It is human nature to assume that when things go well they will continue to go well. A person who knows he is doing what is morally or ethically wrong, but sees that life is good, may find it easy to convince himself that he will not be held to account for his sins. Mishlei reminds him in this segment that in the end he will have to pay for every offense against his Creator.
הֵן צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ יְשֻׁלָּם אַף כִּי־רָשָׁע וְחוֹטֵא
(31) If the tzadik is repaid while yet on earth;
how much more so will the rasha and the sinner!
This proverb suggests that the sinner learn a lesson from the life of the the tzadik. Even though the tzadik is on a high spiritual plane, he is held to account for every sinful act. Even though David HaMelech was a very righteous king, he had to endure severe torment because of the few sins of which he was guilty. He was only forgiven after undergoing an intense period of teshuvah (repentance).
Thus, the tzadik is repaid on earth for every sin. Accordingly, the rasha (wicked person) who is guilty of a pattern of sinful behavior, whether intentional or through carelessness, must come to the conclusion that he will ultimately have to pay for his offense, either in this life or in the World to Come.
(31) If the tzadik, — הֵן צַדִּיק
while yet on earth, is repaid — בָּאָרֶץ יְשֻׁלָּם
how much more so — אַף כִּי־
will the rasha and the sinner — רָשָׁע וְחוֹטֵא
(1) If the tzadik is punished in this world for his sins, a rasha will surely be punished, either in this world or the world to come.
(רש”י, אלשיך, מצודות, שבט מיהודה, רשר”ה )
(2) If the tzadik is rewarded in this world for his good deeds, the rasha will surely be punished for his bad deeds, either in this world or the world to come. (אבן עזרא)
(3) Even when the tzadik is suffering for his bad deeds in this world while the rasha is benefiting from his good deeds, the payment for the bad deeds of the rasha and good deeds of the tzadik will surely come in the next world.
(רבינו יונה, המאירי, אבן יחייא, הגר”א)
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