What is the Rambam really bothered by in Teshuvah 5:5?

רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ה הלכה ה

שמא תאמר והלא הקב"ה יודע כל מה שיהיה וקודם שיהיה ידע שזה יהיה צדיק או רשע או לא ידע, אם ידע שהוא יהיה צדיק אי אפשר שלא יהיה צדיק ואם תאמר שידע שיהיה צדיק ואפשר שיהיה רשע הרי לא ידע הדבר על בוריו, דע שתשובת שאלה זו ארוכה מארץ מדה ורחבה מני ים וכמה עיקרים גדולים והררים רמים תלויים בה אבל צריך אתה לידע ולהבין בדבר זה שאני אומר, כבר בארנו בפ' שני מהלכות יסודי התורה שהקב"ה אינו יודע מדיעה שהיא חוץ ממנו כבני אדם שהם ודעתם שנים, אלא הוא יתעלה שמו ודעתו אחד ואין דעתו של אדם יכולה להשיג דבר זה על בוריו וכשם שאין כח באדם להשיג ולמצוא אמתת הבורא שנאמר כי לא יראני האדם וחי אין כח באדם להשיג ולמצוא דעתו של בורא, הוא שהנביא אמר כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם ולא דרכיכם דרכי, וכיון שכן הוא אין בנו כח לידע היאך ידע הקב"ה כל הברואים והמעשים אבל ג נדע בלא ספק שמעשה האדם ביד האדם ואין הקב"ה מושכו ולא גוזר עליו לעשות כך, ולא מפני קבלת הדת בלבד נודע דבר זה אלא בראיות ברורות מדברי החכמה, ומפני זה נאמר בנבואה שדנין את האדם על מעשיו כפי מעשיו אם טוב ואם רע וזה הוא העיקר שכל דברי הנבואה תלויין בו.

  • Didn't you address this in mi.yodeya.com/questions/856/do-we-really-have-free-choice/… ?
    – Yahu
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:36
  • I did address it there, but really the questioner there wasn't asking this question. In other words, the questioner on that post was bothered by how man can have free will if Hashem knows what you will do. This, I am suggesting, is not the question of the Rambam. So I created a new question that let us focus on the Rambam's true issue exclusively. I am sorry if I am deviating from the normative organization scheme of the website, it just seemed logical to create its own subject header. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – RCW
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 7:16

4 Answers 4


To try and understand the Ramabam's question I think we have to first provide an explanation that will remove ones initial understanding of the the Rambam's question. I don't believe God's knowing what we will do in the future contradicts free will. The first step is to define free-will. I would like to offer a suggestion that free-will is when one is the cause of their own good or evil. The main emphasis is that mankind is the cause. Now, let me offer the following example to resolve the issue. Let us say that Person A, Mark, is watching a fire start at the bottom of a house. If you ask "Mark", do you know that the house will burn down? He would respond of course. Now, just because "Mark" has knowledge that the House will burn down, does that make him the cause of the house burning down? Of course not. Knowledge does not equal causation. Similarly, as we established before, Free-will is where Man is the cause of his own good or evil. Just because God knows what man will do, does not make him the cause. Man is the cause. So, really the question just drops away. So then what is the question the Rambam is really bothered by?

Perhaps the question the Rambam is asking (in Teshuvah 5:5) is how to reconcile Hashems knowledge with the premise that Hashem knows what man will do. What the Rambam is trying to clarify is how Hashem knows what man will do. If the way Hashem knows is the same way a watchmaker knows how a clock works, which is that he knows all the causes that went into making the watch, therefore he can predict the results by tracing the chain of causality. Similarly one might suggest that the way Hashem knows what we will do is because he created the world and knows all the causes that went into the creation. So, if he knows all the causes he can trace the chain of causation from the beginning of time and know exactly what will happen in the future. However, if this is the way Hashem knows, then this would preclude Free Choice. Because, Free choice is where man is the cause of his own actions, their is no other cause. Meaning that man is operating outside the chain of causality and is the prime mover of the decision. Therefore if the way Hashem knew what man will do, is via this chain of causality, Hashem would not be able to know what man will do if Man has free choice. So the Rambam is setting up a contradiction between the way Hashem knows things and the premise that man has free will. I believe the Rambam answers the problem by saying that the way Hashem knows things is not through knowing the chain of causality (as a human creator of something might know) but rather the way Hashem knows things is through a different way that does not contradict free will. This third way of knowing is something we can not fully grasp. Hence, the contradiction is removed. I hope this is clear, please do not hesitate to ask for further clarification.


Rav Hutner explains that the first 2 middos of the 13 attributes of mercy are Hashem Hashem, because we have 2 havayos (creations/becomings). The initial creation of the sinner is terminated when he sins, when he does repentance, he is created anew by the second Shem havayah.

Only by being created anew, is the sinner able to start a new life that is not stained by his sin. And only through being created anew is the sin removed in its entirety, for the sinner, as if it had never occurred.

According to this approach we can understand that what is bothering the Rambam is that if Hashem knew in advance that the sinner would adopt a new existence then this is perforce not a new existence for it was known of previously.


This is difficult but I will try.

All possibilities have been accounted for and are real to G-D. All results will be the same in the end for all choices have been accounted for. The person only chooses the possibility that he wants and goes on that path. The knowledge anticipated that possibility and accounted for it. The results for that possibility are pre-programmed and lead to other choices. Since G-D and His Knowledge are synonymous according to Rambam, just as G-D is without time's limits so is the knowledge. Therefore, the knowledge sees the person's choice of possibile routes at the time of choice as part of the infinite Knowledge but not as an influence, rather as an observer. However,the Knowledge is external to time. So it is known without causing any influence on the choice. Only if I pre-programmed you to do something does it mean you cannot but be that way. You are not pre-programmed to your choices. Knowledge is original, only in that G-D's knowledge has no constraint on time. Tomorrow and yesterday exist together with today.

This is my understanding of the Rambam's words here and elsewhere from comparison and what others told me.

  • I am trying to grasp your explanation. However, what I keep getting caught up on by your explanation is that you seem to be describing the way God knows the "results". The Rambam clearly states we do not know how God knows these results "כיון שכן הוא אין בנו כח לידע היאך ידע הקב"ה כל הברואים והמעשים " Furthermore, I am a bit unclear on another point. The way you describe it is that God knows all the anticipated possibilities. So when the actual choice is made it merely so to speak "confirms" one of the routes possible. However, this suggests God did not know the particular outcome...
    – RCW
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 5:23
  • ...the person would choose. I know you are trying to side step it by removing time, but the way you are describing it is in a way the describes God's knowledge as lacking.
    – RCW
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 5:28

HKBH is infinite. This means beyond any terms we use or understand.

When we ask the question - we are asking that our sense of free will goes against how WE UNDERSTAND G-Ds KNOWLEDGE to be.

Like all Ultimate questions about G-d. Since we are limited and He is not - we are asking a "limited" versus "infinite" question. This by definition cannot be understood.

I would be sad if I COULD understand. The fact that I cannot, this is totally in line with my understanding that Hashem is Infinite. Beyond time, space and comprehension.

This is what the Rambam means. See how he says this so clearly in Moreh Hanevuchim.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Shmuel and thanks for this first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 6:59

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