Volume 25 Number 28
                       Produced: Thu Nov 28  8:08:28 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

G-d and Foreknowledge
         [Kibi Hofmann]
G-d's Abilities: Tenach vs Philosophy
         [Stan Tenen]


From: <ahofmann@...> (Kibi Hofmann)
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 1996 14:30:27 +0200
Subject: G-d and Foreknowledge

In mail-jewish Vol. 25 #17 Richard K. Fiedler wrote:

>>This is one of the oldest paradoxes - stated most succinctly by R. 
>>Akiva in Pirkei Avos: HaKol Tzofuy, veHoreshus Netunah - "All is 
>>forseen, yet permission is granted".

>What is answered by calling it a paradox? A paradox is not a
>truth. Calling something a paradox doesn't answer the question. 
>Calling something a paradox only means that there is a fault in your 
>logic and you should go back to question your assumptions.

I apologize for inaccurate English. Perhaps I ought to have written
"apparent paradox". I do not believe that there is really a logical
inconsistency, merely that it appears so at first glance. I hope what I
wrote after cleared up a little my opinion of the problem...  In
addition, I have read the "back issues" Mechy Frankel suggested, and
apologise for pulling Rabbi Akiva into it. Let's just say it's an old
problem and people have been puzzling over it for a long time.

>>However, G-d is not really limited at all - we say the "Lev Melochim 
>>beYad Hashem" (The hearts of kings are in G-d's hand) i.e. he allows 
>>them less free will over what they do since their policy affects 
>>history rather more obviously. G-d knows what they will do if 
>>allowed to choose freely, and only allows it if this fits with "The 
>>Big Plan".

>Of course I agree with this. But this does not mean that a terrorist 
>who kills a hundred Jews (G-d please forbid) on the streets of Tel 
>Aviv is acting out G-d's plan. And the fact that King's might be less 
>free is different then they are not free at all. Certainly G-d can 
>harden the heart of anyone and a subtle change in thought of any 
>great leader can have powerful effects.

We are definitely getting to the point where I must preface everything
with "this is only my opinion but...". I believe that if we think G-d
really controls the world and for example we mean it when we say on Rosh
Hashana & Yom Kippur He decides "who will live and who will die"
etc. etc. then we are forced to believe (again, sorry to whomever this
offends) that the people killed in tragic accidents/terrorist
attacks/crimes of passion were for some unknowable (to us) reason set to
die by G-d's will.

This is a very uncomfortable concept, particularly, it should not be
said to anyone who has lost loved ones at any time. But I will stick by
it as my belief come what may. I cannot see there is any point in
praying to G-d to help us if we don't believe He has the power to do so,
and if we say that someone dies against G-d's will then that is saying
He is lacking in power to act in His world.

I do NOT mean to say that we should be "at peace" with that state of
affairs. On the contrary, by believing that G-d has for His own reasons
decided to do something I consider "bad", I leave Him as the only avenue
left for appeal. I heard a great shiur from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 3
years ago about "the correct Jewish response" to bad things
happening. If I didn't misunderstand him, he said that the examples of
Avraham and Moshe show us that when bad things happen, we must cry out
to G-d in protest, not simply accept that things didn't work out the way
we would have liked. For example - if someone gets sick, it is very
simple to say that it couldn't happen unless G-d wanted it, therefore
"what can you do". OR it is simple to say that G-d was not in control
enough to stop it. Both of these responses are inadequate, because the
first denies the validity of prayer and the second denies the power of
G-d. When bad things happen, we are being encouraged by G-d to work
against them both by prayer and physical action.

I am not "at peace" or heaven forbid happy with the idea of people being
killed by terrorists. I do believe that those who died did so for some
purpose which G-d understands. I don't pretend to understand it, and I
cry out to G-d to fulfil his Plan for the World in a way which does not
cause us so much pain. I am sure He *can* do that, but perhaps we
haven't worked hard enough yet to deserve such treatment.  The belief
that people died for some purpose does not mean the terrorist was not an
evil murderer - simply that G-d allowed that murderous intent to be
fulfilled on certain people. There are many people who try to murder and
don't manage - I believe that this is G-d's will too - the people they
were going to murder were not supposed to die.

I've got a feeling some people are going to come down on me like a ton
of bricks now, but before you flame, ask yourself a simple question -
"If you believe that G-d does only good, and you believe that killing
babies is not good, and you believe G-d has the power to do what he
wants, then how do you explain baies dying under any circumstances?"
One of the three assumptions must be wrong (at least). Some choose to
say that G-d has limited power and cannot prevent bad things
happening. Some might reject the notion of G-d being good, but I think
that we have a too limited understanding to know whether a particular
baby's dying is good or bad. Ditto with any event that ocuurs: we may
not like it, and perhaps our prayer is all that is needed to stop this
bad thing happening (it worked for Moshe to save the Jews from G-d's
wrath, it didn't work with Avraham to save S'dom). But that doesn't mean
it's not part of G-d's plan.

>>So, while G-d often grants free will, He has not limited himself to 
>>the extent that He *must* do so.

>Wait a minute, if G-d often grants free will then you are ceding my 
>point.  Because if this is meaning full G-d cannot know what act I 
>will do with my free will. Hence he does not know the future.

OK, I begin to see the root of the argument: Definition of free will.
My Definition: G-d allowing you to act as you choose and choose what 
you want.
Your Definition (please correct me): G-d not knowing what you will 
choose or how you will act.

>>G-d is not within the universe - it is within him (He is called 
>>HaMakom because He has no place in the world - it has a place in 
>>Him).  So time does not apply to G-d at all.

>Maybe one can say that G-d is not within the universe - we are simply 
>defining what universe means, the set of everything excluding G-d. 
>But that does not prove that G-d is not subject to time.

Again I have been unclear. I mean that G-d created the universe, time
and pretty much all other concepts we can imagine. I am not even
attempting to "prove" that G-d is not subject to time, I am pretty much
stating it with no proof, just the belief that He created everything
else, so everything else is subject to Him rather than He subject to

>>I think this is a misunderstanding of the verse in Tehillim (Psalms) 
>>"A thousand years in your eyes is like a day". People try to use 
>>this ratio as an explanation for age of the universe stuff and it 
>>really doesn't help.

>Au contrare, it helps very much. It is the pashat.

I mean - the ratio doesn't fit well with current "accepted" geological
timing. One day to a thousand years makes 6 days (p'shat creation story)
equal to six thousand years (not much use if you are trying to square
with an age of the Earth estimation of 5 billion years).

As for the explanation being the p'shat, I can read the p'shat like
this: "For a thousand years are in your eyes like unto one day..." -
equally insignificant measures.

>>Or perhaps not - having said I know nothing about Chaos, I'm going 
>>to shoot my mouth off now: Even if we were to say that the outcome 
>>of certain systems cannot be predicted from the starting conditions 
>>(is that chaos somebody?) this would not put a limit on G-d's 
>>knowledge, since He does not *predict* anything - it is all an open 
>>book in front of Him.

>And if it is an "open book" then all has been determined and there is 
>no free choice.

This is the definitions argument I mentioned before. To elucidate my
opinion, I don't think that G-d knowing your decision means that he has
curtailed your ability to act. This would only be true if G-d, inside
time could see the future. Then, from the viewpoint of now, His
knowledge of tomorrow would logically prevent you from doing the
opposite of what He knew. But if G-d is not within our time "stream",
but rather sees the entire universe as a single object - one side to
another and beginning to end, then he knows everything without any
logical inconsistency against providing free-will.

>>>Thus we would have free choice though God would effect his 
>>>creation through his ability to do tikun.

>>This line really scared me and is what propted me to write. This 
>>implies an amazingly limited G-d, pretty much a powerful being who 
>>happened along and found a universe and set about trying to be a 
>>"do-gooder" there. The Torah states clearly that G-d created the 
>>heavens and the earth. Is there any reason to believe that He made 
>>it and then found it impossible to act within it as He pleases?

>On the contrary, In my world G-d chooses to act or not act. It is the 
>ultimate demonstration of power, the freedom to do or not do, to 
>reward or to punish based on our free choice to do good or evil.

It may be a demonstration of power to act on every event as it occurs,
but I still say it limits G-d. We see certain stories in the Tenach
where G-d specifically prepared the groundwork for future miracles even
before the "evil" had been done to necessitate them. One example is the
story of Purim where the chain of events was set with Esther being made
queen and Mordechai being written in the king's "good books" before
Haman ever drew lots and conceived his plan to exterminate the Jews. If
G-d had not known what was going to happen then we have to say it was
the purest luck that Esther happened to be queen at the time and that
Mordechai had an "in" with the king. Indeed we wouldn't need to call it
the "Purim miracle", merely the "Purim happy coincidence" (a less catchy

Saying G-d doesn't know our future, but has the power to act as He sees
fit, leaves him to react in an ad hoc fashion to things which people
do. I don't see this as a great expression of power - it leaves one with
the impression of a G-d continually engaged in damage control and pretty
much without a clue. Anyway, how do you explain prophecy if G-d can't
see our future?

>In your world from the point of view of G-d everything is forseen and 
>thus determined. G-d already knows what will be and is powerless to 
>change his mind. It was all done at the moment of creation.

Leaving aside petty terminological arguements, I would essentially have
to agree with you that G-d knows exactly the course and final outcome of
the universe. "Powerless to change His mind" is not what I would
say. G-d may have "changed his mind" (if that can be said about Him) any
number of times, but we would never know. I will quote from a book by
Rabbi Matis Weinberg "Patterns in Time : Rosh Hashana": 'Imagine you are
able to stand outside of time and see all the events spread out beneath
you at once. Imagine as well that you have a friend who is a
"thalidomide baby". You ask him whether to use your amazing power to
help him - today - and he says, "Yes!".....You stretch out your hand
into the time-world beneath you and remove the drug from the medicine
cabinet of his expectant mother before the damage is done.  Voila! Your
friend is born healthy and whole. It would be silly for you to expect
him to thank you (after you return to "today" in the time-world) for he
can have no memory of ever having been defective......'

Let us say that G-d can decide as many times as he wants to to change
any aspect of the universe (including our past). We will never know if
he changed it because we live within time. Wacky examples on request.

The words "moment of creation" show I have not explained myself
properly. For us, the moment of creation is meaningful as the beginning
of what we can know of. For G-d it is meaningful in the same sort of way
as saying "the western edge of the continent". That is, He can see it
and understand it, but He does not get limited by it. Just as he can
touch any place on the Earth (without have to travel from one to
another), he can touch any time without having to wait.

>How bored G-d must be!

I know this is a light-hearted comment and don't mean to over-react, but
I don't think that G-d gets bored, and would find ennui an abhorrent
reason for causing enormous pain and suffering in the world (that is -
deliberately curtailing His own knowledge in order to spice things up a



From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 1996 11:11:40 -0500
Subject: G-d's Abilities: Tenach vs Philosophy 

In m-j 25,17 Russell Hendel asks: "As Jews, should our first line of
attack on a question be philosophical or Textual?"

In my opinion, there should be no inconsistency between a genuine
philosophical understanding and a genuine Torah understanding.  If and
when we find differences, in my opinion, the reason is that we either
have subscribed to a false philosophical understanding or to a false
Torah (Textual) understanding.

One of G-d's names is Emet, Truth. For example, IF it ever appears that
our Torah appears to be teaching us something that is mathematically
wrong, then we must be misinterpreting what our Torah is saying.  In my
view, Torah cannot be wrong, but our understanding and even the
understanding of some of our sages sometimes can be wrong.  The test is
Emet.  As painful and as disconcerting as it may be to realize that we
may be misinterpreting, that is preferable to our acting against G-d as

B'Shalom, Stan


End of Volume 25 Issue 28