What are the different Hashkofas (outlooks/philosophies) in understanding free choice in a matter versus HaShem's Will occurring in that same thing?

For example, if my wife divorces me, did she freely will that to happen or was it decreed by HaShem for that to happen to me?

  • In your example, can't it be both?
    – Lee
    Apr 10, 2016 at 7:38
  • 1
    @msh210 IMHO Slightly different. That question is asking about our own free will. This question asks about how to interpret things that occur to us: as being the free will of others or the decree of HaShem.
    – Lee
    Apr 10, 2016 at 8:06
  • Bad example, In Judaism a wife does not divorce the husband is the one divorcing out if his will (if he is forced it is not a divorce). Also a person is responsible for his actions even though it is Hashem's will what he is doing, (everything Hashem does is for the good)
    – hazoriz
    Apr 10, 2016 at 16:16
  • For a delicious summary of the two predominant shittot on this matter, see R' 'Aqiva Tatz's "Does My Free Will Affect You?"
    – Lee
    Jun 9, 2016 at 18:20

4 Answers 4


Rabbe'inu Baḥya (Ḥovot HaLevavot, Sha'ar HaBitaḥon, Chapter 4, s.v. וכן כשיבקש) states, based on the Talmud Bavli (Bava Bathra 119B among others), that HaShem arranges for good deeds to be fulfilled by the worthy and unfortunate deeds to be fulfilled by the sinful (מגלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי וחובה על ידי חייב).

According to this Hashqafah (outlook/philosophy), things occur to a person through the decree of HaShem; but, they occur through a particular agent (e.g. your wife) because said agent was either righteous or sinful in another matter.

I highly recommend learning all of Sha'ar HaBitaḥon (and all of Ḥovot HaLevavot). Here is a great resource in English (in addition to the Hebrew version referenced above).


The Baal HaTanya writes regarding someone who hits another. I'll apply it to you: she must see it as her own free choice that she divorced you; but, you need to see it as if HaShem wanted this to occur to you. You can read it here it is a very beautiful piece from igeres hakodesh letter 25 והוא בהקדים מאמר רז״ל: כל הכועס, כאילו עובד עבודת כוכבים ומזלות

And this [will be understood] by first considering the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory:7 “Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater. והטעם מובן ליודעי בינה

The reason [for this] is clear to those who8 “know un-derstanding,”

לפי שבעת כעסו, נסתלקה ממנו האמונה

because at the time of his anger, faith in G‑d and in His individual Divine Providence has left him.

כי אילו היה מאמין שמאת ה׳ היתה זאת לו, לא היה בכעס כלל

For were he to believe that what happened to him was G‑d’s doing, he would not be angry at all.

ואף שבן אדם, שהוא בעל בחירה, מקללו או מכהו או מזיק ממונו

True, it is a person possessed of free choice that is cursing him, or striking him, or causing damage to his property,

ומתחייב בדיני אדם ובדיני שמים על רוע בחירתו

and [therefore] guilty according to the laws of man and the laws of heaven for his evil choice.

The perpetrator for his part cannot plead innocence on the grounds that he is merely an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence.

אף על פי כן, על הניזק כבר נגזר מן השמים

Nevertheless, as regards the person harmed, this [incident] was already decreed in heaven,

והרבה שלוחים למקום

and9 “G‑d has many agents” through whom He can act.

Hence, even if the offending party had chosen otherwise, the incident would have befallen the victim in any case.

This discussion recalls the teaching of the Mechilta cited by Rashi on the verse,10 והאלקים אנה לידו — “and G‑d caused it to happen to him.” For to such a case the Mechilta applies the verse,11 “From evildoers there emerges evil.” This means that though it was decreed from above that someone should sustain an injury, G‑d brings it about that a particular person should inflict it.

That context, however, speaks of an unwitting injury. In the case of a potentially willful offender, if instead of choosing freely to act in an evil manner he chose to do otherwise, the event would still have occurred, for “G‑d has many agents,” as quoted above.

At any rate, it is thus clear that the victim has no cause to be angry with the offender, for the true cause of the offense was not him, but a heavenly decree.

The Alter Rebbe now takes this one step further: Not only does the heavenly decree give the offender an undefined potential to do harm, but moreover, the particular thought to do it and the power to do it, all come about from G‑d. (At the same time, since man has freedom of choice, he can of course choose to reject such a thought and refrain from doing such a deed.)

Anger thus remains unjustifiable. For the offended party is not angry that the other party made an evil choice; what angers him is the damage done to him. His anger thus results from his lack of belief that the true cause for his mishap is not a particular individual’s evil choice, but a heavenly decree.

ולא עוד

And not only this, that a heavenly decree gave permission in principle and made it possible that he suffer injury,

אלא אפילו בשעה זו ממש, שמכהו או מקללו

but even at that very moment at which [the offender] strikes or curses him,

מתלבש בו כח ה׳ ורוח פיו יתברך, המחייהו ומקיימו

there is vested in him (in the offender) a force from G‑d and the breath of His mouth, which animates and sustains him;

וכמו שכתוב: כי ה׳ אמר לו, קלל

as it is written:12 “For G‑d told him, ‘Curse!’”

והיכן אמר לשמעי

Now where did He say so to Shimi? Where do we find it written that G‑d told him to curse David?

אלא שמחשבה זו, שנפלה לשמעי בלבו ומוחו, ירדה מאת ה׳

But this thought that occurred in Shimi’s heart and mind to curse David, descended from G‑d, Who was thus responsible for such a thought entering Shimi’s mind;

ורוח פיו, המחיה כל צבאם

and13 “the breath of His mouth, [which animates] all the hosts [of heaven],”

החיה רוחו של שמעי, בשעה שדיבר דברים אלו לדוד

animated the spirit of Shimi at the time he spoke those words to David.

כי אילו נסתלק רוח פיו יתברך רגע אחד מרוחו של שמעי, לא יכול לדבר מאומה

For if the breath of G‑d’s mouth had departed from the spirit of Shimi for a single moment, he could not have spoken at all.

  • 7
    Summarizing this answer for the uninitiated or impatient reader could greatly improve it.
    – Lee
    Apr 10, 2016 at 8:29

The notion that hashgachah peratis (personalized Divine Providence) is so inclusive for this question to even exist dates back to the 18th century or so. The Lubavitcher Rebbe calls it a chidush (novellum) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Chassidus) http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/protis.pdf . According to R Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Pirqei Emunah veHashgachah vol I, ma'amar 4) the innovation was the Vilna Gaon's, although based on hints from Rav Yonasan Eybeshitz and the Radal. (Notice that both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Friedlander are ascribing the idea to the founder of their own camp.)

I don't understand either claim, since we find the idea slightly earlier, in the Ramchal (Derekh Hashem 2:1:2. tr. R' Yaakov Feldman, emphasis mine):

ואולם כבר הקדמנו בחלק א' פרק ה', שתחילת הנבראים כולם הם הכוחות הנבדלים, ומהם משתלשלים הגשמים. והדברים בגשמים בכל פרטיהם, הנה הם כפי מה שנעתק אליהם מן הכוחות ההם בפרטי בחינותם, ואין דבר קטון או גדול בגשמיים שלא יהיה לו סיבה ושורש בכוחות הנבדלים כפי בחינותיהם. והאדון, ברוך הוא, הנה הוא משגיח על כל אלה העניינים כפי מה שבראם, דהיינו על הכוחות הנבדלים בראשונה, ועל כל השתלשלותם כפי מה שהוא באמת. וכן הוא משגיח גם כן על הפקידים שהפקיד על הנמצאות, כמו שביארתי שם, לקיים אותם ואת פקודתם ולהתמיד להם הכוח שיפעלו פעולתם:

Now, as we’d already said the creation of the material world began with the Transcendent Forces, out of which emitted all physical things and their specific qualities. For there is nothing in the material world — either major of minor — that isn’t somehow rooted in some element of those Forces.

That being in place, G-d Himself then oversees each thing along the lines He created them, in that He first oversees the Transcendent Forces and everything that results from them, then He oversees the angels and sees to it that they carry out their duties.

When the brothers were planning to kill Yosef, but Reuven wanted to divert their plot, suggesting they instead throw him into a pit. “And Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands (vayatzileihu miyadam); and he said, let us not strike a soul.” (Bereishis 37:21)

The Or haChaim haQadosh (ad loc) writes:

For a person possesses free will and desire and can kill someone who doesn't deserve death. Unlike evil beasts, which don't touch a person if he isn't deserving of death according to Heaven. That is what it says “vayatzileihu miyadam”, meaning, from the yad of their bechirah (free will). They said something in contradiction to this, “and we will see what will be with his dreams etc.…” for the bechirah will nullify the thing, and there would be no proof from his death that the thing was false.

So the answer has two parts: before the introduction of the idea of universal personalized Divine Precedence, and after.

Had the brothers killed Yosef directly, they might have caused a wrongful death. By placing him in a pit and making the effects of their bechirah uncertain, they put his fate in G-d’s “hands” so that Yosef would only die if he deserved it.

The Or haChaim simply answers your question by saying that G-d will step aside and not necessarily overrule human free will to tailor the outcome in the victim's life.

This notion is consistent with a verse we say every weekday in Tachanun. “David said to Gad, ‘It pains me greatly. Let us please fall to the ‘hands’ of G-d, for His mercy is great, and let me not fall into man’s hands.” (Divrei Hayamim I 21:13 )

David was forced to choose the means of national punishment. Man can act in ways that defy Hashem’s mercy so the punishment’s outcome could be more severe than that of hashgachah.

There are a number of issues that can potentially conflict with hashgachah. Rav Yehudah Halevi lists four types of causes: Divine, natural, happenstance, and our topic – human. (Kuzari 5:20) Everything has a Divine cause, for if you look at the cause of an event, and its cause, and so on, you eventually reach Hashem. The Kuzari asserts that every event is caused by G-d. But due to these intermediate causes, not every event occurs in order to further Hashem’s plan for the affected people’s lives. Even though Hashem causes the event, we would not say its occurring or not occurring is something He kept in His “hands”. The Kuzari’s position is consistent with the Or Hachaim’s.

This isn’t the definition most of us assume when we hear the word hashgachah.

Rashi, on the other hand, believes that even in cases where one person is a victim of another (or himself -- eg suicide), the victim is feeling the effects of hashgachah. Describing the law of ma’akeh, the duty to put a railing on your roof, the Torah says, “When you build a new home, make a ma’keh on your roof; don’t place blood in your home when the faller falls from it.” (Devarim 22:8)

Rashi is bothered by the redundancy in calling the victim a nofeil, a faller. He explains that this is because “he deserved to fall.”

This is more along the lines of what I called the 2nd part of my question -- Free Will vs. the modern notion of universal Providence.

I think of it in terms of "a perfect storm". It isn't that any event is simply A causes B which causes C ... and so XYZ happened to a person. Causality isn't a line, it's a net. And a person choosing to be one factor in that "perfect storm" or not doesn't change the general convergence of causes that lead to someone else's tragedy -- or boon. Hashem makes the general flow of causality such that if it doesn't happen this way, because the person chose otherwise, it would happen in some other.

Also, Rashi makes a point of divorcing this philosophical question from that of morality. The idea that every victim is supposed to be a victim by Divine plan does not pardon the one who acts against the victim. He continues, “However, despite this, you should not be the one to cause his death; for good things are brought about by the agency of the innocent, and bad things are brought about by the guilty.” (Ibid. See also Rashi on Shemos 12:13, discussing the guilt of someone who kills through negligence.)

According to Rashi, even if the brothers had tried to kill Yosef directly, their success would depend on whether Yosef deserved death. Rashi would see no difference in the outcome between the brothers’ original plan to kill Yosef directly and Reuven’s plan that it be indirect. Therefore Rashi could not take the Or Hachaim’s understanding that this alone was how he intended to save Yosef, and that Reuven returned later to help the saved Yosef. Rather, Rashi had to conclude that Reuven here was referring to an unstated plan to return later to save him.

The Chinuch (#421) explains the prohibition against taking revenge in these terms. What one experiences from another’s actions only serve Hashem’s plans. The mitzvah stems from the bitachon (trust in G-d) that in a deeper sense the other person did you no real disservice. Even the Kuzari (5:20, conclusion), who does not assume that everything we experience is necessarily directly part of Hashem’s plan for us, writes that since we cannot know what has a Divine cause, bitachon is the appropriate and most productive assumption to make in responding to any event.

  • Who's "we"? he.wikisource.org/wiki/…
    – Double AA
    Apr 12, 2016 at 0:32
  • @DoubleAA: The "most of us" earlier in the sentence. Most contemporary O Jews have a very un-nuanced (and sadly undereducated) view of Jewish Thought. That "most of us". Apr 21, 2016 at 22:23
  • That wasn't the "we" I referred to. I was mostly pointing out an Arukh haShulchan that I thought you might be interested in where he says they dont have the custom to say the verse about David during Tachanun. I thought you specifically would be interested in a custom noted by the Arukh haShulchan.
    – Double AA
    Apr 22, 2016 at 4:11
  • "although based on hints from Rav Yonasan Eybeshitz and the Radal" Are you saying the Gra got it from the Radal?
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 5, 2017 at 19:42
  • I didn't say that myself, I reported what R' Dovid Friedlander wrote in the Sifsei Chaim. Sep 6, 2017 at 0:35

Great question.

According to the R' Chananel (Chagiga 5a) freedom of choice not only grants us the freedom to choose to do bad, it grants us the freedom to intervene with god's plans. So for example, if A chooses to murder B, we don't say: oh, must be the victim really was destined to be murdered on this day and god surely brought about his untimely death (through this evil messenger), for nothing happens without god's will. No! We say that the person was not destined to die and that it was not god's will, rather it was the murderers choice to do this evil act and to shorten the victim's life. This is the correct Jewish view according to R Chananel, and the Ohr Hachaim (Bereishis 37:21) concurs with this view (see also Birchat Shimeom that the source of the latter is the Zohar).

Some people find this position surprising or possibly heretical. But i don't find this belief to be problematic at all since it stems from the heart of the (basic) belief in freedom of choice. We Jews believe that a person has the freedom to choose to do either bad or good even though it limits god's dominion to some extent, since my thoughts and emotions are not subject to god's dominion. Furthermore, i think everyone would agree that if i do an action that does not directly affect other human beings (e.g. building a house), that the action is rightly considered to be caused by me and me only! In such a case we don't say that god built this house, we say that a person built this house; god is not involved here and he doesn't interfere with a person's voluntary actions. So why should it be surprising if i say that the freedom of choice also gives us the freedom to inflict injury upon others or to increase goodness in the world and the ability to alter the course of nature for good or for bad.

If we seriously consider the matter it will become obvious that all the Jewish monetary laws (דיני חושן משפט) stem from this basic belief. For if we don't accept this position all these laws will become meaningless. It doesn't really matter whether you owe me money or not, since Hashem will provide for me even if the money you have is rightfully mine; anyways everything is bashert. It doesn't really matter if you decide to open your shop near my shop and take away all my customers since everything is bashert and you can't really do anything to me! So why is Jewish Halacha so busy formulating all these laws, and how can we seriously consider what is wrong or right for any person to do if a person's actions don't really matter anyway? And that is besides for the fact that it flies in the face of logic and common sense! We must back off and admit that the R Chananel and those who support him win this fight.


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