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The classic debate of how to understand Hashem as all-knowing, with the ability to see what was, is, and will be, because He runs the world, while balancing it with the concept of free choice, and the question of man’s ability to make decisions or not, is discussed in a Medrish Tanchuma (4) on this week’s Torah portion of Veyeishev. The quickest way to resolve the dilemma is to say that Hashem exists on a different dimensional plane from us, can see into our dimension, in fact created it and interacts with it constantly, at every moment, and without His interaction we would cease to exist. When Chaza”l says He is everywhere, and a name for G-D is Hamakom, The Place, but also that his Shechina, Holy Presence, rests in certain places, what that means is that G-D in fact is everywhere from the viewpoint of His dimension interacting with ours, and He is The Place because He created everything, but He focuses His Holy Presence in certain places more than others into our world, and even at different strengths, depending on our time, place, and what we deserve. But from within our dimension, with our limited viewpoint of time and space, we have the ability to make choices between good and bad and everything in between. Hashem created it purposefully in this way because He is by definition good and wants us to earn the best state of spiritual bliss and closeness, basking in His glory, that we can possibly attain. This is basically how to understand and believe that there is a G-D who is all powerful and all knowing, who created the world and is in constant control of the upkeep of its existence, and yet we also have free will.
However, there is an added insight that can be gleaned from this medrish, for it states: “’And Yosef was brought down to Egypt’ This is analogous with the pasuk in Tehillim (66:5), ‘Go and see the deeds of G-D, awesome in His excuses toward mankind.’ Rebbe Yehoshua ben Karcha says, that even the awesome wonders that You bring upon us are brought through an excuse. Come and see, for when Hashem created the world, from the first day He created the Angel of Death. How do we know this? Rebbe Brechiya says because it says in the Torah, ‘and darkness upon the surface of the deep’ (Breishis 2:1). This refers to the Angel of Death who darkens the faces of creation. Man was created on the sixth, and an excuse was hung upon him that he brought death onto the world, as it says, ‘on the day you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Breishis 2:17). This is compared to one who wanted to divorce his wife. When he was planning on going back home he wrote a get (divorce bill). He entered the house with the get in his hand. He needed some excuse to give it to her. He said to her, pour me a hot drink I can drink. She poured for him. He said to her, get out of my house for you poured me a lukewarm drink instead of a hot drink. She said to him, you already knew I would pour you a lukewarm drink, for you wrote a get and brought it with you in your hand! So to Adam said to Hashem, “Master Of The World, 2000 years before you created the world, the Torah was already a nursling by you, as it’s written, “And I was then His nursling, and I was then a precious delight day, day” (Mishley 8:30) which equals 2000 years (for a day is like a thousand years for Hashem. Not that Hashem is bound by time, G-d forbid, for thousands of years is like one second by Him because He’s beyond time, rather Hashem just said this in a language that people would understand-Etz Yosef). It is written inside the Torah, ‘This is the Torah, a person who died in the tent’ (Bamidbar 19:14). If you would not have enacted death to people, would you have written that? Rather you blamed the excuse on me.” This is what it means ‘awesome is the excuse on people.’” The Etz Yosef explains this means that what Hashem decreed in His wisdom that whatever should be in this world, is not brought upon man in a forceful manner, to the point that a person’s actions are controlled, but rather it’s unfolded into reality through the actions of mankind without controlling people to do their actions. Like this woman who was not forced to pour lukewarm or cold water as her husband thought she would do, intending to divorce her. The matter of lukewarm water being poured was only an excuse, if it had not happened that way, there would have been some other reason.
The medrish goes onto to give a second example, about how Moshe was never meant to bring the Jews into Israel, but Hashem orchestrated the excuse of Moshe sinning by the hitting of the rock for that to happen.
The medrish brings a third example from this week’s parsha, “And so too we find by Yosef it says, ‘and his brothers saw that their father loved him [more] because of the scarlet stripe that he made on his striped coat. For this there were four tragedies done to him…. because of this, the coat of stripes caused all the tribes to go down to Egypt. Rebbe Yudan said Hashem wanted to fulfill the promise to Avraham that his descendants will go into exile and be redeemed with wealth, and He brought an excuse to ensure all of it comes about in that Yaakov loved Yosef and his brothers hated him, sold him to the Yishmaelites, who brought him down to Egypt, eventually Yaakov heard that Yosef was alive in Egypt and went down with the tribes there and were subjugated there. This is what ‘And Yosef went down to Egypt’ is referring to but don’t read it ‘as he went down’ but rather that ‘he brought down’ his father and family to Egypt. Rebbe Tanchuna says, what is this comparable to? To someone who wants to put a yoke onto a cow’s neck and it refuses the yoke. What does he do? He takes her calf from in back of her and drags it to the place he wants the cow to plow. The calf moos. The cow hears her calf moo and not for her own good she walks to her son. So to Hashem wanted to fulfill the promise
He made to Avraham and He brought an excuse for all these events to happen so that they can go down to Egypt and He pays up his document. That is why it says ‘and Yosef went down to Egypt’ and this is the awesomeness of an excuse etc.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish wanted to prove that Hashem doesn’t control us like preprogrammed robots, forcing us to do things, but rather He set into nature a chain of events that will lead to the end result of what He desires. Yet the means are through individuals being manipulated, but making choices which lead to the end, desired result.
The medrish gives 3 examples. One is that people were destined to be mortal, yet it only came to be out of the choice made by Adam and Chava to eat from the Tree Of Knowledge. Two, Moshe was never destined to enter the land of Israel, but it only came into fruition because of his decision to hit the rock. And three, the promise made to Avraham was destined to be fulfilled but only came about through the means of Yaakov choosing to favor Yosef, which had a domino effect which landed Yaakov and his family in Egypt. The first example was explained based on a parable of a man wanting to divorce his wife and manipulating events for that to happen. The second example did not have or need a parable, and the third example had the parable of manipulating the stubborn cow to get into the yoke to plow. Why were two parables needed to explain the concept, and what were they emphasizing?
The first parable showed that the wife really had a choice, and yet she chose to serve her husband lukewarm water which resulted in a divorce, because she clearly didn’t treat him nicely. He knew what was going to happen, anticipated it, and was of course right, so he was prepared with the bill of divorce; yet technically he could have and would have found another excuse to hand it to her. So too, Hashem knew Adam perfectly, and knew this was going to happen, but left it up to him to choose to do what he did, and if he hadn’t done it, there would have been some other incident that would have justified making humans into mere mortals.
The second example is along the same lines as the first; however the third example is a bit different than the first two. The first two showed that Hashem knows the way people think, so He manipulated the circumstances in order that they would choose the destined end game. The third example showed that Hashem orchestrated a chain of events to happen in order to get the destined result; not necessarily because of the way one thinks, but through multiple, multifaceted events and characters coming together through free will, to create the desired effect. That is what both parables are teaching us. We see from here that G-D runs and directs the world, but we have free choice to choose whether we will be part of the destiny of Hashem’s master plan or someone else will, or even if it will involve us, the question is how we will be involved.
One might ask: which is harder to comprehend, that there is a G-d running the world or that we have free choice? One might think I can understand we have free choice because we make decisions every day, but who says there is really a G-D? However we see from here, from the fact that the medrish had to give two parables explaining how we have free choice in these situations, without proving that G-D exists, it must be it’s obvious and easier to believe in Hashem once one has come to the realization there is an All Mighty, All Powerful Master of the Universe, but it’s still difficult to then come to grips with the fact that we are not simply puppets controlled by Him. Therefore the medrish gave to parables to explain how we still have free will.