In many Jewish prayers and throughout Tanakh, God is strongly praised for His goodness, that which He does for the Jews, His amazing miracles etc. However, those same sources, and most Jewish sources, also agree that God is perfect. That presents something of a contradiction, as a perfect being always needs to make a perfect choice and therefore does not have what most would traditionally define as free will.

That being the case, does it make any sense to praise God if you believe God to be a perfect being incapable of doing anything other than that which is perfect? Is God praiseworthy if He doesn't have a choice in what He does?

  • 1
    philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/4181/1144 This is part of the classic Euthyphro argument en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma#Jewish_thought
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2016 at 21:18
  • No, this is not a chicken an egg question about morality and God's choices, this is about a specific description commonly attributed to God and its how it does not seem to apply to Him.
    – ezzi386
    May 13, 2016 at 22:06
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    It only doesn't seem to apply to him bc of how you are approaching that chicken/egg question. These things are interrelated. See the section of problems en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma#Problems_2 about "God's goodness". For instance "Alternatively, as Leibniz puts it, divine command theorists 'deprive God of the designation good: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?'"
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2016 at 22:07
  • @DoubleAA although I am hesitant to voice an opinion given my lack of background, it seems at first glance that the question is indeed different; not 'how is God meaningfully good, if it is defined by him', but how is God worthy of praise if he is is merely performing his acts under coercion; as a slave of his own characteristics.
    – mevaqesh
    May 16, 2016 at 5:22
  • Rambam considers the concept of Good and Evil as subjective rather than objective constructs, and thus they are not relevant to God. I'd address the question on philosophical grounds - what is "praiseworthy" in man is distinct from that which is "praiseworthy" in God. Man is praiseworthy when he follows the will of God. The Power of God from the perspective of man is itself praiseworthy, and that is what we praise, not his "morality." May 16, 2016 at 19:22

4 Answers 4


G-d is too sublime for us to actually understand Him or describe Him in any way. However, He has revealed to us through the Torah and through the Nevi'im (and maybe through the chachmei ha'Shas as well) how He wants us to view Him and His attributes. We have to accept that our traditions are the best way of understanding Him, even though we may know that from the standpoint of "truth" or philosophical study it may not,and probably isn't, a proper description of who He really is. And this understanding of Him is not a bi'dieved because we just can't do better - it is how He wants us to view Him. It is the "necessary truth" instead of the "actual truth" as described by the Rambam in the Moreh. So as far as we are concerned G-D is worthy of praise because we were told so. We are taught by the Torah what our releationshship and attitudes should be towards Him.The ultimate truth as far as we are concerned in our dealings with G-D is that He is praiseworthy. Beyond that is already beyond our capacity to understand.


Just because He always does what is perfect does not mean He doesn't have free will in this.

Some sources:

(shaar bechina ch.1):

Since the Creator has free will in whatever He does, is not forced, needs nothing and is not forced by any nature, therefore He created things diverse, according as His wisdom each time dictated; so that the variety shall point to His unity and His free-will in whatever He does, as it is said "Whatsoever the L-ord pleased, has He done in heaven and on earth" (Tehilim 135:6)

Pas Lechem comments there:

"has free will, not forced, etc." - His intent in this is that something which is bound to a nature such as inanimate objects, always do the same thing. But something which acts by will and desire, namely, a human being, which possesses free will - he will have different actions, but not at the same time, rather according to his needs of the time. And the Creator is not bound by any "nature", ch'v, nor is he forced, nor needs anything. The latter two terms "not forced" and "needs nothing" the author wrote to contrast with man. Because a man is sometimes "forced" in his actions, to avoid harm, or he needs to bring some benefit. Therefore, though he acts with free will and desire, one cannot truly call him as doing with "free will", except in a borrowed sense since necessity may prevent him in this. Hence, the term "free will" correctly applies only to G-d, since His will is free of any form of need or necessity, and all the more so of any "nature".

Hence, in the above sense, God has even more free will than us. Also sometimes He completely overrides His attribute of justice (which is truth), as the Ramchal discusses in Kalach Pitchei Chachma, petach #2. Thus He does not always do what is perfect from an absolute truth perspective.

The desire of the Creator is only [to bestow] good. It is impossible to say that the Divine will desired that there could be other forces which can prevent Him [from bestowing good] in any manner whatsoever. Because the Divine will wants solely and exclusively to bestow good, [and if it were the case that other forces could prevent this] then it would certainly not be good that His goodness not be capable of spreading over His creations. And if you ask: "[Perhaps] this is good, namely, the bestowing of good to the righteous and the punishing of the wicked [is good]?" Behold, it is written: "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy" (Shemos 33:19), [which was expounded to mean:] "even though he does not deserve it" (Berachos 7a), and it is written: "[In those days, and in that time, says the L-ord,] the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; [and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I preserve]" - behold G-d desires to bestow good also to the wicked.


I once heard from a great Rabbi that the definition of worship is when you consider someone absolutely perfect in every way, and this feeling is despite their flaws, and arises because you think they are perfect, and therefore the 'ways' about them are all perfect too. Whatever the theological issues one is experiencing, if one really loves Hashem with a true love, one will find everything about Him is praiseworthy...

A common misconception about Hashem ית׳ is that a difference between Him and us is that we are limited in our strength and ability, while He has infinite power to do anything. Therefore, we conclude, if we were God, we would also be able to do all that, so what's the big deal.

Firstly, this type of thinking is the opposite of humility. Moshe Rabbeinu was praised for being the most humble man alive, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this is because he always felt that if any other person on the planet was endowed with his abilities, they would do a better job than him. Nowadays, many people indulge in the opposite. They think if they were a billionaire, or the president/dictator, or the CEO of a big company, or the developer of the product they are using, or a Rabbi, that they would do a much better job than this schmendrick.

Not only that, but it is incorrect. Hashem is not "the same as us except that He is infinite". This theological point is brought in the first Rambam in Mishnah Torah:

יְסוֹד הַיְסוֹדוֹת וְעַמּוּד הַחָכְמוֹת לֵידַע שֶׁיֵּשׁ שָׁם מָצוּי רִאשׁוֹן. וְהוּא מַמְצִיא כָּל נִמְצָא. וְכָל הַנִּמְצָאִים מִשָּׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ וּמַה שֶּׁבֵּינֵיהֶם לֹא נִמְצְאוּ אֶלָּא מֵאֲמִתַּת הִמָּצְאוֹ:

The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the Truth of His being.

The truth of His being is what is called a True Being. This is how it is explained. You and I are not a true existence, and the proof is, we have zero say in our existence. We can't create ourselves, and we can't stop ourselves from dying. We came into existence at a certain point, which means we weren't "always there". We are not the masters of our existence and being at all, but He is completely. This is incomprehensible to us, and sounds like a paradox, but clearly this has to be the case, He is absolutely His own master and there is nothing about Him that is dependant, incidental, or in any way not His. As the Ramchal puts it in Derech Hashem:

כי הנה הוא ית״ש שלם בעצמו ולא במקרה

For surely He, may His name be blessed, is perfect from Himself, and not contingently so.

The Kabbalists describe Hashem's existence as utterly personal to Him. We cannot comprehend any of this. The real question is how are we ever befitting of praise, especially the praise He gives us!

Thus, any greatness we perceive in Hashem is something to praise Him for, absolutely. Even if one wishes to make the argument that we can only perceive Him from a human perspective, that doesn't do the infinite sublime justice He deserves, still this is the rule: whatever we perceive as praiseworthy, Hashem is infinitely more than that, and we should in fact be afraid that whatever praise we offer is not enough. It's a bit of an insult to praise Einstein for knowing that 2 + 2 = 4, and this is why we are told that if it weren't for the Torah, we wouldn't be able to praise Him.

I hope this settles an unaddressed theological misconception, which I believe goes well with ray's answer, as well as mevaqesh's comments on user613's answer, on Hashem's free will.

So what sort of things does the Torah and do Chazal praise Him for? I won't be able to go into a lot of detail and this is best left as a personal journey of discovery, but here are some of the headers.

His creation

His creation is mind-blowingly amazing for any mortal being. Firstly, its size - it is big in an absolute sense. There is no finite being that can comprehend both the depth of the plank scale, and at the same time the depth of cosmic scale, and if one were large enough in scale to see the universe as small, time would pass so fast that the universe wouldn't exist. No machine can calculate the number of particles, not to mention stars, and their states and interrelationships with every other particle, yet He suspends, sustains and controls this personally with His will every instant. His laws of physics, and the world of knowledge, and His general wisdom is certainly something any human being would find immensely amazing, and then boundaries of what there is to find out and discovery is endless.

Just because He could supposedly do all this easier than it is for me to lift my elbow, it is still amazing in my eyes, and with the above discussion in mind is a personal fact about His Self, and therefore He is praiseworthy.

יְהַלְלוּ  אֶת־שֵׁם ה' כִּי־נִשְׂגָּב שְׁמוֹ לְבַדּוֹ הוֹדוֹ עַל־אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם׃

Let them praise the Name of the Lord: for His Name alone is exalted; His glory is on the earth and heaven.

His deeds

A gemara explains that he gave Nevuchadnezzar might, and assisted him in his idolatrous battles and all the related travesties, because He wanted the person who did the necessary evil of destroying the temple to be great, so as not to degrade the Jewish people that they were conquered by a weak army.

The Tanya discusses all of the things Hashem did that He hates doing, bishvil Yisrael. He made a tzimtzum and allowed someone else into His personal and private existence, He hid, He created a yeitzer hara and evil and suffering... the list is painful to read.

He runs the world with hashgacha pratis (see Derech Hashem 2 for full details), ensuring that we have free will, yet our free will doesn't interrupt His plan. He helps us, saves us, rescues us, teaches us, rebukes us, gives each creature food, every person a soul mate (and arranges their meeting)... His deeds are awesome!

Yaacov Avinu A'H praised His deeds and His character in the following statement, which will lead us on to the next point:

קטנתי מכל החסדים ומכל־האמת אשר עשית את־עבדך

I am unworthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown Thy servant (Bereshit 32:11)

His character

First of all, the fact that He even has a character, so-to-speak, is a surprise and worthy of praise, as nobody tells Him He should have a any preferences. Theological musings make that impossible for us to understand, as surely everything should be completely homogenous to Him, yet when He reveals Himself in the Torah, we see that He likes good and hates bad. If we learn about His preferences we will learn to praise Him, as His so-to-speak personality is absolutely wonderful in every way and absolutely perfect.

We praise His love, His righteousness, His kindness, His mercy, His loyalty and commitment and so much more, just open any random page of Tehillim, or any siddur! Also from our day-to-day experience: He is the perfect parent, infinitely patient with His children, guiding them without infringing on their free will, bringing out the best in them in a dignified way. He remains hidden and, even though He intimately knows the thoughts and feelings of man, stays silent when the wicked curse Him, and holds back when He sees us making mistakes, allowing us to figure it out for ourselves. If we understand that He is perfect, this means He is also perfectly sensitive and vulnerable (in the positive, character-sense, so to speak), yet His Self-control is mighty.

There is a gemara that explains that Hashem's might is that He was able to stand by and watch wicked people do the necessary evil of destroy His temple and His people. A mortal wouldn't have been able to do that.

His being ours

In His great humility, He decided with perfect free will to create us so that He could have us (see second Rashi on Bereshit 1:1), from His own desire (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:6; Midrash Tanchuma Bechukotai 3:1, Nasso 16:1; Tanya 36). Desiring to not be only Him, but have us, is perhaps His greatest praise. He wants and needs us, even though by every right He shouldn't, and becomes ours. For this, we praise Him:

אֵלִי אַתָּה וְאוֹדֶךָּ אֱלֹהַי אֲרוֹמְמֶךָּ

You are my God, my Lord I will praise You (Tehillim 118:28)

We were created to praise Him (Yeshayahu 43:21). Once we move past viewing Him as an "other", as some incomprehensible ultimate force of nature, but get personal and realise He is the Someone of all someones, and we are His and He is ours, then we can praise Him, Himself. Not anything about Him, but just Him. Praising the things about Him, so-to-speak, is something we shouldn't do in excess, because we risk making it sound that it's just the things about Him that impress us. This is akin to a husband telling his wife that he loves her because she is good looking, chas veshalom. This is a hard concept to get our heads around and takes life lessons and maturity, yet it stares at us all the time in the Torah, and in life. Hashem is One, He is not composed of parts, don't attribute a shituf to Him, don't worship His works. We are meant to get in touch with His Essence, as well as the essences of the ones we love in our lives.

[There is so much to draw from, I run the risk of making an already too long post into a full blow dissertation so I'll stop here, although I'll probably add a few more links in future. I hope that I've begun to answer the question and give an example for each person to come to recognise Hashem's greatness in their own way, with the help of His revelation in Torah and ma'amrei Chazal]


Hashem is, first of all, beyond our understanding. EVERYTHING that we see, think, hear, understand etc; including time and space; is all part of Hashem's creation.

The Gemoro learns from the Torah that we can give descriptions about Hashem 'כביכול', but it says that without learning it from the Torah, we wouldn't be allowed to give descriptions about Hashem.

So you say that if Hashem is perfect, them he has no choice and no free will other than to be perfect. What you're doing is what all people do which is understanding Hashem similarly to how we understand other things. In truth, the concepts of 'perfect', 'choice' and 'free will' are all creations, and and therefore don't really apply to Hashem.

Robots have no free will. Therefore, to praise them when they help you would be meaningless. Similarly, if you held a gun to someone's head and asked them to do something for you, thanking them would also be meaningless. But Hashem of course isn't bound by these limitations. He has the choice to do whatever He wants. He's a supernal being, beyond emotions and intellect; and He can do whatever He wants to us.

(He made us, chose us as a nation, and while he doesn't need us or our praise as he's infinitely greater than all, he wants us and our praise. (Michoel's answer quoted this chassidus based article: http://chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/248150/jewish/What-Does-G-d-Need-Us-For.htm))

Is He perfect? Well, in the language of humans, yes. Whatever He does is perfect, whether He makes the sky blue or red, whether He makes people live or die, it's His decision, and He Who made the word perfect decided that He will always be perfect, whatever he does.

  • It sounds now like you are saying he's not praiseworthy, but we say praises anyway since he wants us to. Is that right?
    – Double AA
    May 16, 2016 at 4:35
  • @DoubleAA He is praiseworthy. I answered that quite clearly. That's the answer to ezzi386. However, I explained that while He's praise WORTHY, he really doesn't need our praise, it's just that he wants it
    – user613
    May 16, 2016 at 4:40
  • How can you say you answered that quite clearly when you didn't use the word "praiseworthy" or even "worthy" in your answer??? And why is he praiseworthy? I also don't see where you answered that. It sounds like you are saying he's not praiseworthy, but we say praises anyway since he wants us to. They are meaningless drivel, but we same them because God told us to.
    – Double AA
    May 16, 2016 at 4:49
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    To perhaps add to this answer, one might consider what we mean by choice. It seems that choice is largely tied to indecision. God's lack of choice is really a lack of indecision. Given that he has no indecision, no deliberations are necessary, and hence no choice is necessary. It is perhaps flawed to confuse a lack of indecision; ostensibly a feature, with lack of choice; a bug.
    – mevaqesh
    May 16, 2016 at 5:27
  • Even If this line of reasoning is correct one still needs to consider the nature of praise to answer the question. It seems likely that much praise, especially addressed to God, centers around that which one received from Him; not praising him in the abstract. It in turn seems likely that this ought to stem from feelings of indebtedness independent of the sacrifice of the provider. An example of this in classical rabbinic literature, might be Moshe's inability to strike the water and earth that sheltered him. Perhaps the lesson is that feelings of indebtedness need not stem from sacrifice...
    – mevaqesh
    May 16, 2016 at 5:31

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