We hear these reassuring catch phrases all the time:
“It’s meant to be”.
“Everything is for the good”.
“Everyone you meet is for a reason”.
These statements are intended to pacify others for their unrealized desires or upset feelings, like those still yearning to find a mate. The consoler misguides the consoled; “It’s an issue with the world…not with you.” Thereby, the consoled party is indemnified, and sadly, loses yet again, another rare and valuable chance to introspect and make real changes towards success. Unfortunately, both parties do not wish to consider the reality that the problem might be self-inflicted.
We don’t hear these phrases after one wins a lottery, or some other financial or personal success. “Hey, my daughter got engaged!” is not usually followed by, “It’s meant to be”. Or when a businessman is trying to close a deal with a higher rate for himself, does he tell the other party, “It’s bashert that you should sign the contract”? No. When it comes to issues that matter to us, like money, we don’t rely on the “bashert” clause. This should teach us that we truly don’t accept the notion of bashert. Bashert is only used to make us feel better by alleviating responsibility. (I’ll address the famous Gemara soon about mates being matched “divinely”.)
People also use these phrases when seeking some confirmation for their own indecisiveness. Since they are in doubt, they seek to reassure themselves that “everything happens for a reason”. This phrase is also stated in response to undesirable events. But what prompts this statement? Which of our psychological components is satisfied with this statement, but remains troubled until the statement is made?
We also musk as what the plain meaning is of these statements. Are people claiming that there is some intelligent, driving force guiding every single event in our lives? So in the cases when undesirable events befall us, are we correct to say it is caused by this force? And if this is the claim, what is the proof of its veracity? And is it found in Torah? Or does Torah reject these views? And why don’t people say when they passed a test, or were promoted, or experienced some positive change…that it was “mean to be”? Why is it only the undesirable events that meet with this response?
A wise rabbi once taught the answer to this question: ego. One’s ego always takes credit for the good fortune, and does not wish to lose any opportunity to do so. So our successes are not followed by “it’s bashert”. And the same ego wishes to blame reality – it’s meant to be – when evil occurs. The self is never attacked. God forbid we blame ourselves.
In his Guide, Maimonides teaches that the evils that befall man are one of three types: 1) nature caused to man – i.e., tsunamis; 2) evils that man causes to man – i.e., wars; and 3) self inflicted evils, such as poor decisions. Maimonides teaches that this third category is the largest cause of our evils. This means that our lack of education, intelligence, or analysis of our actions and values eventuates in undesirable results…what we call evils. But the evils are avoidable, as Maimonides teaches.
God too endorses this, as He told Cain (Gen. 4:7) that all was in his power: he could follow his instincts and kill Abel, or he could refrain. He told Cain he could rule over his drives. God did not say that if Cain killed Abel, “all is meant for good” or that “it was bashert”. God actually said that Cain would be punished if he sinned. (Unkelos) And in all cases throughout history, is it wise to say that all who died by enemy hands experienced something “meant for a good”? Then why complain to the Nazis? God clearly desires that man obey him, and avoid punishment. God does not say the punishment “is bashert”.
It is apparent from these sources and from history that man is undeniably the cause of most of his evils. It is actually quite harmful if we reiterate these baseless catch phrases to pacify ourselves. For with such pacification, comes avoidance of introspection as to how me might remove ourselves from undesirable situations. When one says to himself or to another, “All is for the good”, he fools himself, and also creates a mindset of passivity, where the one pacified accepts to wait and see how things will pan out. But if Maimonides is correct, and we are the cause of our troubles, then sitting and waiting will doom us to further anguish. The solution is not going to come from some fantasy, external source as people imagine. For since the real cause of our trouble was “internal”…then changing our ways is the real solution. Taking responsibility, accepting self-blame, and then making change is how we can resolve the problems at hand.
Man is insecure. He cannot accept that he is actually the driving force in his actions, as God told Cain. Man wants some safety net to alleviate all responsibility, assuring all will turn out OK. We already identified from where this feeling originates: infancy. Our parents assured us all was OK. They kissed our wounds, picked us up, hugged us, comforted us, whispered to us, and attended to everything we ever needed. While some people’s psyches mature with their bodies, many others may grow physically, while their psyche is stunted, and is intolerant of independence. They cannot become independent, and always seek some assurance…they need mommy and daddy. People can express their need for the parent in many fashions. Some people cannot progress with their financial or personal lives, keeping them closely tied to parents. And others make it financially, but read horoscopes or accept religious notions of guardian angels, Jesus, Rebbes, et al, as they seek a ‘parental’ figure to replace their true parents. They can’t make a clean break as God desires. Consciously the person sees his parents are equal to him. But unconsciously, he cannot abandon the security he once enjoyed as an infant with parental care.
In truth, this idea of “destiny”, that our lives are pre-programmed, where “all is meant to be” rejects the fundamentals of Free Will, and Reward and Punishment.
Since we have free will, what we choose that causes us pain, can be averted. And thereby, the pain we suffer is not “meant to be”, but self-inflicted. We also cannot say that if we err and deserve punishment, that this is “for the good”. God does not prefer we are punished, so it cannot be for the good. If we can cause most of our troubles, we can also cause most of our fortunes…if we select alternate options based in wisdom.
There’s no destiny.
The future is unwritten.
We each have free will.
We are punished for our sins.
God gave us wisdom to choose our own paths.
Had all been decided, then we can simply sit at home and fly autopilot, since some force of “destiny” will make things happen…regardless of my will. We will also suffer no punishment, since it was “destiny” and not me! But if I admit I have free will, then it is not destiny. It cannot be both…just as something is either black or white, so also, we either have free will and select our path, or we have no free will. And since everyone accepts by force of reason that we each possess free will…we must rationally conclude that “we” cause our choices and experiences, not some imagined force called “destiny”.
Man can be frightened at the realization that nothing in his life is charted. So insecure is man that many cultures were built around fortunetellers, witches, horoscopists, and those who predicted future events. And of course, as these practices are false, Torah prohibits them all. Pharaoh’s astrologers are a perfect example. If man allows his emotions to reign free, he will find great insecurities. He will seek to remove his doubts about the future, with any type of charlatan. But as Jews, our path is to embrace our lives and accept full responsibility. We can – if we so desire – lead lives based on wise decisions, and avoid most troubles others experience.
The troubles we face are only due to our ignorance. We fail to calculate all factors, or anticipate all possibilities that might result from our decisions. “Who is a wise man? One who knows the outcome of his actions.” (Ethics) If we do examine all options and results, we will be most secure from troubles. But most people don’t take such care when making decisions, when speaking, and when acting in general. Speaking back to a boss, allowing our frustrations weaken us from trying again, and giving up, are all emotional responses – not wise reactions. These emotional responses will eventually hurt us. One who complains is not analyzing his errors so as to avoid that mistake in the future. One who complains is reverting to an infantile state where he simply wants sympathy. People complain so as to be heard. But sympathy does not correct an error. So it should not be sought. Newton and Einstein did not complain about failed experiments, but analyzed their errors. We should do the same.
The notions of “meant to be”, “destiny”, and “bashert” are quite appealing since they rid us of responsibility and thus, blame. These notions have many followers, which often times convinces others of their veracity. But all are baseless, since numbers of adherents proves nothing. Even when the Talmud states that “All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven”, it means that free will is in man’s hands, while all else is under God’s control. But “God’s control” too must be understood. This does not mean that a leaf that fell from the tree at 9:32 AM was “willed” by God at that moment. Nature exists, as Maimonides teaches.
“All is in Heaven’s hands” does not mean that the person I met at the coffee shop today was “placed” there for my meeting. Doesn’t he have free will to be there? Then, as the Rabbis stated, HE decided to be there, not Heaven. It was HIS free will that caused our meeting. This must dispel the notion that “everyone I meet is for some reason”. All areas of our lives are to be governed by reason. Let us not become so insecure that we accept the foolish masses when they make such claims. They make these claims to inject a fabricated meaning into their otherwise dull existences. They have a craving for God to be in their life, so saying “it was bashert” elevated a mundane event into imagined, Biblical proportions. It satisfies that ego again.
Talmud Avoda Zara 3b also says “All is in the hands of Heaven except cold and heat”. This means that man has some ability to avoid weather patterns. Weather is something that has a “cycle”, therefore, man can forecast to some extent, since its behavior is predictable.
Now, why does this Rabbinic statement exist? I believe it is to show the other half of our first quote. We cited the statement “All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven”. This statement is to teach one idea: that man alone is not subject to any coercion. Whereas all else is outside man’s direction. But…this does not mean that when “all is in Heaven’s hands” that all else is being directed by God’s specific intent, like that leaf example above. No. The second statement that “All is in the hands of Heaven except cold and heat” comes to compliment the first Rabbinic statement. Cold and heat are in fact not part of “fear of God”. Therefore, according to the first statement, this is under God’s control. But the second statement says that cold and heat are NOT under God’s control! How do we explain this contradiction? The answer is that the “laws” of weather are due to God and not man. But man’s “interaction” with them – as predictable phenomena – enable man to avoid them, and thus, the “sensations” of cold and heat are due to man’s decisions. Man can avoid extreme temperatures. This resolves the contradiction.
But there is another idea here. The fact that the Rabbis said weather is not under man’s control, and is under God’s control, teaches us that “In the hands of Heaven” does not mean, “purposefully intended for man”. It means “nature”, as we’ve stated. This means that matters out of our hands can occur simply due to natural laws…and not God’s specific intervention in our lives.
Weather proves this point. When it rains, it’s not a Divine message to stay home. If one says that, he actually violates Nichush: making signs for one’s self. So when events occur that involve us, it is not wise to say, “it is bashert”, since the Rabbis did not say so. And reality does not support this claim. Claiming something is “meant to be” or “bashert” may actually be a violation of Nichush, if we act on it.
Other areas of life, like whom I will meet today, how many cars will cross that bridge, how many large and small clouds will fly overhead, have no rhyme or reason…as far as man can see. The contributing variables are far too many, so we cannot explain all the above. The truth is, there may be 1000s of factors that contributed to the shape of a cloud, for example. All “natural” factors. So to say that since the cloud is shaped like a mountain, it’s OK to travel to the mountains, is foolish, and prohibited by Torah. A reason why we tend to say such events are ordained by God, is simply because we lack the depth to calculate all factors. If we knew the factors, we would realize this is simply nature at work.
Consider this second example: I meet someone new. Either it was his choice to be where I was, or there was a highway accident that forced him my way, or he missed an exit sign while talking on his cell phone, so he ended up at my exit, and we met...you get the picture. The variables are too many. This can be explained as “in Heaven’s hand” as well…Heaven meaning “natural law”. I hope these examples show us all how foolish it is to say, “we meet every person for some reason”. Nothing in reality indicates this is true. So as a people living by reason, we should not accept it.
Finally, the Talmud says, “Man is matched [to a woman] according to his ways”. Then the Talmud says, “40 days before the formation of the embryo, a heavenly voice calls out saying, ‘The son of this man is to marry the daughter of that man’.” (Sota 2a) That latter quote sounds like a “bashert” phenomenon…doesn’t it?
The Talmud recognizes the contradiction: man is either matched due to his ways (character) or by some “Heavenly voice”. Which is it?
The Talmud answers: one is matched by a heavenly voice applies to one’s “first marriage”; and being matched according to one’s character applies to one’s “second marriage”. This needs explanation.
One’s first marriage means when one initially is attracted to the opposite sex. And this, the Talmud states, is based on a “voice” calling forth 40 days before his embryo is created. What does that mean?
A Rabbi explained: 40 days before the embryo is created, means the causes of attraction are created in the womb. It is genetic, and natural. “Heavenly” voice, again means nature. So long before the baby is ready to exit the womb, all causes are at play that cause attraction later in life. The reason the second marriage is not due to this is because man should – at that point – have learned a lesson that attraction is not to be the exclusive factor in choosing a wife. He chose based on attraction the first time, and where did he end up? Thus, the Talmud is referring to someone who has learned a lesson, and now selects a mate based on character, not simply attraction. This explanation makes perfect sense. No need to come onto Divine will, unless of course the woman is an “Isha Mascaless”, a wise woman. On this, King Solomon says, “A house and riches are [inherited] from fathers; but from God [is given] a wise woman”. (Proverbs 19:14)
The bottom line is that we must accept only those principles that are proven. Destiny, bashert and all others mentioned are not proven, and have actually been exposed as false.
We must not be duped by foolish masses. Wed must not be impressed by catch phrases, regardless of who says them, or where they are printed. We must analyze ourselves, and accept that as imperfect beings…we make mistakes! A lot of them! We must desire to repair repeated, damaging behaviors, and not blame anything external to ourselves. We must know – as Maimonides taught – man’s evils are mostly self-inflicted. So changing the self is how you will become happy. And God told Cain to pick the right path…nothing was destined!
If we think this way – a rational way – then we will benefit from the world God created, in a rational way. It is only he or she who complies with God’s natural design, that will benefit the most. Think of it as placing a square cube into a square hole: it fits. But if we chose to ignore how the world works, including how our psyches work, then we are not living in line with reality. We are attempting to place a sphere into a square hole: it won’t go. We must fail. And the finger must be pointed at ourselves, not at imagined excuses like destiny and bashert.