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The philosophical debate over how Hashem is the Almighty and All Knowing yet we have free choice in this word has been debated for thousands of years. There is a Yalkut Shimone in this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Behar which brings to focus the obvious but awesome reality that Hashem is in charge, knows and created everything.
The Yalkut Shimone is based on a few pesukim from the Haftorah in Yirmiyahu, perek 32: “Ho! O Lord God, behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You, Who exercises loving- kindness to thousands and requites the iniquity of the fathers in the bosom of the children who follow them, O Great and Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts is His Name. Who is great in counsel and mighty in carrying it out, for Your eyes are open to all the ways of mankind, to give everyone in accordance with his ways and in accordance with the fruit of his deeds” (Yirmiyahu 32:17-19).
The Yalkut Shimone, quoting a Medrish Rabba (Breishis 9:3) in the beginning of Breishis says, “‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You.’ Reish Lakish said in the name of Rebbe Elazar ben Azariah, ‘‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth,’ from that time nothing is hidden from You.’ [The Zayis Ra’anan explains that at the time of the creation of heaven and earth, Hashem created all that in the future will be, during the six days of creation.] Rebbe Chagi in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok quoted a pasuk in Divrei Hayamim, “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father and worship Him with a whole heart and with an eager soul, for the Lord seeks all hearts, and He understands the thoughts of every creation; if you seek Him, He will be found to you, and if you forsake Him, He will abandon you forever” (Divrei Hayamim alef 28:9). Before a person finishes his thought in his heart Hashem already knows it. Rebbe Yudan in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok said that before Hashem even created his creation he knew their thoughts (see Maharz”u on this step of the medrish.) Rebbe Yudan himself quoted a pasuk in Tehillim, ‘For there is no word on my tongue; behold, O Lord, You know it all’ (Tehillim 139:4). Before one speaks Hashem knows what he is going to say. ‘O Great and Mighty God’ (Yirmiyahu 32:18).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish is addressing fundamentals in our belief system. The famous pasuk in Mishlei says “There is nothing new under the sun.” The latest technology, computers, cars, airplanes etc. were all created during the six days of creation. Hashem might not have sent his messengers to reveal it to us until today, when it is the proper time for them to be introduced into the world, but everything that was “invented” or “discovered” has always been around in its potential for 5779 years and a tiny bit, ever since Hashem created the heaven and earth. Not only that, but Hashem knows every word that will come out of your mouth before you say it, every thought you think before you finish thinking it, and in fact he knows every thought and the nature of every human being even before he or she is born. That is how great and awesome and powerful and all-knowing Hashem truly is. If that is the case then the famous question arises of where is our free will?
The fact is the Rambam on a mishna in Pirkei Avos addresses this issue. The Mishna says in the name of Rebbe Akiva, “Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds” (Pirkei Avos 3:15). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Rambam explains that every action a person does or will do is all known to Hashem. But don’t say that since Hashem knows what a person will do then his actions are forced to be righteous or evil based on his preordained destiny because freedom of choice is given into one’s hands to choose between good and evil and nothing forces anyone to do anything at all. And since this is true, the world is therefore judged with goodness, to punish the wicked and to give good reward to the righteous, for the sinner willingly sins and is befitting to be punished and the righteous is willingly righteous and is befitting to accept reward.
It is self-evident that we have free will. We make choices every day, for good or for bad. How then can we understand that Hashem, the Almighty, already created everything from the beginning of time and knows what we are going to say and even think before it actually happens? How are we not preprogramed robots with no sense of worth or growth in our lives? Furthermore, what is the lesson that we can learn from this dichotomy?
Briefly, without much detail, the way I very humbly understand with my significantly finite mind this seemingly contradiction is, granted the song is absolutely true: “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere”, but in a whole different dimension out of our time and space which He himself created for us. Meaning Hashem is above and beyond our time and space and therefore he is able to see and know past present and future. He created it and constantly runs it consistently. Hashem specifically created the world and the entire universe, programming it to give humans free choice, a will to do good or bad within their time space so that within “Human time” we are able to make decisions that can affect all of existence. We can discover and invent things which were unknown in “Human time,” accomplishments for the betterment or the deterioration of humanity and the world around us. Yet, Hashem in His dimension, is all knowing, all powerful, above, beyond, and “one step” (really a lot more) ahead of us. He has everything figured out because He created it. Kaviyachol, sort of like a video game which has multiple possibilities and many ways to succeed or get out but the maker knows what’s going to happen at the end of the game because he created it.
Hashem did all this because He is a “Meitiv,” always positive and giving. In His infinite wisdom Hashem understands He can’t just make a world which is robotic and preprogrammed to do whatever it is supposed to do because there is no value to it and it would not be good. Rather Hashem created a system where people are able to earn their way through life or G-D forbid ruin it, in this fashion one can show his or her true value and it can be appreciated which is exactly what the Rambam explains the mishna in Pirkei Avos to be saying: “The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds.” The Rambam in fact concludes that Hashem hints to us ways to accrue a lot more reward, “through the more one repeatedly and consistently does acts of good, thus his reward is multiplied, for there is a big difference between handing out a gold coin one hundred times for tzedaka than giving one hundred gold coins all at once for tzedaka.”
Being that we have a mitzvah to emulate Hashem’s ways, there is an important lesson among many that we can learn from this which is that we should appreciate the value and accomplishment of our fellow human beings just as Hashem does of us all, for Hashem went out of His way to create a system in its own dimension of time and space, programming it with the ability to have free choice and creativity in order so that we can choose between good and bad and automatically be recognized for the actions, speech and thoughts we accomplish, though of course Hashem in his dimension knows all that was, is and will be, and even created it, but this appreciation of value and worth must be good. So to, we, ourselves should go out of our way to seek out, appreciate and acknowledge the good of everyone around us and throughout the entire world.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder