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After reading this superb article by the great Rabbi Noah Weinberg I'm left pondering point number 5 "Make your will God's will".

I understand that this does not mean that whatever you personally want can be reclassified as God's will.

My question is, how do I know what God's will is in a particular situation? Does "God's will" only apply to moral decisions or is there a framework or guidelines/advice for identifying what God's will may be?

For example, last week I stopped a fight between 2 guys (which you would think is a nice thing to do) but in hindsight I should have let them at each other because one of them probably deserved a bit and perhaps I have denied the universe it's intended outcome. How can I possibly know what God's will might have been in that situation? Is it completely implausible that God might have wanted one of them to get roughed up a bit in order to teach him a lesson he seemed to lack? I mean God rewards and punishes doesn't he, so how do I know when to align myself with the rewarding aspect or the punishing aspect?

No, I'm not a violent person, I'm trying to use a far fetched example to gain a deeper truth. Surely God doesn't simply hand out rewards, we know he punishes those that transgress, at least I believe that.

So yeah, any advice on knowing God's will in a particular situation?

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Wow, what a question. Don't we all wish we knew exactly what God wanted us to do in every situation! It would be great to have some "tips"... –  Dave Feb 2 '12 at 6:00
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-1 " perhaps I have denied the universe it's intended outcome". First of all, there is no such thing as a conscious singular entity called "universe". Second, if you meant to say G-d instead of universe, that is completely impossible. Don't worry about "playing G-d" either - that's impossible too. Those who worry about interfering with G-d's "intended "outcome" fail to grasp the concept of Infinity. –  user1095 Feb 2 '12 at 12:34
    
Reb Noson of Breslev zy'a cites the holy Baal Shem Tov that we should know that literally everything that happens to us in our life happens exactly as G-d intends it to, and for the sole reason of bringing us closer to Him. All we have to do is do our best to do what is right according to the Torah, and strive every day for a closer relationship with our Creator. –  yoel Mar 9 '12 at 16:58
    
ask daas torah judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/28773/… –  ray Jun 26 '13 at 5:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It is not easy to know Gd's will, but according to the Talmud and Mystical Judaism it is seemingly possible. It seems from most stories, that only the best of the best have even come close to this ability, though of course all of us should strive to do so.

First there are 2 main rules.**

  1. You can never know what is Gd's will regarding other people, you can only know what is Gd's will for yourself.*

  2. If you are in a situation where you do not have control, then by definition whatever happens is Gd's will. This is an outgrowth of rule 1. The Torah (not just the chumash) can teach us what to do in any given situation, but when we have no power to change anything, we must accept that even though this might seem to go against Gd's will if we had the power to change it, since we do not, it is not His will that it be changed, or at least changed by us.

Now, the Tanach and Talmud are large, and cover many aspects of life. Some are repeated, some go into great detail, some seemingly don't give us enough detail. There are halachot which have clear cut rules, and there agadatot which just make us think. Once we have immersed ourselves in these stories and laws we will have enough information to understand Gd's will in any given moment. (I feel compelled to add that sometimes you will need expert knowledge in a related field, such as farming, to properly understand what the Torah tells us when it makes use of farming metaphors or laws.)

As for the example of the two people fighting that you gave, we have many examples of two people fighting in our tradition when a third person could intercede. The results of interceding differed from case to case. For example, Moshe slew an Egyptian that was beating a Jewish slave (Shemot 2:11-12), and he saw two Jews fighting and spoke to them to stop (Shemot 2:13-14). Aharon, writes the Talmud, would always stop two people from fighting - even lying to each of them if necessary - and for this, his ways were known as Peace, one of Gd's names. I believe there was also an incident with a prophet but I can't remember who at the moment.

If, after learning enough Torah, a person sees two others fighting then they will be instantly reminded of one of these instances by the circumstances that surround the fight. They will then recognize how to intervene. Unless I'm forgetting some instance in the Talmud, Midrashim or Tanach, I believe a person is also supposed to do their best to stop two people from fighting. Your ways should be of peace, you should always try to bring peace to others. Whatever punishments a person is meant to have, they will receive those punishments through your attempts to bring about peace. If there are sources which say otherwise, then that just means that each situation needs to be looked at more closely, and more instances of the copus of Torah integrated into a person before they can know Gd's will in these moments.

*Because of rule 1, you can be certain that anytime someone decides to make a public statement about why event X or Y happened; but, they do not include their own actions as the cause of the event or their own repentance as a possible remedy for the event then they are probably wrong. If they include themselves, it does not mean they are correct; but, if they don't, it certainly means they are wrong.

** It has been many years since I studied this topic, and I apologize that I can not remember the source of these two rules. If anyone has heard them before and knows of their source, I would be much obliged.

EDIT: It occurred to me that someone reading this answer might think that you have to know all of Torah before ever attempting to make your will Gd's will. I do not think this is true. You can use the Torah you do know to influence your will to be closer to Gd's will. If you make a mistake, so be it; but, what you do not know at any particular moment is not really in your control. You can try to learn more on a topic before acting, but you shouldn't think that since you are limited in your knowledge that you should not even attempt to subjugate your will to that of Gd and Torah. There is a general rule in Jewish practice to do what you can, even if you can't do it perfectly, and this idea also extends from "rule 2".

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This sounds a lot like an argument for daas torah. –  Double AA Feb 2 '12 at 7:26
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@DoubleAA That is why I felt compelled to add a line, so it would not be confused with the modern notion of daas Torah. i.e. needing to be an expert in other fields of knowledge as well. But Daas Torah,in it's original meaning, does have it's sources. zootorah.com/RationalistJudaism/DaatTorahLichtenstein.pdf Also, while different things, Daas Torah and knowing Gd's will must certainly be related. –  avi Feb 2 '12 at 7:27
    
+1. I'm convinced there is a need for Torah to be taught in more places. Pity if there's a lack of such services for the Goyim. And pity if these services are only accessible to conversion candidates or existing Jews. I can read and study by myself, but that's not as much fun as arguing with a bunch of Jews :-) Is there something wrong with me? –  Sam Feb 2 '12 at 7:48
    
substitute "arguing" with "passionately debating" –  Sam Feb 2 '12 at 7:56
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@avi yes that's the SE convention isn't it (I've been using Stack Overflow for a couple of years - I'm a programmer by trade). With you, I'm also getting into the habit of clicking the tick symbol. Who knows what interesting questions I will come up with tomorrow. Shalom mate. :-) –  Sam Feb 2 '12 at 10:15

There's a lot to say about this. But one point to start with, re your fourth paragraph:

There is a difference between what G-d wants to happen to a person, and who is to be the agent of it. In your example, one of these people may indeed deserve a beating, which will therefore happen one way or another,* but there's no Divine decree that this other person be the one to administer it; indeed, there is a commandment for him not to do so. So he has the free will to listen to what G-d has commanded (and similarly, you have free will to help him along in that, by doing something to dissuade him), and it is G-d's will that indeed that should be the case (in which case He will place that person in another situation where it can happen).

[This is one of the classical explanations as to how G-d could punish the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews, when He had already decreed that they would be enslaved: it was the Egyptians' choice to be the agents who would carry it out, but they didn't have to do so. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah 6:5) ]


* Strictly speaking, even this is not necessarily true. The person may do teshuvah (repentance) and not have to undergo that after all, or G-d may decide to waive or postpone this punishment for other reasons. In any case, the general rule still applies: "What business have you with G-d's secrets? You do what you are commanded [thus "making His will your will"], and G-d will do what He sees fit" (Talmud, Berachos 10a).

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+1. Although I'm very tempted to reply to "What business have you with God's secrets?". Suffice to say, it's my concern. –  Sam Feb 2 '12 at 6:46

When it comes to other people your attitude to them must always be to save them from suffering. Whether they need, deserve or would benefit from suffering is not your concern at all. The only person I know about who tortured others (mentally) for their benefit is Joseph, and we do not have the capability of doing such a thing. If they need suffering it will come to them through some other agent of G-d. If you're seeing it then you have to do your best to stop it.

When it come to oneself, a prerequisite for knowing G-d's will for you is profound self-knowledge. G-d's messages to an individual are directed to him specifically, but at the same time subtle and hidden from casual view. You need to sensitise yourself to hidden messages in your environment, people you meet, your household, and most of all your spouse (Eizer k'negdo and all that).

While there are general principles which apply to everybody in the form of doing mitzvot and learning Torah, each person has their own special mission in life. You have to know your own nature and inclinations, strengths and weaknesses, abilities and shortcomings. To use a metaphor, what's your superpower? What's your kryptonite? Use your superpowers for good while avoiding your kryptonite in the extreme.

It takes work to engender the humility needed to accept G-d's Will as your own. Ego-busting is by definition psychically painful, but the capability it gives you to deal with things outside your control is worth it.

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+1 The personal nature of your answer is much appreciated. Many thanks for sharing your insights. –  Sam Feb 2 '12 at 11:27

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