- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.