I preface my question by noting that this question can be uncomfortable to some people, but hope that this great community can answer it

Take any tragic event where people died, be it 9/11 or the shooting in France. Had those people not been on that plane, or at that supermarket, would have they have died that day anyway? Is it discussed anywhere in the Torah, Rishonim, Acharonim, that we have a predetermined date of death, or is death just a product of circumstances?

Please, cite your sources

  • 1
    See Sukka 53a (רבי יוחנן רגלוהי דבר איניש אינון ערבין ביה לאתר דמיתבעי תמן מובילין יתיה), which suggests that a person has a preordained time and place of death.
    – Fred
    Feb 15, 2015 at 23:01
  • There is a lot of information to parse on this one. I'm refraining from giving an answer, since this steps over many lines into philosophical interpretations of reality. I will point out that despite what everyone says, HASHEM still is angry with kayin killing hevel, but most philosophies would state that he would have died anyhow? The resolution to this question is hand in hand with freewill vs divine providence... Actually, I might answer this later when I get back home... Feb 15, 2015 at 23:23
  • See the story of the Baal shem Tov and the priest who was a secret Jew here: oxfordchabad.org/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/304586/jewish/… -- story starts "There was once a man who occupied a high ministerial position in the Spanish government."
    – Menachem
    Feb 16, 2015 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


The Ohr HaChaim's commentary to the story of the brother's casting Joseph into the pit has comments relevant to this question. He explains that the brothers felt Yosef was deserving of death because he had testified falsely about them to their father in matters involving a death penalty to a Ben Noach (Ohr HaChaim to 37:20, s.v. ואם תאמר). The brothers intended to prove by killing him that his dreams were false and he made things up at will (Ohr HaChaim ibid s.v. ונראה). Reuvein saved him from them in that he saved Yosef from the hands of those with free will, as one with free will can kill someone even if he does not deserve to die, as opposed to dangerous animals which will only kill someone if they deserve to die. (Reuvein himself did not plan on Yosef dying there, but that he would survive the pit and Reuvein could take him out and save him (Ohr HaChaim ibid s.v. לא).)

I heard R' Yaakov Weinberg say that someone can only kill someone else who wouldn't have died anyways if they are a בן מיתה, which he explained to mean that they have some reason that they deserve to die, but for whatever reason Hashem wouldn't have killed them at that point.

Either way, it comes out that people who would not otherwise have died would die as a result of someone else's free will.


First off, I recommend perusing the forum for discussions on ontology, free will, and predestination, as those subjects are absolutely critical to a treatment of your question. I will provide an answer based upon my personal understanding of the issues involved. There are many sources throughout Rishonim, Achronim, and modern rabbis who talk about this and there are shivim panim le'Torah, especially in this regard. So there are plenty of source for and against any given opinion.

I'm also going to steal something I wrote previously for a burial that is very pertinent to this question. /Disclaimer

Okay, now on to the meat of things: When we talk of God being beyond time, there are many interpretations of the how we handly those implications. Does he "walk through" time at will like you or I would travel through space? My understanding is that God occupies a higher (or infinite, or beyond infinite, what have you) mathematical N-space. If you were to take your three dimensional self and consider the extension of your body through time from the moment of your birth until your eventual death, that unit would be your four dimensional self. A being in a higher dimension wouldn't see you "going about your day" in a linear, time based manner - they would perceive you and the sum of your choices like you view the contours on an object - as an indivisible part of the whole.

To put it another way: Does your current knowledge of what you did yesterday impede your free will yesterday? No, because those actions have already occurred from your perspective in time. God does not view time linearly. So when he creates/created the world, it wasn't just at the moment of Genesis, but rather the whole of existence from start to finish. We only perceive creation linear because we are bound to this lower order of existence, which is why we state that "He renews, in his goodness, the creation each day." We also states that Hashem sees "From one end of the world to the other and from the creation of the world to it's end," that "a thousand years are identical to a single passing day in your eyes," and many others that point to this form of transcendence.

This means that God's knowledge of our future actions isn't a violation of freewill because, from the divine, nonlinear perspective, you have already acted.

Now to answer your question... There are many who would posit that, yes, if September 11th hadn't happened then those victims "would have died anyhow in some other way." But this is true only if you are looking at "destiny/fate" from a linear perspective, so these people were "fated" to die. According to a non-linear perspective, not only is freewill completely free and preserved, the impact of your freewill is uniquely preserved as well. Your future actions are integral to the form of creation in "our past," since from Hashem's perspective they exist simultaneous to the moment light was "let."

SHEHAKOL NIHIYEH BIDVARO: This is the only bracha we regularly recite that ISN'T in past or present tense. We don't say that everything IS or HAYU - WAS, only NIHIYEH - that it WILL BE. Not only that, but it's in first person PLURAL- WE will be according to his word. What is going on?!

Intrinsic to this bracha is a recognition that, in the present tense, all is not (or doesn't seem) "according to plan." Things that should never have been, are, and the world that was supposed to exist vanished. The expulsion from Eden, the spies in the desert, Moshe hitting the rock. Turning points where the brighter future was made distant, where the path was rerouted into two thousand years of exile, pogroms, the fires of the Holocaust, and a nation purchasing it's survival with the blood of its children and the tears of its parents. We lost the world that was, and this is not a world that should be. But it is still a world that CAN BE, because we can still become something greater. So we remind ourselves that hope is never fully lost, it is only deferred.

In Parshas Yitro, Rashi remarks that originally all ten Dibros were stated simultaneously in a single incomprehensible syllable. They were later extracted by Moshe and individually related to Klal Yisroel.

Shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro: We exist in that one utterance, a knotted and jumbled mass where we strain to hear the strands of the divine directive amid the cacophony of colloquial existence. When we reach that clarity, when the future that beckons us becomes our present, then we will hear the harmonies resolve themselves clearly and perceive the perfect tapestry of existence as we did at kriyas yam suf.

Chazal state that this is the understanding of Shirah - the understanding of history at the point of redemption where even the worst pieces of our past are integral to our present - "Az yimalei tzchok pinu, ulshoneinu rina."

  • The Magen Avrohom suggests (and seems to conclude) that the proper pronunciation is "nihiyah" - "came into being" Feb 16, 2015 at 20:47
  • Perhaps, but that is at odds with everyone else, every siddur in which I have consulted, and the fact that there isn't a consistent nifal form for H"Y"H. "Existing" is intrinsically passive, so nifal would be redundant. Can you point to the M"A so I may look at it inside? He may be dealing with my point - why would the bracha be future tense? A: It must be past tense and we're mispronouncing it... Feb 17, 2015 at 0:42
  • 167:8. He cites "nihiyeh" with segol as being tense-neutral (or appropriate for both future and past, according to Levushei S'rad there), not future. He cites Shiltei Giborim and Knesses Hagedolah as נהיה being past tense. Feb 17, 2015 at 1:01
  • In the middle of Betzias HaPas? Are you sure? I can't seem to find it. Regardless, saying that the segol is tense neutral means that all instances in Tanach are tense neutral: Ehyeh, Yihyeh, Tihyeh, Yihyu, and Tihyu are all considered future tense. Future plural is the only one missing from the list. It's a stretch to say that it's somehow an exception to the grammatical rules. Why wouldn't it be simply Shehakol Hayah, which is definitely past tense? Or you could omit the word entirely and retain the meaning without linguistic ambiguity? Feb 17, 2015 at 1:26
  • Because it isn't "was" - it's "came into being" Feb 17, 2015 at 2:51

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