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It is commonly understood that God gave us free will to do good or evil. Similarly, it says in Gemara B'rachot (33b) that "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven."

In light of this, how can we understand the B'racha of Hashiveinu in Shemoneh Esrei, in which we ask God to bring us closer to Him and to bring us to repent completely? Doesn't this run contrary to the idea of free will?

  • related to the question about praying for someone else to do Teshuva – LN6595 Nov 27 '15 at 3:12
  • Really great question. Makes me wonder about the commandments ("You shall love the L-rd Your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul...") in the Shema too. – SAH Nov 27 '15 at 9:29
  • I don't see the contradiction. Prayer is a request, and you have free will to pray and make that request. How is this different from the last verse of Eicha which was cited by Yirmiyahu requesting that G-d return us towards him? – DanF Nov 27 '15 at 15:27
  • @SAH What does this have to do with that commandment in the Shema? – user6618 Nov 28 '15 at 23:28
  • @DanF You also have free will to request that God make triangle squares, but if that's not the way the world works, then what's the point of that request? According to the Gemara I cited, God doesn't grant the fear of Heaven to people - it is up to our own free will to develop it. That's an interesting point about Yirmiyahu, but that just adds on to the question of how he was able to do that. – user6618 Nov 28 '15 at 23:35
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The Migdol Dovid writes that we are davening that Hashem remove the practical obstacles to doing teshuva - once we have the intellectual desire to do teshuva, Hashem can assist us to actualize our intellectual decision. This is not unlike the idea of הבא ליטהר מסייעין אותו (Yoma 38b) - one who comes to purify himself receives [divine] assistance.

Rabbeinu Yehuda Ben Yakar understands this to be the meaning of החזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפנך - bring us to complete repentence before you - we cannot ask Hashem to initiate the teshuva process - tefillah only works after teshuva, as הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. We only ask for the completion of the teshuva process to be assisted from above.

  • Can you cite where these meforshim give these explanations? – Double AA Dec 1 '15 at 4:51
  • @DoubleAA Both are commentaries on the siddur. They are both ad loc. – Y     e     z Dec 1 '15 at 13:54

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