Today's interesting question delves deeper into the concept of free will. I understand that Judaism views free will as the freedom to choose between life and death (i.e. choose life and live), but does that mean the popular conception of free will is, in fact, non-existent? If I strive to do God's will, is there any room for some additional (not substitute) will of my own. Should I assume that God's will is concerned with everything or are there areas where I can contribute to the molding of the future world according to my own desires.

In other words, am I an intelligent being or just a host populated by a soul that may be plotted on an analogue spectrum with outright ignorance on one extreme and Godliness on the other extreme?

  • I'm not sure that I'm understanding your train of thought here. The last sentence of your first paragraph is an excellent question, IMO: Does God's will encompass all situations, or are there instances where I can choose what to do without violating or fulfilling God's will? But what does that have to do with free will? Free will is already assumed in that question. Just because one strives to follow God's will, it doesn't mean he lacks his own free will. The question merely is: does free will involve making decisions regarding issues about which God is unconcerned?
    – jake
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 4:39
  • No @jake I'm more asking "do I actually exist as a separate entity (even after I begin to identify with my soul rather than my body, and make God's will my will) and would God's plan permit me to exert personal influence. Or is it all God's plan and I'm either part of it or not? Since I don't know all of God's plan, I am tempted to value add if that's permissible.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 4:53
  • Ok, thanks. I only understood what your question was in light of @avi's answer below.
    – jake
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 16:34
  • I'm still not entirely following the question. These are big topics (free will, the soul vs. the self, God's "plan"), and a little more clarity on exactly what the question is would make it easier to answer the actual question, rather than our best guess at the question.
    – LazerA
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:50
  • @LazerA Specific questions can only be asked by people who have some level of familiarity with the subject matter. From a Jewish perspective, I don't have this familiarity. What I have is a collection of disorganised thoughts and preconceptions which only really qualify as my current opinion or state of knowledge on the issue. Just talk to me about the topics I mentioned from a Jewish perspective. The objective is not to test your knowledge of Judaism, the objective is to help me make sense of my world using your knowledge of Judaism.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 4, 2012 at 14:06

2 Answers 2


As usual, there are many different authentic Jewish perspectives on this issue. I only know the sources for the more chasidic/kabbalistic approaches to this question, as I think thy are the only ones who really have a satisfactory answer, however I am aware of other positions that appeal to other people more , and they feel that the other approach is the only satisfactory answer. I apologize if I don't do the other positions justice.

In no particular order: (just the order I remember them in)

  1. Nikudah HaBachira (Point of free will): This view of free will states that we only have free will in very few and limited instances. For most people, most things are truly not an option. Killing someone is not something we will do, so when the opportunity comes for us to kill someone, we can't really say we used our freewill to abstain from it. (we hope) Some things are just too far from us to ever imagine doing. On the opposite spectrum, there are some things which we always do, and we don't really have free will to abstain from doing them. For example, scratching an itch. As we progress in life, our "point of free will" shifts on various issues. It is in these points that we are truly human and our own person, every other time we are either acting as an animal does, or as an angel does. (Doing Gd's will for either good or bad) At no point in our life, do we ever lose this single point of free will no matter how close to Hashem's will we make our own.

  2. Divine Spark: This view argues that enclosed in our overly animal body, we have a spark of the Divine and the infinite within us. Our soul, as your question implies is always aiming to attach itself to this divine spark and become part of Gd's infinite nature. Our free will is a mechanism which either pushes our soul towards the animal parts of our nature, or towards our divine nature, and the goal in life is to become "one with Hashem", and have His will be our will, and our will be His will. If all goes well, we lose our free will and just become part of Gd's.

  3. Everything is free will, but the greats get divine intervention: This position argues that Gd's will only exists on a very Macro level of existence. Gd's will and plans are only interested in nations and species. We have complete free will to act as we like, and they will have no affect on Gd's plans nor will they help them or hurt them. The mitzvot are for our own benefit to become close to Hashem and understand the divine intellect. If we are able to achieve this lofty closeness to Hashem, then we will be worthy to be involved in the Divine plan, and miracles and divine intervention will happen for us. But those people are few and far between.

  4. There is no true free will: There is a line in the Talmud which states that there is no free will, everything is predetermined except for one point, Our awe of Hashem. Gd is in control of everything and the only question is if we attach ourselves to Hashem or we do not. Some understand this gemora to be saying that the only thing in life we have control over is our attitude and reaction to the events around us.

  5. Law of Attraction: Every person has complete free will, and the Truth is that Hashem would like to make His will our will. A person will have the life they think of for themselves, and the things that they need and know truly that they need, without doubt, will be given those things by Gd. As long as we keep the mitzvot as we understand them and attach ourselves to our Father in Heaven, Gd will move mountains and stars to get our will fulfilled, but if there is the slightest doubt in our minds, then the strong opinions and thoughts of others will override our own.

  6. Free will only exists for reward and punishment: Nothing we can do will affect or change the divine plan. Free will only exists so that we may rewarded or punished for the things we do. When it comes to Gd's will, we can only do the mitzvot we know and hope that we act correctly. Other than following mitzvot and avoiding sin, we should not worry ourselves with Gd's will or larger plans.

  7. Partner in creation: Gd wants us to follow his Mizvot to help bring creation closer to it's final goal. We have complete free will in this matter. If we do not do the miztvot and do not repair the defects in the world, then they will not be repaired, and Gd's plan will be done by another generation, if they so choose to do so. Our free will exists on the larger scale of perhaps we will help Hashem and His creation, or we will not help and be greedy people with no gratitude and no future. In order to be a true partner in creation, we need complete independence of thought of action and to be made "in the image of Gd". When we make our will Gd's will, then we are just acting as ourselves to be a partner in the creation and Gd's plan, but we are still our own individuals. The fact that we choose to partner with Hashem rather than be an adversary is what defines us.

I know I'm missing some other points of view, but that's all I have time for for now, and can't remember what I'm missing. Hopefully you will notice that many of these ideas complement each other and overlap each other. (If anyone can give me sources for each of those points of view, I would be indebted to you.)

  • +1 I'm blown away by your effort. Most impressive. Shabbat Shalom.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 11:50
  • 2
    @Sam while I appreciate your confidence, I would suggest not accepting this answer yet, as it's Friday and better answers might be written after the Shabbat. By accepting this answer you reduce the likelihood of other people writing good answers.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 12:45
  • I would point out that presenting these concepts as if they are distinct positions is misleading. Most of these positions can be, and often are, held in common by traditional authorities.
    – LazerA
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:28
  • I have some difficulties with a number of other aspects of the answer. For example, what basis is there for distinguishing the "Divine spark" from the soul? (Of course, any discussion of the soul will quickly get complicated, as the popular conception of the concept is very different from the conception presented in the sifrei kodesh.)
    – LazerA
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:31
  • I'm not following point three.
    – LazerA
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:34

Take a look at most philosophers description of free will. That is, one has free will in making a choice if had he been been different (had different desires, goals, wills, etc) he could have chosen to act otherwise. I think that the problems involved with God's plan are quite similar to those problems raised by arguments about a causal universe.

Note however, that one has free will in that one can choose not to follow god's will. Just because choosing to act as God as commanded leaves you with no option does not mean you don't have free will.

I'm sure I'm characterizing this badly, so check out these links: See the following links for more info:

Wikipedia - Compatibilism

Wikipedia - Free will in religion

Stanford dictionary of Philosophy - Divine Providence

  • +1 Thanks for the philosophical answer. Now let's wait and see what the Jewish authoritative sources say on the subject.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 6:32

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