-D will reward the wicked in this world in order to detract from their reward in the World-to-Come. Therefore, the Mishna and Braisah A tell us that it is possible G-D will reward someone in this world, but Braisah B tells us about the possibility that a person will also have his reward saved for the World-to-Come.
With this explanation there is no question on Rav Yaakov. According to Tosfos, it seems like Rav Yaakov does believe that, at least, wicked people are rewarded in this world and righteous people are punished in this world . However, Rava clearly states in the name of Rav Yaakov, "There is no reward for precepts in this world." This statement is not qualified, it is a blanket statement that would not work with Tosfos' explanation, in my opinion. No reward in this world means no reward in this world.
According to Rav Yaakov, there is no reward in this world because G-D does not intervene in this world for individuals. Rav Yaakov is of the opinion that "chance" governs the Jewish people (like we discussed earlier) and all reward is saved for the afterlife. On the other hand, Rav Yehuda and his group hold that G-D does intervene in this world and that is why reward can be received in this world as well as the World-to-Come.
Now, I would like to understand how it is that Rav Yaakov came to the conclusion that G-D does not intervene in this world. For this, we need only read a bit further in the Gemara (Kiddushin 39b):
[Thus:] in connection with honoring parents it is written (Devarim 5:16), that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee. In reference to the dismissal of the nest it is written (ibid 22:7), that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days. Now, if one's father said to him, ‘Ascend to the loft and bring me young birds,’and he ascends to the loft, dismisses the dam and takes the young, and on his return falls and is killed — where is this man's happiness and where is this man's prolonging of days? But ‘in order that it may be well with thee’, means on the day that is wholly good (the World-to-Come); and ‘in order that thy days may be long’, on the day that is wholly long (The World-to-Come)...R. Jacob saw an actual occurrence.Rav Yaakov actually saw an incident that proved to him that there must be no reward for the righteous in this world. How could someone perform a righteous deed that the Torah explicitly states they will have a prolonged life if they perform it and then immediately be killed? The only way, in Rav Yaakov's mind, is to say the reward that is promised is only referring to the World-to-Come. If this is the case, then it must be that G-D does not intervene in this world. For, if all reward is saved for the World-to-Come, then why would G-D ever intervene? Whether you perform good deeds or wicked deeds, all reward and punishment is saved for the afterlife. There is no need for G-D to intervene on an individual level.
I would like to bring down some final thoughts on reward and punishment from the Meiri and the Rambam and how they, seemingly, understood this Gemara. The Meiri says (Kiddushin 39b, from here):
It is a principle of faith that there is reward and punishment both in this world and in the next world. One should not be confused by the apparent success of the wicked or the tribulations of the righteous. All is just. A righteous person may have committed certain transgressions. It is better to atone now for these sins, to prepare him for a "good day" in the world to come. The reverse is true of the wicked person. He receives his reward now to prepare him for a "bad day," that is, not to receive a share of the world to come.So, we see that the Meiri holds of Rabbi Akiva's idea, that reward may be given to the wicked in this world in order to take away their share in the afterlife and punishment may come upon a righteous person in order to increase his share in the World-to-Come. However, he maintains the idea of the Mishna and Braisah A that reward and punishment can be given out normally (meaning, good fortune to righteous people and bad fortune to wicked people). As a side point, it seems like the Meiri holds like Abaye.
The Rambam, on the other hand, does not seem to agree with the Meiri and excludes Rabbi Akiva's idea from the final "halacha"(Teshuva 9:1, from here)
Thus, these blessings and curses can be interpreted as follows: If you serve God with happiness and observe His way, He will grant you these blessings and remove these curses from you in order that you may be free to gain wisdom from the Torah and involve yourselves in it so that you will merit the life of the world to come. "Good will be granted you" - in the world that is entirely good; "and you will live long" - in the world which is endlessly long, [the world to come].The Rambam is of the opinion that if you do good, only good will come of that. If a person follows the Torah and Mitzvot then he will be granted a life free from pain and suffering that will allow him to acquire as much knowledge as possible. This acquisition of knowledge will then propel this righteous individual into the World-to-Come. The Rambam (Guide For The Perplexed 3:51) holds, as we quoted earlier in this essay, any evils that befall a man who is righteous are due to "chance."
Thus, you will merit two worlds, a good life in this world, which, in turn, will bring you to the life of the world to come. For if a person will not acquire wisdom in this world and he does not possess good deeds, with what will he merit [a portion in the world to come]? [Thus, Ecclesiastes 9:10] states: "There is no work, no accounting, no knowledge, and no wisdom in the grave."
[Conversely,] if you have abandoned God and become obsessed with food, drink, lewdness, and the like, He will bring all these curses upon you and remove all blessing until you will conclude all your days in confusion and fear. You will not have a free heart or a complete body to fulfill the mitzvot in order that you forfeit the life of the world to come.
Thus, you will forfeit two worlds for when a person is occupied in this world with sickness, war, and hunger, he cannot involve himself with either wisdom or mitzvot which allow him to merit the life of the world to come.
Hence it may occur that the perfect man is at times not happy, whilst no evil befalls those who are imperfect; in these cases what happens to them is due to chance...It is now clearly established that the cause of our being exposed to chance, and abandoned to destruction like cattle, is to be found in our separation from God.Rambam's view seems very simple. You are rewarded in this world and the next for the good that you do and you are punished in this world and the next for the evil that you do. All the bad that happens to righteous people is by "chance" when the righteous person is not connected to G-D because G-D only gives divine intervention while someone is "connected" to G-D, like the Rambam explains. As a side note, Rambam appears to be holding like Rava's understanding of the Gemara. He holds that the Mishna and Braisah A are arguing on Braisah B and, therefore, he entirely ignores Braisah B. That is why the Rambam does not hold of this idea of Rabbi Akiva that righteous people receive punishment in this world and wicked people receive reward in this world. The Rambam only holds of the Mishna and Braisah A, that the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.
The idea of Rabbi Akiva, that the Meiri endorses, seems difficult to understand. According to this idea, G-D sometimes decides to reward people, even righteous people, in this world. Why would G-D choose to reward some righteous people in this world and others only in the world to come? The Meiri's own explanation lacks clarity (Kiddushin 39b)
This is not to say that there cannot be a reward for good deeds in this world as well as in the next. It is the force of circumstances which may delay rewards until the next world. For example, assume that a person heeds his parent's order to fetch young birds, and to send the mother bird away before taking the chicks. How is it that such a person can die while performing two precepts, for each of which Scripture promises long life? The force of circumstances delays reward until the next world!What is this force of circumstance that the Meiri talks about? Just because this righteous person dies that creates a "force of circumstance?" If G-D is going to reward this righteous individual, reward him, why does he die? Why would G-D choose to reward a righteous individual in this world if it detracts from the world to come? There are many ideas that are left unclear according to Rabbi Akiva's idea.
I feel much more comfortable with the Rambam. It makes a lot more sense to me. Therefore, if I have a Rishon that explains things that I can wrap my head around, I would prefer to follow him than a Rishon that is left unclear to me. It is interesting that Rabbi Akiva does not hold like the Rambam's viewpoint specifically because, as we saw in the Gemara in Shabbos 156b, he listened to stargazers who told him his daughter would die on her wedding day (he held that "chance," in some form, has power over people). Why he explains bad things happening to good people as punishments from G-D instead of "chance" or planetary influence is unclear to me as well.
I hope my explanation of the Gemara and the different viewpoints was as clear as possible. Hopefully, I will discuss the different opinions about what the afterlife entails. I have tried to express the different viewpoints about reward and punishment to the best of my ability. Any questions or comments are welcome.