Free Will
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Man is the sole cause of his own actions. When he does good, it is he that receives the reward, and when he does evil, it is he again who is the cause, and he who receives the corrective measure. To nothing other than man himself do we attribute the cause of man's actions.
The Talmud states, "everything is in the hands of God except for the fear of God". This means that God controls the universe, except for the area of man's approaching God, or man's distancing himself from God. Man is given complete control over his actions.
There are many people who feel that every action is determined by God. Meaning, every falling leaf, every droplet of rain which descends, etc. To a certain extent this is true, meaning that without God's creation these events would not take place. But saying that God "wills" each leaf to fall, denies the existence of what we call 'natural laws'. Proponents of this view assume that God did not create a system by which the Earth operates, and therefore He has to control every object at all times. In praise of God we say that He has the wisdom to create a system through which nature operates, by which the seas flow, the moon waxes and wanes, and leaves fall from trees. Maimonides agrees with this latter view. A Rabbi once asked, "which painter is more of a genius, one who takes a year to create a masterpiece stroke by stroke, or one who arranges all the drops of paint on a roller, and with one roll, creates the very same painting?" The latter of course is much more ingenious.
The same applies to God. He need not paint every stroke on the canvas of Earth daily. Rather, He, in His infinite wisdom, arranged everything during creation so it would consistently operate this way. The Medrash (metaphoric Rabbinical statement) states that certain miracles would occur later in time were created on the seventh day prior to sunset, backs up this view. The Earth was designed with a built-in system. (Click here for that article)
Returning to the question, we see that the Torah states, "and choose life". Again in Deuteronomy, 24:16: "Fathers are not killed on their sons, nor sons on their fathers,....a man in his own sin shall be killed". According to these passages in the Torah, a person is the sole cause of his actions, and is therefore culpable for his actions. How many times are we warned by the Torah to do what is right? If we are not the cause of our actions, why does God instruct and command us? It must be that we alone are responsible for our actions. The entire justice system was built on the fact that man guides his own actions.
There are two questions some pose:
1)"If God knows everything, how can we have free will? God knows what I am going to do, so I cannot select an alternative choice."
2) "God knows what will happen. To say differently is to say that God isn't all knowing and powerful."
Maimonides addresses the first, free will question and teaches that God's wisdom is not like our wisdom. "Because My thoughts are not as your thoughts, and your ways are not as Mine, so says God." (Isaiah 55:8) Our wisdom is based on cause and effect. We cannot project our method of knowledge onto God. How God knows something is not how man knows, and therefore, His knowledge does not preclude us from free choice. As an example: a weatherman may say that it will snow, and he knows this 100%, and then it snows. But he is not the cause. He did not make nature produce snow. He merely studied nature, saw all the causes involved, and determined that since a few factors are ripe, it will definitely snow in a certain region. Again, he was not the cause of the snow. This is somewhat analogous to how God is also not the cause of our actions, although he knows what we will choose. However, God does not need to rely on cause and effect to know man's action. He has a completely different method, unknown to man, and which does not interfere with our free will.
Regarding the second statement: we do say God is all knowing and all powerful. However, one must understand that God cannot do everything - He has limits. "Limits?" you say. This may sound strange, and even sacrilegious to some. But think clearly. Is 'limitation' a negative, or a positive? Well, it depends on the case. If a runner is limited to a speed of 5 mph because he has short legs, yes, this is a negative limitation, in as much as running is considered a good. But conversely, we say (accurately) God cannot punish one without sin, and God cannot do that which is unfair. Are these limitations 'defects' in God, or His attributes? If there were a judge who could never judge wrongly, would that be a defect? Of course not. The fact that God is 100% just, and cannot hurt the innocent is a limitation of His perfection. Just as a judge who never makes a mistake is a positive, being limited to making only correct decisions, this limitation is actually his very perfection, so too with regard to God.
When God gave man free will, He removed Himself from controlling man's decisions. This is part of the perfection of God's plan, that we have free will, and that God will not interfere with man's doings. God wishes man and woman to be the sole cause of their actions, thereby earning reward.
People say, "God can do anything". This must also include making mistakes. We readily see the great flaw in this position. The infantile "Superman" notion of God does not make sense after a little investigation.
It is of the greatest importance that we view God rationally, and abandon any ignorant notions dating back to our youth. We must consistently update our opinions as we increase our learning. Errors in judgment about God is the worst mistake we can make. Above all, we must have an accurate understanding of God as far as man is capable.
"Talmud Torah knegged kulam", "Learning Torah outweighs all other commands". Knowledge of reality is our goal. Since all knowledge aims at an appreciation of God, all our knowledge is a waste if our view of God is incorrect.

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