Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ba'al Bechira: Can someone override the wishes of Hashem?

In Parshas Vayeshev, when Reuven saves Yosef from his brothers who wanted to kill him by lowering him into the pit; the Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh asks what kind of salvation was the pit – it was full of deadly snakes and scorpions, so lowering Yosef into there meant certain death anyway.
He answers that snakes and scorpions only kill someone when Hashem tells them to, so if Yosef is lowered into the pit he will only die if it is G-d’s will, and since Yosef was a total Tzadik, Reuven knew that is would live. But if would be left to the mercies of his brothers, he could be killed even against G-d’s will, since humans are baalei bechirah and they can kill even against the will of G-d. This seems to be at odds with the Sefer HaChinuch which says there is no reason for a person to want revenge against anyone, since whatever the other person did to you was anyway decreed by G-d.
A lot of people think that the Ohr HaChaim argues with the Sefer HaChinuch. But it doesn’t have to be so.
First, the Chofetz Chaim (al HaTorah Mishpatim) proves from the Gemora that even if someone hurts you, it is still Min HaShamayim.
The Gemora is talking about the fact that the Torah gives a doctor permission to heal. “Verapoh yerapeh” the posuk says. Explains the Gemora; You might have thought that since G-d decreed a person be ill, it would be forbidden to heal him since you are contradicting Hashem’s decree.
But, the Chofetz Chaim points out, the posuk of verapoh yerapeh is referring in context to a person who is injured by being hit by another person.
You therefore see, says the Chofetz Chaim, that even when one person hits another person it is a divine decree.
The Chovos HaLevovos also mentions that when one person harms another it can only be by divine decree.
Rav Chaim Volozhen (Ruach Chaim) also explains along these lines the Mishna in Pirkei Avos, “He saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: Because you killed someone were you killed – and the person who killed you will be killed nonetheless”.
On the other hand, the Ohr HaChaim who says that a person can harm another even against the will of Hashem and that’s why Reuven was helping Yosef by lowering him into the pit, is really a Zohar, on the spot. The Ohr HaChaim does not quote it, but it’s there.
The Metzudas Dovid in Daniel (3:26) similarly asks why Channia, Mishael, and Azaryah didn’t simply jump out of the fiery furnace when they had a chance. Even though they would have had to fight Nevuchadnetzar, still, by staying the fire they were as good as dead anyway so why not chance jumping out and fighting? He says that the fire is not a Baal bechirah and only burns when Hashem decrees. Nevuchadnetzar, on the other hand, is a Baal bechirah and could kill them even against Hashem’s wishes. The same idea as the Zohar and the Ohr HaChaim.
There are numerous other sources with this idea as well, particularly in the Chassidishe Seforim.
There doesn’t have to be any disagreement. For sure, Hashem can, and sometimes does protect people even from Baalei Bechirah, like when Moshe Rabbeinu’s neck turned to stone. Or on Chanukah, Rabim b’Yad m’atim.
So here’s the question: If Hashem decides to protect Yosef from his brothers, Yosef will be protected; if He decides to let the brothers kill him, he will die. So why's that different than the snakes and scorpions?
The answer is that Hashem’s decision to protect or not protect people is not random, but follows certain rules. Hashem takes into consideration the person’s merits, zechus avos, other zechusim, and various different factors then decides what to do.
At times, there are circumstances that upset the balance. Like for instance a Makom Sakanah, where Hashem will not afford a person his otherwise warranted level of protection.
Or the Halachah that prohibits us to walk on a bridge together with a Rasha. If Hashem decides to punish the Rasha, by collapsing the bridge, we will c”v be in danger.
But let’s try to understand this. If Hashem wants an innocent person to live he will live; if he wants him to die he will die, so why should the fate of the Rasha accidentally affect the life of the Tzadik because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The answer is of course Hashem can save him, but just like there is such a thing as a natural Makom Sakanah where there is a specially strict system of life and death, so too there are situations, such as being on a bridge with a Rasha, that are similarly dangerous such that Hashem uses a more strict system to determine whether a person lives or dies.
So no matter what, a person’s fate is in the hands of Hashem. It’s just that there are certain circumstances that even if a person would normally be given life, under those circumstances, his Zechusim would not be enough to save him.
So it’s the same thing with Baalei Bechirah vs. non-Baalei Bechirah. The system Hashem uses to determine life and death based on a person’s merits was designed for non-Baalei Bechirah situations. When a Baal bechirah is involved, it’s like being on a bridge with a Rasha, or a simple Makom Sakanah and the usual system of what kind of zechusim you need to live is no longer applicable. Of course Hashem can save you, but it's harder to be saved from baalei Bechirah just like it's harder to be allowed to live when walking in a makom Sakanah.
So there need not be a Machlokes here. The Ohr HaChaim, the Zohar, the Metzudas, and all the other seforim that say a Baal bechirah can over ride Hashem’s plan only need to mean that they can invalidate Hashem’s usual method of running the world the way a Makom Sakanah can. So it’s true that a Baal bechirah can kill someone even if he doesn’t deserve to be killed, the same way that walking on a bridge can kill someone who otherwise would not deserve to be killed. But just as the collapsed bridge and the death of all who are on it is totally Hashem’s doing, so too death at the hands of a Baal bechirah is totally Hashem’s doing. You would need a greater level of zechusim, even greater than what you would normally need for a miracle, to be saved from a Baal Bechirah. And your usual zechusim would not help. The usual manner of the way the world runs would not apply. Instead, there would be a stricter system.
So Reuven did help Yosef by putting him into the pit, because against snakes and scorpions, because Yosef’s zechusim as a perfect Tzadik would certainly spare him from snakes, but when dealing with baalei bechirah, Hashem doesn’t necessarily save even someone with perfect zechusim; Chananiah Mishael and Azariah were smart for facing the fire instead of Nevuchadnetzar for the same reason.

Just a reminder, the Ohr HaChaim is merely duplicating the Zohar ad loc, so let's refer to this as the Zohar's opinion.
It's not a question of "upsetting the balance." It's a question of Hashem shifting His level of method of judgment from the mode that He usually uses to one that is stricter when Baalei bechirah are involved.
Nobody questions the fact that when someone kills himself it is G-d that decided, allowed, and caused the person to be successful. Had G-d not wanted the guy to kill Himself, he wouldn't have been able to, since he needed G-d's help to do it.
However, also, nobody disagrees that G-d does not want this guy to kill himself, since He said Thou shalt not kill!
So which is it? Does G-d want this guy to be killed or not?
The answer is that for sure G-d would have preferred that this guy not kill himself. In that sense we say G-d did not want this guy to kill himself.
However, after the guy used his free will to decide to kill himself, G-d now willingly and proactively decrees that this guy's decision should become reality. Nobody forced G-d to do this. In this sense we say G-d wanted the guy to get killed. It's two different definitions of "want". Look at it this way:
G-d willingly makes this guy to kill himself now that the guy decided to do it. But G-d would have preferred that the guy not make that decision.
When we drive a car it is not considered a Sakanha since Shomer Pesayim Hashem, but if we jump off a roof, or drive wildly, then yes, we upset the balance and G-d now responds to our wildness by shifting His method of dealing in the world and now deals with you stricter.
The only thing that disturbs the balance is bechirah. If a person is disturbed and cannot control his actions it is not a Bechirah decision.
Many Seforim talk about the Ohr HaChaim.
The Be'er Mayim Chaim in Chayei Sarah on the posuk V'ekod V'eshtachaveh explains with this principle that even though Hashem arranges shiduchim, a person with his bechirah can reject his proper zivug.
The Divrei Yoel in Ekev explains with this principle that even Hashem does not give a person a Nizayon more than he can handle, however, a Baal Bechirah can, meaning that a Baal bechirah who tries to influence you to do an aveirah may present you with a Nisayon stronger than that which Hashem would have given you, that is, a Nisayon too hard for you to handle. This is why it is so important to avoid bad influences, much more than other Nisyonos.
Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon shlita, the mashgiach of Lakewood, in his Matnas Chaim (Vol. I, "Ais lischok") writes that it always bothered him that the Tur writes that Shabbos HaGodol is called by that name because the Jews miraculously got away with shechting the Egyptian god as a Korban Pesach. He asks, why is this miracle any more impressive than all the miracles that the Jews had in Egypt when they were spared from the Makos for instance?
According to this Zohar, Rabbi Solomon's questions disappears, since all the other miracles involved the Jews being saved from animals and other non-Baalei Bechirah. The fact that the Jews were saved from the Egyptians who were Baalei Bechirah is a much greater miracle.
I had an idea that this Zohar is the meaning of the posuk in Mishle (17:12) "Better to encounter a bear bereaved of its cubs than to meet a fool in his foolishness".
A fool is a Baal bechirah, and can harm you worse than a crazy bear, who, no matter how bad a mood he is in, is not a Baal bechirah and only listens to Hashem.
There are countless places where this Zohar and the OhrHaChaim is discussed.

The Sefer HaChinuch says that you should not be angry at someone for doing something to you because Hashem caused it. This is true even if the damage came through a Bechirah-loophole as you may call it, since even in such a case, Hashem clearly acted to make the Bechirah-choice come true. if someone shoots someone else, even though it does not show the usual mode of Mishpat, but the point of the Chinuch is, if Hashem allowed the gun to shoot, and the bullet to reach its target, etc. etc., why be angry at the shooter? Hashem Himself contributed to the shooting.
The Sefer haChinuch was talking about whether you should be angry at someone; the Ohr HaCham is talking about whether the normal indications of guilt and innocence are in effect.
The answer is no, the usual scales of guilt and innocence are not in effect, but you should still not be angry at the person, since Hashem did make him be successful.
In other words, if someone shoots someone else, the victim may not be as guilty as he normally would have to be in order to sustain such damage through a non-Baal bechirah, but despite his not being so guilty, Hashem still was involved in his being shot. But even according to those who say it is part of Hashem's plan, it doesn’t mean that Hashem involved the murderer. The murderer involved himself. The person would indeed have died of natural causes, but the murderer wanted to murder him and decided to murder him, and so the murderer did. That is why he gets punished - because he independently decided to commit the murder.
Yes, G-d knew he would decide this, but so what? That doesn’t make the murderer any less evil. The decision to murder and the attempt to murder someone is what makes someone evil - and this murderer did all that.
In a case where you put yourself in danger, the danger is given permission to attempt to hurt you because if you violate the Mitzvah of V'Nihsmartem, by putting yourself in a sakanah, the punishment is, you can get hurt. So you did that to yourself with your Bechirah, and Bechirah is not pre-determined.

Understand that, even according to the Ohr HaChaim and Zohar, that a Baal Bechirah can override the default plan Hashem had for you, they definitely agree that if Hashem wants he can intervene and save you form the Baal Bechirah - He can even turn your neck to stone if He will it. It’s only that the level of intervention needed on the part of Hashem is difficult to merit - "zeiin inun dnitzli mibaalei bechirah". However, Bitachon can provide that merit needed for even proactive intervention by Hashem. So the posuk according to them is not saying that because Hashem is protecting me therefore I have bitachon, but rather, since I have bitachon therefore Hashem is protecting me.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent article. i almost never go into the bechira forum on frumteens but this is great because its so organized and less confusing.
one issue though. so r u saying we dont act angry at hitler ym"sh since god gave him the ability to get into power and make his plan work? so hitler ym"sh was a rasha but we shouldnt be angry at him?
and what about if a person murders, the dead persons close family member may kill the murderer as revenge? but according to this article he's not allowed to be angry!
and we cant get mad at ppl for doing aveiros b/c God obviously let them do the aveiros? what about pinchas with zimri?
just a few questions dont take any of it personally. it truly was a great article, especially the part about shabbos hagodol.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Taon said...

We can and should be angry. Did hitler Yemach Shemo ask Hashm's permission before murdering and torturing Jews? did he do it becuase he wanted to fulfill whatever decree was set the previous Yom Kippur? He did it becuase of hate, and he is a rasha. Hashem lets reshaim do things to others becuasde they deserve it, but it isn't up to the reshaim to decide that. they do it out of wickedness. I think there was a post on this, but i forgot to put it up. do you understand what I am "saying"? I'm not sure if I wrote it clearly. and thanks for commenting, yours was the first comment I saw since this site was mentioned of Frumteens, I was worried no one was reading it.

2:28 PM  

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