Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Free Will

Posted by Sara


We all know that free will is one of the hardest things to believe in. In my head what causes this unbelievable skepticism among us is the fact that Judaism contradicts itself: the Torah tells us G-d knows all, but it also tells us we have free will. Does the concept of Hashem knowing all negate any possibility of having choice in our lives? One could see why this is true for having choice means there is an element of surprise involved meaning if Hashem knows our future how do we have any choice of changing it because if we do change our mind Hashem already knows. And doesn’t the Torah also say that G-d controls all, which would imply that he controls our choices… or lack thereof.
When it comes to relevancy in nevuah, we will go back to the core of my free will problem. One of the main questions people ask about Yonah is if Hashem knew he would run away why Hashem didn’t stop him. One would answer simply because he has free will. However from this we can derive that no he doesn’t have free will because then he would’ve succeeded in running away and furthermore does Hashem’s knowledge of Yonah’s plan mean that Hashem controls our fate meaning that we don’t really have a choice.
I have luckily stumbled upon two answers to this question that both highly anger me yet give me a stability that I can live with… for now:
1) The Talmud (Ber. 33b; Niddah 16b) says "All is in the hands of God except the fear of God." This quote was first said to me by my father when we were having another heated debate about free will. The Talmud here is telling us that we in fact do not have free will, not about what colleges we go to or whether or not we run away from g-d or our families, we do not have free will to choose chocolate or vanilla and we do not have the free will to choose whether or not we insult somebody just to look good in front of our friends. However, this all depends on whether or not we believe in g-d at all because that is the one thing that free will is there for, to choose our beliefs and whether or not we follow Hashem. However, doesn’t it leave you a bit unsettled that the only true choice you have in life is your belief in g-d?
2) This weekend I had the privilege of discussing free will with Rabbi Yehuda, the rabbi from Shalem (a program in Israel). When I asked him whether or not Hashems knowledge cancels out our free will, he explained to me the words of the Ramban. To summarize the idea: Knowledge is too human of a term, when we say that Hashem “knows” we assume he knows the same way we know but how can we possibly assume that knowledge works the same way for Hashem that it does for us. So what does this mean, well the Rabbi and I discussed one of the main possibilities could be that Hashem sees our lives like a timeline but He is in a completely different dimension but that means that Him seeing from the outside does not control our choices.

I know how frustrating this topic is and I know I will never find the answer I am looking for so I will turn it over to you: Does Hashem knowing all negate the possibility for free will?


Blogger amalia said...

Judging from what you said in your article Hashem knowing all does not negate the possibility for free will. You wrote that He sees our lives from the outside. We have the potential to change our decisions and Hashem knows this. I think that Hashem sees both ways that it can happen but it doesn't mean that it has to go one specific way.Again it can go either way, our ability to decide for ourselves is free will. Hashem is not making us choose the path that he sees as he can see all the ways we can go. It is our desicion of the way we go, is that not free will? The ability to decide for oneself and create your own path? Hashem is not making the path for you and forcing you to make the desicions that he sees will happen. They will happen at some point in time, that's just fate. So i think the argument is not whether we have free will but whether we can change fate.

November 29, 2006 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe that we do not have the complete free will. my opinion on this topic varies in everything i learn day to day in school yet today when i was thinking of how i would respond to this blog i decided i would not outline my opinon rather i would add something to sara's problem. every yom kipur hashem decideds almost everything; who will be brought into the world and who will die etc. I have learnt that hashem also basically plans the world. So what about if we decide to change hashems "decree"? that would clearly mean we have free will but god knows what we are going to do beofre we do it and that doesnt settle with me as having free will. So my god being all knwoning i think that he is sort of taking away from the full idea of any human having free will. iris

November 30, 2006 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free will is the one if not the most complex thing in judisim. Personally, as ignorant as I am, day to day I dont think about ooo the only reason im doing this is bc Hashem has control over me. No, thats not how I feel at all.I go day to day and feel as if im making my own desicions. I dont feel like a robot and i think thats a big factor in free will. Hashem could have easily proggramed us and we could all jsut do that same thing everyday and feel as if we have no control. But he gave us all personality and witht his personality we guide ourselves to do the right thing. Its liek being a teenager for your entire life, your parents do know whats best for you and have a soverignity over you, but they let you make your mistakes so you can learn. If Hashem hadnt give us free will, we wouldnt be able to make the mistakes we make. Hashem wouldnt have given us persoanlity to make our own decisions. Life is all about the journey, so yes Hashem knows ulitmatly what we are going to do in life and what mistakes we are going to make, but hes letting us grow by ourselves. Hes letting us make our own deicisions so when we make the right one, he can look down and be proud.-Shira Zurndorfer

November 30, 2006 9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, so im a lil frustratedd bc my cmment for this blog just got erased which means i have to do this all over again-wtvr-at least its not betul torah. Anyway, i think thst freewill contributes if not causes our destiny to unravel. Our "freewill"d decisions are what makes our future. I think particularly in yonah, we see how freewill really doesnt contribute to the big pcture. Had Yonah not ran away, Hashem wouldnt have been able to convey the vital message about teshuva to yonah as well as future generations. I think that Hashem purposefully asked of yonah to prophecize in order for him to run away-because thats what eventually makes yonah appreciate hashem so much more (like being saved by the fish for example). Although Hashem said something, he clearly had something else in mind, and when he told yonah to go prophecize, he knnew, obviously, that Yonah wouldnt and thats partially what makes the book so much more meaningful. The other example i could think of is after chet haegel. Hashem desired to destroy bnei israel-supposedly. Yet does one really think that after all Hashem did for bnei israel, hes that short tempered to anihilate them? obivously not. He told this to moshe so that moshe would create-as we know of today-the 13 midot. Hashem's allowing moshe to "contracidt" Hashem, caused what Hashem really wanted to happen-a deeper understanding of the way he leads Bnei israel. Therefore, i dont really believe in free will in a way that it contradicts what Hashem has in mind for us. On the contrary, i think it creates what Hashem wants of us.-arella

November 30, 2006 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sarah--the two commentaries are infuriating. I understand that we are Gods servants/vessles and we were put on this earth to do his bidding. But if we had no choice why would we have brains? So we could be distracted with other problems to notice that ever move we make is premeditated? (I sure hope not).

But if indeed we can make the little choices (like chocolate or vanila) could that lead to much greater things? I know God is omnipotent and can do whatever he wants, but where does he draw the lines of what our choices are???

Besides, if we did not have free will I could go out, buy a gun and kill someone.
----At my trial if I were to claim "I have no free will" my lawer would have me plead insanity.

Debbie K

November 30, 2006 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Shira Moer said...

ok so I have mixed feelings about free will. after reading all your comments I dont no if I believe in free will or not. I think this is what I decided. I agree with Amalia and I think that Hashem knows what we will choose but we get to make that choice. If I go and buy ice cream I choose betwen chochlate and vanilla. But Hashem knows that I will choose Chochlate. But on the other hand, I also agree with Iris and on Yom Kippur Hashem decides what the whole world will be like for the upcoming year. Howveer, if you continue with the thought of Yom Kippur, Hashem knows if I will repent or not. I have the choice to repent but he knows what I will do. I do not think he changes my choice because I do have free will. I think we just have to figure things out on our own. Hashem knows our choice for things but we do not. When Hashem gives us a test he knows if we will pass or not, he knows the future, but we do not and we choose if we pass or fail the test. Hashem wants us to see our choices and see if the outcomes are good or bad that is why we cannot know what our end result will be. We have to be the best we can be! I think we do have free will and we make our own choices but Hashem knows what will happen with those choices.

November 30, 2006 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone that in our daily lives we have free will. Even though Hashem knows ultimately what decisions we will make, we get to choose what we want to do. However, now that we are talking about free will I remeber one of the worksheets we did in orit's class about how Hashem hardened pharoah's heart. Clearly, when Hashem hardened his heart, pharoah did not have free will. I rember learning in her class that he had sinned so much, that he had lost the privilege to control his free will. So maybe free will is a privilege. We all have free will because we do not abuse it. But, once we abuse it, Hashem takes it away, hardens our heart and does makes us do what he wants us to do.


November 30, 2006 11:21 PM  
Anonymous tova said...

ok firstly just to put it out there i do beelive we have free will....the story of yona brought pondering wether or not free will....while i was readin it i thought of a different viewpoint u could look at it from. (explaining that he did have free will)
so as we know yona ran away, clearly something hashem didnt want. yonah ran away, hashem clearly didnt want him to but he did anyways. yes hashem knows the future and yes he did know that yonah was gonna run away, but the fact that the whole beginiing/opening of the story (hashem told him to go to ninveh, yonah didnt listen) shows that hashem still gives us the choice. if hashem didnt give us the choice the story would have started with "and yona went against hashem"....etc..." the fact that the torah and the story went that hashem told yonah one thing, yonah ddi the oppostie aka something hashem DID not want, shows that yonah was given the choice (free choice) to chose the latter. hashem wanted him to go to ninveh, and yonah chose not to and even if we assume that hashem knew he wasnt going to, the fact that it says that hashem wanted this but yona did that, im my opinion, shows that yonah was faced with the option for himself. even if god knew at the time he still was faced with the trouble of deciding what to do
(i know this probably wont satisfy u sarah but its just another way to look at it)

ok now to free will in general....even if we assume that hashem ultiately knows what we are going to do, we ourselves dont knwo what we are going to do therefore us as humans still have free will. if we are faced with 2 options, yes (assuming)hashem knows wether we are going to pick option 1 or option 2, since we are not god and we are not all-knowing rather only human, we ourselves for our own purposes dont know what we are going to chose.therefore in the situation it is not relevant as to wether or not god knows, b/c we dont and we r the ones faced with the option.

one can trouble themesleves over the deep philosphies of pondering the idea....but on a more basic level, wehter god knows isnt relevant, therefore WE are still faced with the option meanning we have free will. its not like we are being roboticly leaned to one side when making a decision, boht options r equal. what god knows it beyond our knowledge and beyon our only human understanding, therefor we must settle with the fact that we are human therefore we dont know what is going to be, and despite god, we still are still faced with options that we free willingly have the choice to chose a sense leaving god out of the picture.

(this is a very deep topic and i am not good at writing such profoundness in words so if u have any questions and would like to discuss...we can)

November 30, 2006 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first off, i beleive that free will for jews and free will for non-jews are very differnet. ima talk about the jewish free will. personally i bleive tha ti fGod knows/plans all [aka writes down what will happent o us during the yr on yom kippur] then we donnot have free will. i do think that thourgouht histroy the extent of the jewish people's free will has changed. back in the day when they were closer to Hashem and everything i bleive htat there was less of a choice in life b.c i bleive that God was more invovled in their day to day things. i do belive though that He didnt decide how one person woul dget form piont a to piont b but he did decide that one that day the person woul get from piont a to piont b. nowadays since we arefurther away from God i bleive that He is less involve din our daily lives and more involve din the big picutere. i bleive tha ton Yom Kippur He decides the mjaor events that will occur to us/ with us...but not necissariyl if i will get form piont a to piont b on a specific date. i tihnk though that the whole idea of our having free will is to get us closer ot Hashem, we now must choose to becoem clsoer to Hashem as opposed to back in the day when thats jsut how it was. we hav to strive for Hashem to be part of our day to day lives vs in the ancient times when He was there.

Tamar schneck

November 30, 2006 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

God knows what is gong to happen but it doesnt mean we dont have free will. We have the right to choose whatever we want to choose, hashem just knows what our choice will be. an example: a person is doing a test on children, putting them in a room one at a time with a bucket of chocolate on one side and a bucket if celery on the other. From experience(of course
G-d knows all, but im doign a human example) this person knows that the child is going to go for the chocolate. The tester in no way influenced the child in his decision or forced him to do anything, but he still knew what his decision was going to be.

December 01, 2006 12:34 AM  
Blogger tali said...

Side note: I have always found free will to be something so frustrating that I generally avoid ever talking about it. But for the sake of a grade, I will resort to my pathetic reason that I give to myself.
I take after Rambam and his generally viewpoint when discussing free will: God knows best. How can we, as humans, ever hope to understand HaShem's reasoning? God is an entity that we cannot even begin to understand, and although it is not only our right, but our obligation to question God's word, we have to keep in mind at all times our one-dimensional perspective.
Humans are to God like paper is to a computer. I believe God is a timeless, universal existence, meaning that God is here now, but also with Avraham, and also in 2120. God is also a perfect entity, and it is almost impossible to assign emotions and motivations to God.
So what does this have to do with free will? Basically, how can we know? Free will is so above our heads, and is one of those things that is meant for only the special, perhaps only Moshe.
Talk about a leap of faith.


December 01, 2006 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Suz said...

Ok, so. I used to have like suprem-o issues with free will as well. Eventually I learned (discovered?) that HaShem is more like an overseer, an omnipotent being who can sees all of our lives but does not influence our decisions. Like, im a vegetarian. but nevertheless, i still appreciate being offered chicken on shabbos. (odd, i know) Like, my dad knows im gonna take the vegetables over the chicken but nevertheless he asks. Just like HaShem. He knows what we're going to do he just doesn't influence it.
good topic sara

December 01, 2006 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Luna said...

i think that Hashem knows what were going to do, but cant control what we do. for yonah, Hashem knew what he was going to do, but He couldnt make him do it. thats exactly the point. He couldnt force yonah to go to ninveh, but He did things that made tonah change his mind. like in bruce almighty when bruce sends all those signs to the girl. also in response to the first quote, your belief in Hashem affects everything you do. not everything like chosing ice cream (unless its not kosher), but making decisions in your life, even like what to wear. so it kind of makes sense...

December 01, 2006 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free will, I agree, is a very hard concept to deal with /understand. Whenever the topic comes up, I think of a teacher that once answered this question for me a while ago. She said that if her back was turned to her children, but the stove was on, she would tell her children not to go near it. “Don’t touch it-its hot” even though she couldn’t see them. She would do this, just because she knew her children so well that even when she wasn’t looking, she knew what they would do. Similarly, we are Hashem’s children and he knows each and every one of us, to the point that he knows what we'll do in any given situation. Granted, I was in 7th grade, but this answer was pretty satisfying for me. I understood that Hashem had a special connection with us, like a mother for her child.
One thing I don’t understand is how we can have punishment or reward without free will. How can God punish us if it wasn’t under our control in the first place? Don’t we have the ability to follow the yetzer tov or the yetzer ra? It seems that we have the ability to make our own choices which is why we are held accountable for our actions.
At the same time we’ve learned of cases in Tanach where it seems that free will was taken away. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Balaam was unable to curse the people and Yonah seemed to be put in a situation where he had no other choice. There are some very conflicting ideas this blog brings up...
naomi z

December 01, 2006 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Leora said...

I believe Hashem knows the outcome of everything we are going to do but when it comes to freewill I think we are given the choice on which route we will take to get to the specific outcome chosen for us by Hashem ...we do make decisions but only to a certain extent

December 03, 2006 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading pretty much everyones posts, i became a bit confused on how i really felt about this topic. i agree that this is deffinatly an extremley hard topid to understand and deal with. on the other hand, free will is something we deal with in our everyday lives. its true that hashem knows the outcome of every single situation we face, but how do we know forsure if WE are the ones who make our own decisions, and not hashem? since we are our own person, i'd have to say that hashem does give us the right to have free will. for instance, every jew has the free will if they want to pursue judiasm in their lives or not. we have the free will to take the matter in our own hands, and decide if we want to keep shabbat or eat kosher, or even follow all the 613 mitzvot. i think if hashem didnt give us free will, we wouldnt be our own peron, and we'd basically be controlled by god and not have a say in anything we do. in my opinion, hashem gives us free will for a reason which is to learn from our mistakes in order to make us become better people/jews, and develop a closer relationship with god. hashem may know the outcome of everything, but that doesnt mean he has control over all of our actions.

- Devora

December 03, 2006 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that Hashem gives us free will and i agree with the point that rabbi yehuda made about the timeline. An example of Hashem giving us free will is when he hardened Paroah's heart for if He didnt give us free will then He wouldnt have had to harden it in the first place because it would already be what Hashem wanted I thinkg that Hashem knows what we are capable of and with that information gives us the ability to live up to that or not. so in theory you could say that we do not all have free will because we are all not capable in the same ways.However, i think Hashem does giveus free will in the sence that we can choose how we would like to live up to our capabilities and how we are going to handle our decisions
-Rachel Stern

December 04, 2006 12:09 AM  
Anonymous raydott said...

Ok--a side point, then i'll answer the main question. I think the reason Hashem gave the nevuah to yonah even though He knew Yonah was going to run away from it might be because Hashem

a. taught yonah a lesson (how would YOU like to be swollowed by a male fish, then puked up, and eaten by a female fish filled with eggs, or shall i say caviar? not to mention thrown off the stormy ship in the first place) didnt think so. Yonah totally learned his lesson, which we see when he davens to Hashem and then delivers the prophecy.

b. Many people gained a greater fear of Hashem as a result of Yonah's "punihsments" for running away. (Yonah feared, the sailors feared, and we even learn that the sailors came and told ninveh, who then feared God).

Ok--so now that I said that, I'll answer the main question: does Hashem knowing all negate the possibility of free will?

so i dont think so. For example, lets say i have a crystall ball, and i show it to you, and it predicts that Rabbi Krestt will give us all A+s for the semester. Clearly, that was his choice---its a very out of the blue (but AWESOME...HINT HINT) thing for him to do. us knowing that he will do it doesnt stop it from being his own choice. we just happen to know what will happen before it does. If Rabbi Krestt wasnt planning on giving us all A+s, my crystal ball would say so too.

Hashem knowing that Yonah was going to run away didnt take away from Yonah's free will. oooooo i just thaught of an even better example!! Lets say I offer to trade you a "surprise" from me for your car. none of you guys know that the "surprise" i have in mind is actually 10 CARS that i got with my lottery winnings. so anyways--pretend u didnt hear that, and no one knows i won the lottery. so if i go up to uand say "if you give me your car i'll give u a surprise!" i pretty much know the answer that you will not give me your car. then imagine that later on i show u the 10 cars that i was ready to give you. youd be really sad, but i knew you were going to reject my offer. me being able to predict your decision didnt negate ur free will---i still gave u the option. get it? ok its 1:30 im goin to bed. night.

December 05, 2006 1:27 AM  
Anonymous chavie said...

just like sara brought up, the word 'knowledge' or 'know' is too much of a human word concerning Hashem. Hashem lies in a whole other dimension we will never understand. I believe that we all have the freedo to choose one way or the other, but i realize that Hashem knows what we will choose--and i do not think that just bc he knows, we dont actually have choice. My brother once explained to me that its not that Hashem decides right then and there what youre going to decide...he's not controlling you....But it's as if it has already happened for him. Like watching a movie after already having seen it a million times over. So therefore, Rabbi Yehuda brought up a very good point, and i fully agree...we shouldn't think that just bc Hashem knows our choices, then we obviously dont really have chioces...Furthermore, what rach said about the crystal ball is very true- if hashem saw it all in a "movie" or crystal ball," those were OUR choices that he saw us make. as humans, though, we will obviously never fully understand the concept of free will, time, space, and oh so much more.
sorry if i was repetitive its the morning

December 05, 2006 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ihavent exactly read ppl's blogs because the list is so ling, so im soory if this example was already given. a mother knows that her child is going to pick the candy over the asparagus, but that toatally doesnt mean that the baby didnt have the free will to choose the yummy asparagus. i know its not the best example, so never mind. free will is a complex concept b/c ultimately i dont think we have free will. if we had no-strings-attached-free-will then we'd never be punished- be it in this world or the next- for anyhting that we have done. b/c the definition of the word free will includes the word "free"- how come i cant sin "freely" and know that i wont be punished for it? so does this mean i dont have free will? yeah i guess so. sorry sarah, i dont think i answered your question at all.

December 10, 2006 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well there are 4 differant types of 'freewill' that we learnt in clss, 1- hashem involves himself in the affairs of everyone 2- hashem involves himself when the jeews are involved 3- hashem involved himslef, but not in the littel thigns like fish..animals and nature 4- hashem doesnt involve himself at all.
i think that since 3 of the 4 say that hashem involves himself to some extent, hashem probobly does control us and we probably dont have like a completely free, free will.
- esti

December 11, 2006 5:15 PM  

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