Sunday, September 21, 2008

tshuvah and kochi v'otzem yadi

I rescued a nearly new copy of Chayei Mohara"N that I saw deposited in sheimos (I know what you Litvaks are thinking... ) and in the back there are a few pages called Sheva Amudei Emunach composed by R' Yitzchok Breiter which taken by themselves would have been worthy of rescue. One yesod which he writes regarding the idea of tshuvah is startling. When we think of tshuvah we imagine a person coming to the realization that he/she has not been acting as the Torah requires , deciding to improve his/her behavior, and in turn, assuming this change for the better will draw him/her closer to Hashem. Says R’ Yitzchok Breiter, such thoughts of tshuvah contain mixed within them the essential germ of all kefira, which is thinking “kochi v’otzem yadi”. Lack of success in avodas Hashem is not only because a person is not trying hard enough, and conversely success in avodah is not just about changing behavior to conform to a higher standard. These assumptions in effect say we are the ba’alim of Hashem’s relationship with us, whether for good or bad - kochi v'otzem yadi controls the entire dynamic! Tshuvah means accepting that we are not the ba’alim. Yeridos and obstacles are part of Hashem’s plan, and the reason we might not be successful is because (for whatever) reason Hashem has chosen not to give us success at this moment. In addition to changing our behavior, tshuvah demands heartfelt tefilah asking that Hashem, the true ba’alim, bring about a change in His relationship with us and allow us to draw closer.


  1. I am surprised that you quote such nonsense. This position is against everything the Torah teaches us that it is all in our hands - Re'eh Natati lefanechem et hachaym .... UBACHARTA bachayim!

  2. Tosfos in Niddah 16b and Megilla 25a state that hakol bidei shamayim refers to innate traits-- toldados ha'adam. But nobody would deny that the circumstances of our life-- our friends, our teachers, our parents-- influence our yir'as shamayim. This is one of the Maharsha's teirutzim in Brachos regarding the Bruria story, where it indicates that tefilla helps for yir'as shamayim-- that we are praying that our environment not tempt us, or make it easy to go astray.

  3. Barzilai6:18 PM

    Anyway, Reb David, three times a day we ask for Hashem's assistance in doing teshuva. As the above referenced Maharsha also says, this only shows that after the pischo shel machat, we need siyata dishmaya to actually do a good teshuva. So what's wrong with stating that Hashem might assist or inhibit our attempts to do teshuva? I agree that it is not wise to say this, because it misdirects the person's focus from self-examination and improvement to dumping it on the RBSO, and I think it's a little weird to say it's a sin of kochi etc, but I wouldn't say it's totally wrong-headed.

  4. The idea is not only in Breslov, but it very much in keeping with Ishbitz / R' Tzadok as well, who understand even cheit to be an extension on some level of ratzon Hashem and tsuvah as the process of arriving at that hakarah. Even in mussar seforim (R' Dessler esp. comes to mind, but I am too lazy to find exact mareh mekomos now) express the idea that the ultimate bechira is choosing to surrender one's fate to G-d and not have free choice.

    The Ishbitzar writes on the very pasuk you quote -
    "Re'ah... haynu ki HAKOL (emp. mine) ma'Hashem hu", because a person tends to blame G-d for suffering, but when a person is blessed with goodness he fails to see that this too is from Hashem, and instead says "kochi v'otzem yadi", therefore, "mareh Hashem - re'eh ANOCHI - haynu, haKOL hu ma'Hashem."

  5. R. Barzilai

    I agree with all you say as an acceptable shita but that is not what R. Breiter says.

  6. R. Chaim,

    Of course everything is from Hashem as we are the result of retzono Hakadum. At the same time being mevatel my Ratzon to Ratzon hashem, in other words act responsibly even if we don't see the immediate benefit and good, so too being mitpalel when doing things we consider to be good that our own Peny'ot don't mislead us, (tefila being a reminder and a point of meditation confirming that rather than expectation of some teguva) are all legitimate approaches to Avodat Hashem and do not take away Bechirah, to the contrary. Your quote however goes far beyond that and that is what I object to. Language is very misleading and we have to be careful when sometimes two ideas superficially seem to be similar and they are not. After all you are adept at Brisker Torah! :-)

  7. I meant exactly what I wrote -Ishbitz and R'Tzadok do not understand bechira the way you think of it. HaKol b'y'dei shamayim is understood pshuto k'mashma'o. To quote the Ishbitzer in P' VaYeira (on the pasuk "va't'chacheish Sarah"):

    "Hakol b'ydei Shamayim chutz m'yiras shamayim hu rak l'fi gvul tefisas seichel ha'adam, aval b'emes hakol b'yfei shamayim v'af yiras shamayim (!) v'rak b'olam hazeh histir Hashem darko."

    Much of medievel philosophy is k'fi tefisa yad ha'adam, but R' Nachman would tell you to stop reading such books and you will be closer to the emes : )

  8. BTW,

    The idea that Yeridot are not always negative is how understand "ha'osseh meahavah zedonot na'assu kezchuyot"

  9. BTW, even according to the quote from R' Breiter there is still bechira (the Ishbitzer is more extreme). The nekudah of bechira is whether a person thinks they have control over things in life (i.e. kochi v'otzem yadi) or whether Hashem controls everything in life. Every cheit, every ma'aseh tov, everything we do boils down esentially to that one single choice repeated in different guises.

  10. >but R' Nachman would tell you to stop reading such books and you will be closer to the emes : )

    Thank God that I am not a Breslover!

    In all seriousness I understand rav Nachman's approach and I think the rebbes who held him to be misguided were correct.

  11. Who says this is one of the reasons they thought he was misguided?

    OK, you made me go to the bookshelf. See Michtav m'Eliyahu vol 3 p. 69 that tefilah itself is "etzem habechira atzmah"..."v'kol hashe'ar hu ach ma'aseh Hashem".

  12. Barzilai10:37 PM

    I just read that one of the reasons some kehilos don't say baruch hu ubaruch shemo when they hear brachos is because there was a bunch of people who said it because it is Gematria of Shabsai Tzvi (if you drop the vov.) I mention ST because of the attitude that the worst behavior is defensible as a kabbalistic manifestation of retzon Hashem. It seems to me that this does, to some extent, diminish personal responsibility.

  13. I also find it impossible to relate to this definition of bechirah, as explained by our host in his comment at 7:43pm. However, it fits Rav Nachman's general approach of walking through life happy and untroubled because of bitachon in HQBH. And so, the only choice is to choose to give the problem to Him.

    Personally, the whole thing is an idea I was taught was Notzri in distinction to us -- this inability to redeem oneself, and therefore one's only work is to turn to God for salvation. That probably prejudiced me against accepting it from R' Nachman.

    Or from 12 Step programs.


  14. Barzilai4:15 PM

    How sad it is that hashkafos are as nebulous and as individual as piskei halacha-- that one can sincerely believe something, because his rebbi, or his rebbe, told him it was Torah, and he finds out, after 120, that it was exactly the opposite of Torah. I've never trusted baalei hashkafa unless they were baki beshas uposkim and halacha and of sterling reputation. Who wants to find out that he was a kofeir be'ikkar his whole life? Of that he was just being credulous? Gilgulim? What about Rav Hai Gaon's opinion? I still say that hashkafa should be learned as a limud, and one should never invest himself in any particular 'school.'

  15. I agree that only people who are great bekiim in kol hatorah kula have the right to develop new hashkafot. We have to pick a Rishon we feel comfortable with and follow him leaving the acahronim as da'at yachid. Basically there are two derachim, the Kuzari and Rambam. Follow one and adapt it to our times and grow with the derech.

  16. Assuming one avoids the halakhos of apiqoreis, min and kofeir, there are no hilkhos pesaq on hashkfah.

    I also think rishonim are not very useful guides to the issues we today are concerned with. They were interested in proving "what's out there", we want to describe the world as experienced.

    Even our meaning of such basic terms as "hashgachah" differs from theirs. To a rishon, it's about direct control from G-d vs His delegating decisions to other entities. We are really thinking about how to understand what is happening with us, we're discussing that-in-which bitachon assures us will happen. Which is why our answers about universal personal hashgachah differ -- we are actually discussing different topics!

    In short, there is no indication one has to be "right". Rather, one creates a scaffolding that is consistent with the Torah and gives meaning to following it.


    PS: What's wrong with R' Saadia Gaon, the Ohr Hashem, or numerous other rishonim? How did all the richness of Jewish thought become a simple either-or?

  17. Barzilai5:13 PM

    There has to be psak in hashkafa. Do you go to work, or do you sit and learn? Should we follow the Ramban's demand to live ascetic life right, or the rishonim that hold that asceticism is a sin for the common man? Do you endanger your life to protect every inch of Eretz Yisrael, or do you hand it over and live under Arabs? Do you invest time and money and heartache into getting a Down Syndrome child to keep mitzvos, or do you just let him do what he wants? Do you visualize God as corporeal? Come on, you know that hashkafa does play an important role in halacha. AND, that it is just another tool of psak, and that people should realize that we're not uncovering God's truth, we're just applying the rules of psak to create order out of chaos.

  18. I entirely disagree. Most of your questions aren't "hashkafah" in the same sense of the word. How to raise a child with Downs has something to do with our topic -- in the sense of the Moreh or the Kuzari? The question of picturing a corporeal G-d touches on the laws of apiqursus, so I already excluded it.

    But in general, there is no way to say the mequbalim, Chassidim, Chassidei Ashkenaz, the medieval philosophers, Rav Dessler, Rav Kook, are right or wrong in their philosophies. Nor are we expected to.

    For that matter, the number of acharonim who did develop their own philosophies provide an existence proof that you're mistaken.


  19. >Even our meaning of such basic terms as "hashgachah" differs from theirs. To a rishon, it's about direct control from G-d vs His delegating decisions to other entities. We are really thinking about how to understand what is happening with us, we're discussing that-in-which bitachon assures us will happen. Which is why our answers about universal personal hashgachah differ -- we are actually discussing different topics!

    R. Micha, I am not sure that you are right, in fact I am sure you are not. Rambam clearly does not accept either God or other entities as decision makers on a micro level. Ratzon Hashem to him is Retzono Hakadum as He is omniscient. I also disagree with your assesment that we are talking different languages. I am not well versed in Resag or R. Yehudah Halevi but both Rambam and ramban as far as I know are ineterested in what is happening to us. They were not just theoretical philosophers but philosophers who dealt with practice, how we should act based on their understanding.

    I also agree with Barzilai that psak is heavily influenced by hashkafa. It is very different how a possek that is also a mekubal will pasken vs a Rambam who was against Kabbalah. Just compare his pessakim and understanding of netilat yadayim vs all the other ashkenazi rishonim who lived in a world of kabbalah. I want to write about this in an upcoming article. It is a fascinating subject and an eye opener.

  20. RDG:

    My original point was to distinguish between the program of the scholastic philosophers, including the Rambam, with more modern ones (basically since Kant), including R' Dessler, R' Hutner, R JB Soloveitchik, R' Kook, etc....

    The Rambam's approach, to define postulates that should be self-evident (introduction to Moreh's section II) and using them to prove an abstract concept of G-d is simply not what modern philosophers look to do. Kant sort of convinced the world, or perhaps the whole Empiricist-Idealist thing that ended before him proved it by example, that such explorations never get the total certainty they strive for. The rav in the Kuzari would not have been surprised.

    So, the Rambam discusses hashgachah in contrast to teva, which he defines as a created intellect (with no free will). We, on the other hand, use the same word, but are talking about how to understand the events in our lives. We aren't working out what metaphysical "things" we can prove are involved, we are trying to define whether our experience shows Hashem's plan for our lives and our ends in particular, or whether we are experiencing side-effects of a general running of the universe.

    The words "hashgachah peratis" are the same, but we're talking about different things. It's possible that scholastic-style HP is not universal (as the Rambam in Moreh III:18, who limits it to people who aren't sinners and fools, by gradation), whereas existential-style HP is.

    Pesaq is heavily influenced by hashkafah -- when the halachic process itself allows for multiple possibilities. In such situations, various pros and cons are weighed: pre-existing norms (mimeticism) the universality of an opinion and the accepted authority of those who said it, the logic of the sevara as it seems to the decisor's mind, whether it fits the hashkafah of the asker, etc... and when that fails, the decisor invokes the rules of doubt. (One of the criticisms made against the Mishnah Berurah is that he goes to this last resort too readily.)

    But that's after raw process leaves you with a choice.

    And in any case, we weren't talking about the impact of hashkafah on behavior, but whether one can invoke the authority of rishonim to limit one's hashkafic choices. The rules of pesaq are for halakhah only; it's only where halakhah prohibits holding an opinion that rishonim carry greater weight. Just as the rishonim discuss entire realms of ideas not discussed by Chazal -- and often have to interpret Chazal in non-naive ways to fit them. (And Moreh III:18 is again a good example. Chazal say that all people get HP. However, the Rambam mitigates this by noting that sets like "all people" have blurry edges and there are homo sapiens who are more or less "people" with regard to HP.)

    And even then, as above, I would argue they and we rarely are discussing exactly the same topic.