The same Mishna (9b) that pointed out how biblical characters like Shimshon and Avshalom were punished middah ke-neged middah – measure for measure – also teaches that good deeds are rewarded middah ke-neged middah. One specific example brought in the Mishna is that of Moshe’s sister, Miriam. Just as Miriam stayed to watch what would become of little Moshe who was left in the bulrushes by their mother (see Shemot 2:4), similarly the Jewish people waited for Miriam to recover from her illness in the desert before traveling (see Bamidbar 12:15).
The inclusion of this story in the Mishna leads the Gemara to a lengthy aggadic discussion of the exodus story, which examines the Torah’s descriptions of events, pasuk by pasuk.
One well-known midrash tells of three famous biblical characters who were brought before Pharaoh and asked to give advice on how to deal with the population explosion of the Children of Israel. Eventually, each received his just desserts, middah ke-neged middah:
- Bilam advised Pharaoh to kill the Jewish children, and he was killed (see Bamidbar 31:8)
- Iyyov remained silent, and he was punished with suffering (see the Book of Job)
- Recognizing that the terrible decree would be carried out, Yitro chose to flee, and his children ended up as members of the Sanhedrin.
Many raise the question: why did Iyyov’s silence make him deserving of the intense suffering that he endured, unlike Bilam and Yitro, who each received the equivalent of his own advice?
One suggestion is that his silence was viewed as acquiescence, so, in effect, it was his agreement that sealed the fate of the children who were killed, and thus he was held accountable. According to the Zohar, Iyyov did not remain entirely silent during the discussion. He recommended that the Jewish people should not be killed, but rather should be tortured and have their valuables taken from them – the very sufferings that Iyyov himself eventually experienced.