How Do You Reconcile Predetermination With Free Will?

PathSliderDear Jew in the City,

Everything is predetermined by Hashem and is gam zu l’tovah (ultimately all for the good), therefore, everything is bashert (meant to be), effectively, even if it appears to be detrimental. But humans (not animals) have free choice in their actions, so how is that reconciled?

But if everything is predetermined and gam zu l’tovah how does that work when Jews don’t follow mitzvahs/convert to other faiths, etc? Would those who persecute Jews do so out of being predetermined to do it (Pharoah having his heart hardened springs to mind) or by their free will? Was Hitler predetermined to engineer the Holocaust by Hashem or was it his free will? When anyone speaks to you, is it them speaking from their free will or are the words they’re saying predetermined by Hashem and are, in fact, giving you a divine message?

Thanks,

S.B.

Dear S.B.,

Thanks for your questions. You are working under some misconceptions. The Talmud tells us “everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.” In other words, G-d will decide your health, your financial success, etc., but you will decide whether or not you observe the laws. The second thing is, the Talmud tells us “all that He (G-d) does, He does for the good.” Everything HE does is for the good, but not everything WE do! So, with these two clarifications in mind, (1) not everything is predetermined and (2) not everything that happens is necessarily good.

Before I go any further, allow me to add that G-d is not bound in space or in time. Just as He is simultaneously in New York, St. Louis, Capetown and Madagascar, He is also simultaneously in the years 2014, 1936, 2525 and 3500 BCE. He knows what you’re going to do because He’s already seen you do it, but He didn’t force your hand.

So, with all this in mind:

1. How does that work when Jews don’t follow mitzvahs/convert to other faiths, etc?

As we said, “everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.” They have free will and they are choosing to exercise it in a manner contrary to what the Torah says. We may disagree with their course of action but they have the power to make their own choices.

2. Would those who persecute Jews do so out of being predetermined to do it (Pharaoh having his heart hardened springs to mind) or by their free will?

The heart-hardening thing is misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that G-d took away Pharaoh’s free will, it means that He restored it. If every time you tried to eat a cheeseburger, you received an electric shock, you’d stop trying to eat cheeseburgers. This would not be using your free will – you’re being compelled not to eat the cheeseburgers! Similarly, the frogs, blood, locusts, etc. bullied Pharaoh into agreeing to release the Jews against His will. “G-d hardened his heart” means “G-d strengthened his resolve.” He restored Pharaoh’s ability to do what he wanted, despite the plagues.

3. Was Hitler predetermined to engineer the holocaust by hashem or was it his free will?

The famous question about Pharaoh is “Why was he punished?” After all, G-d told Avraham that the Jews would be enslaved, so wasn’t Pharaoh just fulfilling G-d’s will? Yes and no. Just because the Jews were destined to be enslaved, that doesn’t mean that Pharaoh had to be the one to do it. (If I kill someone, doesn’t that prove that that person’s time is up and G-d wanted to take them? Maybe, but it’s not my job to act as G-d’s agent. It’s my job to do what G-d said and not kill people.) Even if you want to say that G-d specifically desired Pharaoh to do it, Pharaoh didn’t have to go overboard with all the oppression and baby-killing. Same thing with Hitler. If G-d wants us punished, that doesn’t make it Hitler’s job. Even if you say G-d specifically wanted Hitler to do it, Hitler didn’t have to be so over the top. Hitler’s job – like all of ours – was to do what G-d says, in this case, not to kill.

4. When anyone speaks to you, is it them speaking from their free will or are the words they’re saying predetermined by hashem and are, in fact, giving you a divine message?

Free will. We don’t have prophecy nowadays and, even when we did, it was limited to – you know – prophets. (Don’t assume other people’s words are Divine messages – that’s a great way to drive yourself crazy!)

I hope this helps.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

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Rabbi Jack Abramowitz About Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, Jew in the City's Educational Correspondent, is the editor of OU Torah (www.ou.org/torah) . He is the author of five books including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion.

Comments

  1. Simone Shapiro says:

    Excellent explanation!

  2. Beth Eston says:

    Thank you for this Q & A. Very helpful answer.

  3. Bill Balano says:

    That was good. I agree with you Rabbi but not really on the latter part. Angels are primarily G-d’s agents although we sometimes volunteer unwittingly. I believe G-d chooses anyone He likes to be His agent(s). He assigned King Saul to wipe out Agag’s tribe. When King Saul spared Agag, he acted against G-d’s will. The prophet Samuel carried on to kill Agag. Likewise, when the prophet Elijah came hiding into a mountain, G-d told him to go out and anoint Jehu and Elisha. These two were to “execute” some people too according to G-d’s instructions. Rightly as you mentioned, the awe of Heaven is up to us. (Agents)Elijah, Jehu and Elisha chose to be awed but (Supposed To Be Agent)Saul did not.

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