Free Will

We’ve already spoken a lot about free will in Section One. See especially this, from note 14:

Ramchal discussed our free will in a number of other places in Klach. See for example Petachim 27 (p. 76), 29 (p. 87), 30 (p. 93), and 81 (pp. 260, 262). Also see Da’at Tevunot 14, 158; Derech Hashem 1:3:1, 1:5:4; Ma’amar HaIkkurim, “BaHashgacha”; etc.

Also see Deuteronomy 30:15–19; Pirkei Avot 3:15; Emunot v’ Deot (Ch. 4); Chovot Halevovot (3:8), Moreh Nevuchim (3:17), Hilchot Teshuvah Ch. 5, and the statement that “All is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b), which is to say that humankind is free to offer any sort of ethical response to whatever Heaven offers.”

And this, from note 22 there:

Ramchal enters into a rather protracted discussion of the seeming contradiction between the idea of mankind’s God-given free-will and God’s over-arching will in Petach 1. If, as we’re taught, we’re each utterly free to make the ethical choices we deem fit and we’re thus seemingly capable of “foiling” God’s wishes in the process, then how could God’s will be absolute? As such, some might argue that indeed “Originally, God may have been alone” i.e., independent and hence omnipotent, but “He then chose to create beings … with wills of their own,” which then made it “possible … for them to thwart His will … and go against it”. After all, they’d argue, didn’t God also “create the Other Side” – i.e., wrongfulness and ungodliness, which apparently goes against His will all the time. And don’t we also see that “the Nation of Israel has sinned, and there is (apparently) no salvation for them”, so how could He, who chose them to be the purveyors of His will, be said to be omnipotent?

Ramchal’s response is simply this: Whatever seems to thwart His will only does so because “He allows it to, for His own inscrutable reasons” (Petach 2). So the point is that at bottom God is in utter command of everything, “nothing can thwart His wishes”, and all other wills are in fact “subservient to Him” and His wishes (see below as well).

We’d now add these Ramchal references: Klallim Rishonim 28, where he discusses the implications of free will being rooted in Nesirah, to be discussed later on; Adir Bamarom p. 414 where he discusses it in terms of man’s natural versus his “post-Adamic” state; and Ibid. p. 456 where its place among the Sephirot is discussed.

We’d also add these references now which seem to deny free will altogether or, at best, to relegate it to an apparent, very conditional, temporary, or perhaps ineffective or effete status: “Man only does what God wants (to have done)” (Adir Bamarom p. 416); other wills “are subservient to His” (Petach 1, p. 3); our so-called “free will” is merely a product of our ignorance of God’s own will (Petach 81, p. 262); we all wind up following God’s wishes ;“even when it appears that we’re doing the opposite” (Tiktu Tephillot 40), and the fact that so-called “free will” will be undone in the end anyway (Da’at Tevunot 40).

We’ll get to reward and punishment next.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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