One of the reasons people are not always pleased with the punishments meted out by society is because they feel it is either too strict or too weak a response to the crime that was done. We expect the severity of response to correlate with the severity of the action. The punishment should fit the crime.
But that there should be punishment for crime we all agree. The negative consequence indicates that something negative was done. Thus the second component to guilt after the aspect of breaking rules is the value of the rules that were broken. The presence of inherent values in actions takes away somewhat from the distinction between imposed and natural consequences. The imposed punishment (or consequence) only exists due to an already existent natural consequence for this action. The fine given for speeding is because of the value of life and the consequence of death that comes as a result of speeding.
To the Jewish perspective a mitzvah (commandment) yields a good consequence and a chet (sin) yields a bad consequence. By the way the language we use brings to mind certain connotations. For this reason I prefer sticking to the Hebrew. The word mitzvah has to do with tzavta (being together with) or connecting with God and the word chet (sin) has to do with “missing the mark” in our connection with God or another word for sin, aveira is a matter of crossing the bounds.
We often recognize the negative consequence without needing the law to tell us so, because many of God’s laws, not surprisingly instruct in moral behavior that make sense to us anyway. Yet there is also an element of mystery. We don’t always see the inherent negative consequence. We don’t always know why a mitzvah is good. For those who uphold Torah teachings, we can rest assured that by fulfilling these precepts we’ve done something good and avoided something bad, and it’s not necessary to even know why it’s good or bad.
Even if we do understand that something is wrong, whether we know it from revelation or we know it from our own spiritual sensitivity or plain common sense, we can never know the ultimate effect of our actions. The consequence for any action is far-reaching, much farther than we can ever know.
The illustrious head of the yeshiva of Volozhin rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin in his classic work Nefesh HaHaim conceptualizes the world to come in the following manner: The world to come is not some kind of gift waiting for us to take and open up the box when we get to Heaven It is the net result of the sum total of all I’ve done in my life and therefore made myself into. The meaning of the concept of reward and punishment is the end result or consequence of my actions. It is the yield or fruit of what I’ve created in myself and in the world.
Just as there are far-reaching consequences for wrongful actions there are far-reaching consequences for good actions, more than we can ever know. By overcoming certain things I’ve become stronger because I’ve built up my physical or spiritual muscles through these things. I influence others and they in turn continue to influence others. This one action of mine takes on a life of its own.
There is a saying that for each mitzvah that I do I create a good angel and for every sin I create a bad angel. An angel is a messenger that goes out into the world. It is as if a piece of myself (my action that came from me) is somewhere else now, other than just being inside of me, and it grows exponentially. The action testifies for or against me. It is also said that the righteous are called alive even in their death. Their actions continue to live inside others long after they have died. My actions are stored, not only in the full granaries of the past as Frankl states, but the full granaries of the future.