All is Foreseen And Permission is Given
Where religion meets philosophy, the most belabored question is that of free will; and with religions that believe in an omniscient deity, the burning issue is that of the compatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge. Our sages had different views on that, and the matter has not been settled to this day, and probably never will be, for humans cannot expect to comprehend what pertains to the holiest of holies. It is enough for us that we know G-d rules all His creation and that we are His people. Of the attempted answers, we can choose whichever makes sense, with the caveat that it is only provisional, for our mental comfort and not as error-free dogma.
What makes sense most to me is the saying of Rabbi Akiva, in Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 3, mishnah 15: hakol tzafui v’hareshut netunah, meaning, “All is foreseen and permission is given”. Translations to English usually give “but” or “yet” instead of that “and”, but that vav at the beginning of the third word does mean “and”, there being other words for “but”. It is instinctive to translate “but”, because it is widely held that free will and divine foreknowledge are mutually exclusive. But Rabbi Akiva said “and”, against all expectations of the contemporary Greek thinkers and our modern world influenced by them.
Divine foreknowledge is not necessarily incompatible with human free will; if we assume a non-intervening god (like the god of deism), we can grant that that god, if it is personal at all, just knows what will happen in the future in the same manner we know the sun will rise tomorrow, not having anything to do with it. But our G-d is not such a deity: not only does He know what will happen, but—and that is the crucial point—He makes it happen, He controls it. He makes the sun rise every morning (or the earth turn on its axis—this isn’t a scientific treatise), and He makes Hizbullah launch rockets southward. Under this belief, it is indeed a vexing question how humans can have free will at all.
If He is in full control then we have no free will, and if we have free will then He is not in full control. Is that not logical? Yet Rabbi Akiva says, “All is foreseen and permission is given”—G-d knows and controls everything, yet we all have the ability to decide and to act.
How is this possible? Is this not a paradox, on the order of one thing being at two places at the same time? Indeed it is, and in that parable, of one thing being at two places at the same time, is the answer: it is no obstacle to the reality that G-d has set up, and therefore, obviously, not to the reality of G-d Himself. In the real world, yes, even that scientific world which the godless look up to as their fortress of relative certainty, we know that a particle can be at two places at the same time, and that atoms are both waves and particles, and many other paradoxes. This science of Quantum Mechanics is said to be of such a nature that he who has studied it thoroughly will regard the possibility of the flight of a certain unkosher mammal to be trivial in comparison, and Richard Feynman said of it, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics”. And yet the world works that way, and even so, those small-scale “insanities” add up to a completely orderly and objectively real world on the larger scale. It all defies human sensibilities. G-d warns us of putting even His creation, let alone Him, in our human boxes, in Isaiah 55:8–9.
We acknowledge that we cannot put G-d in any box except those in which He has put Himself in His Torah. For example, a skeptic might say that the sentence “G-d is holy” is a box, and he would be right, but that is not a human box but how G-d describes Himself, so we are not only permitted but also obliged to accept it. There are many such boxes wrought of G-d’s self-description, but that box that says G-d cannot be in full control of His creation if we have any control of ourselves is not one of those. Therefore it is no more to the point than the thought that an atom cannot be both a wave and a particle at the same time.
I believe both that G-d is in full control of His entire creation and that we have free will to decide and to act. I do not pretend to know how it works, but I believe it on the basis of what goes on around me, especially these troubled days. Is it not amazing how HaShem has brought all factors to corner His people once again? Is it not astonishing how He has inflicted upon most of the Gentiles the madness of focusing upon Israel and her “atrocities”, while making them turn a blind eye upon far worse events in, for example, Sudan and Sri Lanka? Is it not astounding how He has orchestrated a repeat of the 1930’s, a mere 70 years after, with Jew-hatred now turned fashionable again everywhere? In all these are the undeniable imprints of G-d’s control. Let the doubter bring any comparable example from history if he wishes to refute it.
And yet this is not to negate the fact that everybody, including the Jew-haters from the Left and Islam, are acting out of pure volition. None of them are mindless puppets in the hands of HaShem. Though they may act out of the darkness that He sheds upon them, they are free, and therefore responsible. Even Pharaoh, when G-d hardened his heart, did not have his free will taken from him—he could still have chosen another course. The Jew-haters are HaShem’s pawns in His plan of keeping His people close to Him and crying for His help, yet there is freedom for any Jew-hater to turn away from that darkness into the light of righteousness, of standing with the free world against the forces of serfdom.
And so, brothers, when we clench our fists in frustration over the Leftist who tells such far-fetched stories of Israel, or the one who steadfastly believes the terrorist attack of five years ago was an inside job organized by President Bush for political gain, we have to keep two things in mind: the one is that he is operating under the auspices of HaShem’s Grand History Project, and the other is that he is free to change course. From the first assumption we must realize that we cannot convert every opponent away from his opposition to Israel, for it is HaShem’s will that there be, until He blows the final whistle (speedily in our days, amen), this supernatural hatred of His people, of us; and from the second we gather the imperative to spare no effort in defending ourselves on the media front, on the battlefield of hearts and minds, for the more we make an effort the more haters of Israel will get the chance of choosing to turn away from their alliance with evil.
To summarize my position, as connected with our age: the supernatural Jew-hatred I see in front of my very eyes, in the news over and over again, convinces me that HaShem is in full control; and the occasional reports of changed minds, such as those of Neo-Neocon and Yehoshua Sobol, convince me that people are not mere puppets, and that spreading the truth about Israel is a worthwhile activity. Keep it going, fellow Jews and Righteous Gentiles.