Volume 25 Number 32
                       Produced: Sun Dec  1 22:11:28 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Free Will: How our Decisions Create our Choices
         [Stan Tenen]
Problems and Psuedo Problems-The yediah-bechira question
         [Chaim Twerski]


From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 1996 19:47:56 -0500
Subject: Free Will: How our Decisions Create our Choices

We are taught that the Torah is a "Tree of Life for those who grasp it"
and we are taught that we can choose a life of blessing or a life of

The simple assumption is that if we do good deeds we will live in a
world of blessing and if we do bad deeds we will live in a world of

The problem with the theory that we, so to speak, create the reality we
live in by the choices we make, is that it does not seem to be so.  Some
obviously evil people seem to live well, while some saintly people live

The theory seems to suggest that a good person, by doing good deeds,
will live a good life and find themselves in a world of blessing.  In
Judaism good deeds are more or less defined by keeping the mitzvot and
acting according to halacha.  So, if we follow all the rules, why don't
we find ourselves in a world of blessing?

In fact we do find ourselves in a world whose circumstances reflect our
choices, but these are mostly not the choices we have been paying
attention to.  These are the choices we have NOT been paying attention
to.  The invisible, habitual, default choices - choices made
automatically based on our core beliefs - that we make constantly while
we are not paying attention - fill most of our waking lives, while the
explicit choices, such as those enumerated in torah and Talmud, occupy
only a small part of our time.

The great waves of change in our world are not often the result of any
particular event, even though that may seem so because great events
often trigger or mark the onset of great change.  The death of a great
person does not produce an earthquake, but when an earthquake occurs at
about the same time, we remember both together (while forgetting other
earthquakes) and we later come to think that maybe earthquakes are
causally associated with the death of great persons.  The death of the
great person and the earthquake were both due to an accumulation of many
events over a long time.  They were not due to each other.

When we are very young, we act directly and without reference to much
history.  Some things can be learned in the womb, and these learnings
have a strong influence on us when we are born.  A fetus that is carried
in a vigorous woman has a different environment and develops different
reflexes and talents than a fetus in the womb of a bed-ridden woman.
That will have a life-long effect on the personality of the person.

An infant or young person who is overstressed will, like any healthy
animal, move to avoid that stress.  Will they learn healthy or neurotic
ways to do this?  That depends both on their personal decisions (based
on their short and unrepresentative life experience) and on their
environment (directly).  Sometimes a parent insists on certain behavior
and it is accepted.  Sometimes a parent insists and it is not accepted.
Sometimes the child comes up with a healthy sequence of thoughts that
leads to a healthy series of actions that lays down good habits to build
good character later on in life, and sometimes not, or not so good.  How
we are taught, how we learn to learn, and what we ultimately learn and
incorporate into our repertoire of behaviors is mostly set well before
we are aware of any of it.  These behaviors lead to experiences which
establish and enhance our core beliefs, our reflexes and our talents
(and our lacks of talent).  We constantly, unconsciously and
consciously, build and embroider on these initial experiences and
beliefs, and how we do this also influences us.

There is no way that an ordinary person can be aware of, keep track of,
or sort out all of this for even a very small part of their time.
Perhaps a great meditator, a tzaddik, or a prophet born lucid might be
able to do this, but for the rest of us it is not possible at all.
Perhaps some forms of autism are a result of internal decisions that
lead to a concatenation of choices that lead only in and not out.
Perhaps chemistry and environment are also crucial.  Who knows what
stimulus or lack of stimulus at any given time will trigger a retreat
into a world of curse, or open into a world of blessing?  Who knows what
concatenation of likely and unlikely events will walk or sucker a
person's habits of mind into a world of blessing or curse?

It is hard to know if any model is accurate, but I like to try to
envision this as similar to the mathematics of the Fourier transform.
The mathematics is complex, but the idea is simple and, these days, it
is familiar.  Musicians and electronic engineers and others know about
the Fourier transform.  When a strong (high amplitude), sharp (nearly
instantaneous) pulse is analyzed, it is found to consist of a summation
of (infinitely) many, mostly low amplitude, frequencies extending over a
long time.  The strong pulse is like an event, while the many other
frequencies are like all of the small influences that, acting together
in their unique time and place, produce the pulse.

Another way to visualize this process is to examine a pond.  It is not
inconceivable that a carefully orchestrated succession of small
disturbances could add up to a big splash, or that a big splash might
lead to a succession of different frequency waves at different times and
places at the shoreline.  We expect to see the dispersion of wavelengths
in a refractive medium.

So too with our lives.  It is the continuing summation of our past
choices, mostly not conscious, that leads to the world we find ourselves
in.  The world, especially from HaShem's infinite perspective, does not
change very much.  But, each of us, by what we choose to do and by how
and in what context we interpret the result, can live in a world of
blessing or a world of curse.  We can choose to work on Wall Street or
to live alone in the woods (or both).  But we can only come to make
these choices, which obviously will grossly affect how the world appears
to us, based on who we are - and who we are depends on what we have
chosen and experienced throughout our lives.

Since we are only aware of this life, and thus cannot be aware of the
consequences of our habits of mind before we form them, we must have
outside guidance if we are going to live in a world of blessing.  This
guidance comes from adults who care about us, and who know how to raise
healthy habits of mind (as well as healthy bodies).  Obviously, being
bound to the same chain of being, adults need the same guidance.  This
healthy guidance comes from each culture's equivalent of the Noachide
laws - and their extension into everyday practice and experience.


From: Chaim Twerski <chaimt@...>
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 1996 23:25:43 -0600
Subject: Problems and Psuedo Problems-The yediah-bechira question

The issue of how free choice (bechira) is possible if G-d knows the
future, and thus the future is predestined, was addressed and not fully
answered by some of the Rishonim.  Among these: the Rambam stated that
the source of the problem is that we equate the knowledge of man with
the Knowledge of G-d, and the only thing that is shared is the word.  If
we were to be able to understand the meaning of G-d's knowledge, we
would understand how this knowledge is not a contriction with free
choice.  This is what he says (Teshuva 5:5)

"If you are to ask, 'Either G-d knows the future, and before this
happens G-d will know whether a certain person shall be a Tzadik
(righteous person) or a Rasha(wicked person) or he does not know.  If
G-d knows that he will be a Tzadik, then it is impossible for him not to
become a Tzadik (and what choice is there) and if you say that G-d does
not know, they you are saying that his knowledge is less than perfect.
Know that the answer to this question is longer than the land and wider
than the sea, and that many important principles and great mountains
(meaning fundamental and important concepts) depend on this.  Buety you
need to know and understand is this: I have already explaind in the
second chpater of Yesodei Hatorah, that G-d's knowledge is not external
to Him as knowledge is external to humans, whose essence and knowledge
are two independent things.  Rather He and His knowledge are One.  This
concept is not fully comprehendable by mortals.  Just as mortals cannot
fathem the essence of the Divine, as the scriptures say "No living man
can see My Face", so can man not understand the Knowledge of G-d.  This
is what the Prophet meant when he said, "Your thoughts are not like My
thoughts, and your ways are not My ways".  Since this is so, it is not
humanly possible to know how G-d knows all of this creation and their
deeds, but we know without any doubt that the deeds of man are in his
control and G-d does push or force him in any way one or the other.  We
say this not only because our religion decrees this but also because
wise man have proven this.  That is why the prophets have said that man
is judged by his actions according to his deeds for better of for worse.
This is the main principle upon which all the words of the prophets

The Raa'vad criticises the Rambam for raising a question of this nature
and not answering the question satisfactorily.  He proceeds to give a
different answer (which I was never able to comprehend).  This is what
he says.

"If the righteousness of man or his wickendness was dependent upon a
decree from G-d, then we would say that His knowledge is a decree and
the question would indeed be very difficult.  But now that G-d has
limited this power from His hand and given the power [of free will] to
man, His knowledge is not a decree but rather like the knowledge of the
astrologers who know from an external source what shall be the way of
this person. This much is known, that all deeds small and great G-d gave
into the power of the stars. But he also gave man the power of reason to
enable him to release himself from the power of the stars to be either
good or bad.  G-d knows the power of the stars and if there is the power
of the mind of the person to extripate himself from its power or not,
and this knowledge is not a decree.  This answer, however, is hardly
satisfactory to me."

It is not at all clear to me what the Ra'avad meant by this, but it
appears that he believes that to a some extent G-d's knowledge of the
future is limited.

When in my teens I thought to resolve the question by means of a
literary invention of H. G. Wells- the time machine.  I reasoned this:
let us suppose for a moment that G-d does not have any knowledge of the
future.  Then free choice is certainly possible.  Now, suppose someone
were to go into the future using a time machine.  Still no problem,
obviously.  Now suppose our time traveler reads up on history and
returns to the past. Would everyone now lose "free choice" since there
is someone on earth that knows what is going to happen?  Most would
agree, certainly not. Merely because there is someone alive who knows
the future due to the process of time travel does not influence a person
in his/her decision!  The knowledge is really after the event, brought
backwards through time travel.

However, as I thought about this more I began to realize that this is a
false answer.  The very "ability" (even in fiction) to go to the future
is predicated upon a concept of destiny, for if destiny was not the
case, there is not definitive "future" into which to travel.  The is a
perfect example of subtle circular reasoning.

The idea of using the time machine may still work however to explain the
paradox.  In contradistinciton to the future, the past is indeed fixed.
Now, suppose our time machine would be able to take us to the past
(fictionally possible).  Suppose that the time traveler could only
observe and not communicate with anyone in the past, to avoid the
problem of creation of other paradoxes (like killing one's
grandparents).  Now, the time traveler knows the past from his
standpoint in the present, and now that he is in the past, is able to
predict the future with perfect accuracy.  Has free choice now been
lost? If the time traveler were to die, would the free choice then be
regained?  It seems certain that this would not be. Free choice means
that nothing coerces decision.  The fact that a decision will be made
will certainly create some sort of destiny, but destiny that is
available only for the future is not a contradiction to free choice.  We
need, however, to add a bit more.  There is an age old question that
non-philosophers ask: Can G-d create a stone so heavy that He cannot
lift it.  (If he can, He is not all poweful, since there is something
that He cannot do, and if he can't He is not all powerful because there
is something that He cannot create).  The question is based, of course,
on an erroneous notion that to be all powerful means to be able to do
the impossible.  While there are many things that are impossible for us
that are possible for G-d, it is a fallacy to believe that the inablity
to do what is logically impossible is in any way a limitation of power
or perfection.  This the Rambam stated clearly in Moreh Hanevuchim.  G-d
cannot, for example, commit suicide.  He therefore cannot create a stone
so large that He cannot lift it, since because He is so powerful, no
physical limitation can be ascribed to Him.  All this is clear and

This relates to the question of Bechira and Omnicience as well.  Either
the two are a logical contradiction or not.  If, as the Rambam and
others have stated, there is some sort of reconcilation that is
difficult for most if not all humans to grasp, then we may accept the
logical contradition as a limitation of human intellect.  If, however,
the two are indeed contradictory, that one of the two must fall, and if
so, the concept of Free Choice is the more fundamental of the two, and
that one stands.  There are some Rishonim (the Ralbag and his followers)
who do not believe that the future is knowable (even for G-d).  Some
proof may be brought to this by the fact that Hashem told Moshe that
Pharoh will not release the Jews from slavery, because "I shall hearden
his heart".  It does not say that Hashem told Moshe that Pharoh will not
release them, and trust Me on this one since I know the future. Rather,
He said that I will control Pharoh's heart.  Prophecy can also be
explained in this manner, since G-d knows what He will do in the future,
since there is nothing that can stand in His way.

To sum up: perhaps the thought experiment with the time machine can help
to resolve this question.  If not, then either the two premises will
create a logical contradiciton or they don't.  If the two can be
reconciled then there is no problem.  If they can't then Free Will must
be the one we accept as this is the backbone of the entire Torah, and
the concept of G-d's foreknowledge of future events must be discarded.
The reverse is unthinkable and against the entire fabric of the Torah.


End of Volume 25 Issue 32