Is All Meant to Be?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: I reject the concept that Hashem uses people like Haman and Hitler to punish people. This all started when I read an article and also a lecture about baseless hatred. While I believe baseless hatred is hatred without a just reason or unreasonable hatred, the article stated all hatred is baseless because “All are messengers of Hashem, whether they harm you deliberately or not.” Hence you should not hate them. How is this possible? The belief that, “all happens for the good” and “all are Hashem’s messengers even if they are wicked” is contrary to free will. In the torah where God promises Israel that He would go before them to strike their enemies, like when our prophet Moshe raised his hand during the war and Israel was victorious, I believe in all these occasions Hashem played an active role in killing or destroying the Jews’ wicked enemies. While in the Holocaust, I believe Hashem did not play an active role, rather, He removed His divine providence.

I do not believe Hitler is the messenger of God, nor did God help Hitler, like in the Torah where He actively helped the Jews kill their enemies. Please correct me if I have erred in these. Thank you.

Rabbi: Free will demands that God doesn’t force a person to sin. Wicked people are evil due to their will alone. But Torah does discuss how God “rose up” Hadad and Rizone as antagonists against King Solomon as punishment when he did not prevent this wives from idolatry (I Kings chap 11). Somehow, God orchestrated events to aggravate King Solomon. But Hadad and Rizone were already wicked. Torah teaches that God will use man to execute His will, but in no manner does God force a good person to sin, or a wicked person to repent. One’s perfection—his relationship with God—must be his own will. For what merit or sin is it if God forced one to repent, or another person to sin?

We read another example: “If he did not do it [murder] intentionally but God planned it to befall his hands…” (Exod. 21:13). This refers to one who accidentally murders, but there were no witnesses. God orchestrates events where this person accidentally kills again, this time with witnesses, in order to obtain justice. Rashi explains:

But why should this be brought about by God? This is just what David tells us: (I Samuel 24:13) “The proverb of the Ancient One: ‘Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’” The proverb of the Ancient One refers to Torah, the proverb of God, Who is the “Ancient One” of the world. But where indeed does the Torah say, “Wickedness proceeds from the wicked?” It says it implicitly in the verse: “but God planned it to befall his hands.” For what is Scripture here speaking about? About two men, one of whom killed a person with premeditation and the other killed inadvertently, and in neither case were there witnesses to their deeds who could testify about it. Consequently, the former was not put to death and the latter was not forced into banishment to a city of refuge. Now, [to obtain justice for both men] God brings them together at the same inn. He who killed with premeditation happens to sit beneath a ladder, and the other who killed inadvertently ascends the ladder and falls upon the man who killed with premeditation, thereby killing him. Witnesses now being present testify against him, compelling him to be banished to one of the cities of refuge. The result is that he who killed inadvertently is actually banished and he who killed with premeditation actually suffers death.

Torah teaches that God harnesses man to enact His will. But in no case is God tampering with man’s free will. In this case, the accidental murderer didn’t yet repent. So God enabled him to express his carelessness of life a second time, earning him his justified exile, while the premeditated murderer is killed for his crime. In King Solomon’s case, Hadad and Rizone were used by God. But without God telling us, we cannot point at a specific case suggesting God planned it. For how could we know?

Reader: I asked another Jew, and this is his response:

“A terrorist goes into a crowded restaurant and begins shooting the customers Monday morning at 8 AM. The terrorist decided to commit murder. Hashem decided if the gun would work, who would be in the restaurant at the time, who missed the ride to the restaurant, etc. Hashem may decide that a good person will take the bullet and be killed. But the good person has his own accounting with Hashem.”

Rabbi: This popular view “all is meant to be” is generated from human insecurity and one’s need to validate oneself: a view not stated in Torah. Maimonides explains that God’s providence is in proportion to one’s perfection:

Those who approach Him are best protected, and “He will keep the feet of his saints”; but those who keep far away from Him are left exposed to what may befall them; there is nothing that could protect them from what might happen; they are like those who walk in darkness, and are certain to stumble. (Guide, book III  chap. xviii)

Maimonides means that people who are not on a required level of perfection are subject to chance/nature: God is not deciding whether they are in the restaurant or whether they arrive late. Their lives are not guided by God at all; events in their lives are not “meant to be.” Sforno says this:

Without any doubt, all gentiles and most Jews are subject to natural law with no divine providence in their lives, just like animals. (Lev. 13:47) 

In contrast to individuals, our rabbis teach that the Jewish nation is under God’s providence. God didn’t coerce Haman and Hitler to be evil, but He might have harnessed them to punish the Jews (like He harnessed Hadad and Rizone). We don’t know how He orchestrates event, but we do know that national tragedy and success is God’s will. 

As a final thought, it is interesting that I Kings 11 provides background on Hadad and Rizone to validate their motives prior to God “inciting” their aggression against King Solomon. Perhaps this background is so crucial, as God wishes man to know that He doesn’t tamper with free will, but that these 2 individuals acted based on their prior emotional leanings. It should be noted that there were 4 cases, where, due to the gravity of their sins, God withheld repentance from man (Maimonides, Hil. Teshuvah 6:3).

We should heed Maimonides’ and Sforno’s warnings about being left without God’s providence, which we each need and from which we all benefit immeasurably. We start blowing shofar next week to awaken from our slumber, from our lapses in Torah study, integrity, kindness and charity. Have we been absolutely honest in business, and genuine and ethical in our relationships? Whom have we wronged? Can we mend friendships? Let us each begin to improve ourselves now, and earn God’s providence in our lives so we are not those whom Maimonides and Sforno described as “exposed to what may befall them with no protection from mishap, walking in darkness, with no divine providence like animals.”