Thursday, July 06, 2006

Free Will and Hashem knowing the future

Let's say you have a time machine and you go into the future and observe people's actions. Would anybody say that because you peeked into the future actions of those people they no longer have free will?
No. Rather, you observed what they WILL do with their free will. So too Hashem looks into the future and sees what people will choose.
Or maybe you magically get a hold of next week's newspaper. You see what is going to happen in 7 days. This doesn't affect their Bechirah.

The fact is that knowing the future does not compel the future. Nobody disagrees with that.
The Rambam asks different question, based on the premise that the future - and past and present - only exist because G-d wills them to exist. In other words, the universe is created out of G-d's will - please see the "Basic Judaism" forum on the site for an explanation of this.
So the Rambam was asking that since where G-d is concerned, past present and future and really one and the same, and since G-d's will is the only power that can make anything happen in this universe, and therefore id G-d knows someone is going to do something, the only way that can happen is if G-d wills that he does it.
The Rambam says that even though G-d knows what a person does, and G-d's will is the only possible thing that can make him do it, still, G-d gave us Bechirah and allowed us to do things outside of His will.
This, the Rambam says, is what we cannot understand.

Some explain it by saying that because Hashem is outside the bounds of time, He sees the past, present, and future instantaneously, and so he knows what we will choose. The problem is, if the only reason that Hashem knows the future is because from His perspective the future "already happened", then His knowledge of the future would be limited to only the future that actually will happen. But Hashem would not be able to know what will happen in a future "what if" scenario that will not actually take place.
For example, we know that everything Hashem does is "gam zu l'tovah". So if Hashem, let's say wants to decide whether someone should break his arm, He will consider: If he breaks his arm, such-and-such will happen; if he does not break his arm, then scenario B will happen, and so forth.
Yet only one of those scenarios is actually going to be the future. And so, if Hashem only knows the future because it is to Him like the past is to us, because time isn’t a constraint, then while we understand how Hashem knew what will happen, how can Hashem know what would have happened in different circumstances, since that scenario never existed, neither in past, present, or future?
From the fact that Hashem knows not only what will happen, but also what would have happened, it is clear that Hashem's knowledge of the future is not only because He can see the future like we see the present, but also, He is able to accurately know what will happen not because He sees it in the future. And therefore, He knows what we will choose NOT only because He "sees" us choosing it in the future, but through some other means as well.
There is another objection to this answer as well, leveled by the Ohr Someach, but it is actually related to the above. He says, if to Hashem the future is like the past, and it "already" happened, then why would Hashem send a Navi to tell the people to do Teshuva if He already "sees" that they will not do Teshuva? Or, worse still, from His perspective, that they "already have not" done Teshuva? Obviously, says the Ohr Someach, if a Navi is sent to tell people to do Teshuva, that means they still may do Teshuva, yet Hashem "knows" that they will not????
So the answer doesn't really work.
Hashem's awareness of the future has nothing to do with "knowledge". Hashem does not have "knowledge" --- even though he is not ignorant of anything. The way that Hashem knows things is not within our comprehension, but we do know for sure that the tool Hashem uses is not what we call "knowledge" in any way whatsoever -- Hashem is above any such attributes (please see the G-d forum for detailed explanation of this). And therefore, from the fact that knowledge of the future precludes free will, we cannot assume that Hashem's awareness of the future also precludes free will, since Hashem's awareness is not through "knowledge".


The question can be asked, how could it be that the Torah said what people would do before they did them? Both the GRA and the Baal Shem Tov answer this saying that the Torah is, in its "pnimiyus", comprised of different Names of Hashem and combination thereof. That’s what Moshe got on Har Sinai. As the events unfolded, the names formed simple Hebrew words, but had different events occurred, the words would have been formed differently. So even though the Torah was written before the world, the "external" combination of the letters and words happened as the events transpired.

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