Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Did the Jewish people have free choice to accept or reject Moshe?

Moshe Rabeinu is reluctant to accept his mission to act as the Jewish people’s redeemer, and he questions whether the people will believe him or listen to him – ‘hen lo ya’aminu li v’lo yishm’u l’koli’ (4:1). Hashem responds by reassuring Moshe and providing him with signs to demonstrate that he is a true prophet. G-d guarantees, ‘v’shamu l’kolecha’ (3:18), the people will listen, and they will accept the signs as evidence. The Koznitzer Maggid asks how can G-d possibly guarantee such an outcome to Moshe – by telling Moshe in advance that the people will believe and listen to him, doesn’t that remove their free choice not to listen?

(For a similar question on this week’s parsha, see the posting from last year on the Chasam Sofer’s “kushya atzuma”. One other note: this is different than the general question of G-d's foreknowledge vs. free choice because in this case the choice is revealed in advance to a human audience, which makes the problem a bit more complex.)


  1. Interesting series of questions. I suppose that one could also ask how HaShem knew that Pharaoh would not acquiesce to let the Jews go until the very end - did he not have to let them go after the first sign of God's power?

    If one doesn't want to enter the sticky area of yedi'a vs., one could perhaps say that in all of these cases, HaShem is speaking with, so-to-speak, human knowledge, in that He knows a person's tendencies and thus can make an educated "guess" at what his reaction will be to a given scenario, even if one does not invoke complete Divine knowledge which would present the contradiction to (Any objections based on a quality of Divine emes can be dealt with by utilizing m'shanin mipnei ha-shalom, that Moshe had to be confident that his mission would be successful in order to agree to go on it). Hence, it's not necessarily required that bechirah chofshis be limited, as HaShem could have told Moshe the future even without invoking His absolute yedi'ah.

    [Can it really be said, using our own futurist "omniscience", that B"Y would accept Moshe? If he came with the correct signs, then given the structural integrity of the nation, it would seem so, unless one argues that the b'nei Ephraim would have had a negative effect on this. Would Aharon would certainly agree to go with Moshe? He was a nice guy, and had leadership qualities, so this doesn't sound so far-out. Would Pharaoh certainly hold on to B"Y until the 10th plague, and only then release them? If one establishes that the idea of releasing a slave nation is entirely absurd, then the former makes some sense, especially utilizing God's knowledge that He would harden Pharaoh's heart to make this result more likely, and given the cataclysmic nature of the last plague, the latter is also reasonable, especially if HaShem had ceased hardening Pharaoh's heart after the final plague (did He?)

    If I had to speculate what the real answer(s) of the Koznitzer and the Ch"S would be, though, I would guess it would involve a diyyuk in the other direction, allowing for the partial limitation of a person's bechira chofshis (a la the hardening of Pharaoh's heart).

  2. kishnevi12:26 AM

    I'm not sure the difference you bring up in your final sentence is really important. Wouldn't it apply to any prophecy involving human behavior?

    If you'll allow me to get metaphysical for a moment--G-d exists outside of time. To Him every moment of time is always present--rather like you see everything on your desk when you're using it, He can "see" every moment of time at once. Therefore He was not communicating knowledge of the future to Moshe, per se: He was communicating knowledge of a moment which was in Moshe's future but was already present to Him. He saw the Children of Israel accepting Moshe in the same way that He saw Moshe standing by the Burning Bush.

  3. I think your answer, Josh, fits with the way a rationalist would approach the issue (which is not how the Koznitzher does).

    >>>Wouldn't it apply to any prophecy involving human behavior?

    Yes, which is why we usually do not find a prophey of specifically declaring 'Ploni will do X.'
    The metaphysical explanation relates to G-d's foreknowledge (R' Kook takes the same approach), but I don't see how it helps with the issue of bechira?

  4. Stam chida shiv'as yamim. What's the Koznitzer's answer?