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7. Rodef

Shabtai Nacson asked:

The Gemarah says that it is better for him to die righteous than guilty. If so, how to explain the case of Yishmael when he was dying in the desert and Hash-m said that he is only judge of what he is now and not what he will be in the future?

Shabtai Nacson, Mississauga, Canada

The Kollel replies:

Most of the commentaries explain that Yishmael was entirely righteous at the time, with regard to the sin for which the angels wanted him sentenced to death. He hadn't even laid the seeds for such a sin at the moment, so he was judged by his present actions and exonerated. The Ben Sorer, on the other hand, is already *on the way* towards becoming a highway robber. In such a case, a person *can* be punished for what the future will ultimately bring (Chizkuni and Mizrachi etc. on the Torah).

The MAHARAL in Gur Aryeh, though, asserts that the Midrash regarding Yishmael implies that even if a person *has* started to follow evil ways, he is still not punished for what his actions will lead to. He therefore distinguishes between a punishment administered by Hash-m and one administered by Beis Din. Beis Din *is* empowered to punish "Al Shem Sofo," but punishment at the hands of heaven is meted out only according to what the person has done, and no more.

(The logic for this is that Dinei Shamayim are not meant to prevent a person from "dying guilty," since the entire point of this world is that Hash-m wants to give man free choice. Beis Din, on the other hand, has to look out for the needs of their constituents, and if they see that a person will be better of dead they advised to administer punishment accordingly.

M. Kornfeld