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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5776

Ein Ayah: Divine Plan or Human Initiative?

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:204)

Gemara: A Tannaic statement emanated from the school of Rabbi Yishmael: “Should the faller fall from it (mimeneu)” (Devarim 22:8). “Mimenu” implies that the faller was fit to fall from the six days of Genesis, as the Torah calls him a “faller” before he fell. The idea is that meritorious matters are brought about by meritorious people and negative matters by negative people. 


Ein Ayah: One can ask whether human occurrences happen naturally and of necessity in a determined chain of events or whether they can occur not according to plan but due to man’s choices based on free will. The fact that man has free choice does not remove the question. Just as destiny does not prevent man from trying to naturally obtain result he desires, so too it does not stop him from making moral decisions. Just as one who takes foolish steps in practical life can ruin things for himself, so too one who sins can change things for the worse, as he can change them for the better by acting properly.

Therefore, the aforementioned philosophical question is not always a practical one. There certainly is a possibility for things to change based on people’s actions. It is also possible for apparently sudden changes in life to have been predestined based on divine rules of truth and justice. However, in our mind’s eye, we see two equal possibilities – times when apparently social processes bring about events and times when events seem to have developed by people’s choices.

The most enlightening approach is that existence expands broadly in the physical and spiritual realms, as the pasuk says, “How great are Your actions, Hashem!” (Tehillim 92:6). All the factors are in place, and they are implemented by Hashem’s wisdom. The areas controlled by predetermined factors and those that are controlled by free choice are both broad, and they join together to shape all of existence, as the p’sukim say: “The world was built on kindness” (ibid. 89:3) and “His throne is established on kindness and truth” (based on Yeshaya 16:5).

The break-up of matters into these categories depends roughly on whether they are matters of tachlit (end) or emtza’i (means), although these terms are hard to nail down. Something that is basically an end, can at other times be means; something that is usually a means can also be an end. Means do not themselves have a direct impact on the world except by creating significant ends. Means are more related to free choice. If one’s means did not come through, another one will be created to bring the end. Ends are more related to divine design. Both good and bad are ends, as even bad is part of the creation about which the pasuk says Hashem saw it as very good (Bereishit 1:31). They are the material for the personal good and bad that turn into righteousness and evil.

In understanding the idea that the faller was to fall, we note that many things are set by divine plan and if free choice joins up with it, the significance is in becoming a means for the end. The idea that meritorious matters are brought about by meritorious people means that matters of choice and morality were integrated into the development of the world. This is as the pasuk says: “All that Hashem does is eternal; one cannot add to or detract from it, and the Lord caused that they should fear Him” (Kohelet 3:14). That which connects permanent justice on a cosmic level with freedom is the fact that there is free choice whose extent is known only to Hashem. If free choice were absolute in its impact, the world would be a different place. Hashem decides when it will impact and when it will be overcome by predetermined factors. Divine Providence arranges all of this with sensitivity to means and ends, according to the value of each. Every person has a time and everything has a place, which are set from the Genesis. This is the situation of the faller, whose death was brought about by the one who connected himself to death. “Our Lord is great and powerful, and there is no limit to His wisdom” (Tehillim 135:5).

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