Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the ra'avad's approach to yediya and bechira

We read in last week's parsha that Moshe Rabeinu received a less than enthusiastic response from Bnei Yisrael to his message (to say the least). The Sefas Emes asks: Hashem surely knew with Divine foresight that Moshe would be ignored; what then was the point of sending him? G-d does not interfere with human choice to engage in futile acts, but that should not preclude G-d himself not ordering a human, in this case Moshe, to do something that He knows will be futile.

Yesterday we discussed the Rambam's approach (Hil Tshuvah end of ch 5) to reconciling free will with Divine foreknowledge. The Ra'avad dismisses the Rambam and offers his own solution. Ra'avad compares G-d's knowledge to the knowledge of the future someone who reads horoscopes might have. Let's say I know what you will have for breakfast tomorrow morning. That knowledge in no way interferes with your going through the process of looking in your pantry, selecting one particular cereal among the many on the shelf, etc. irrespective of that fact that I know in advance what your decision will be. Another example: as I watch from my living room window I see a car driving quickly down the block headed directly for a deep pothole. My knowledge that the driver will hit the pothole in no way interferes with the driver having free choice as to how to proceed. Ra'avad writes that there is similarly no contradiction between Divine foreknowledge and free choice.

R' Y. Bloch in Shiurei Da'as (vol 1 p. 123) raises a question similar to that of the Sefas Emes against the Ra'avad. While G-d's foreknowledge has no effect on our choice, it should make a difference k'lapei shemaya to how G-d himself acts. Why should G-d have sent prophets to admonish the Jewish people when, as we read so many times in Nach, their words were ignored? G-d surely knew the outcome in advance, so why would he instruct a Navi to undertake a futile mission?

I wonder if I am missing something here. Although the Shiurei Da'as leaves this question unresolved, the solution seems not the difficult. If you have kids that you have taught to ride a bike or remember when you learned yourself, think back to the process. You know when you sat your kid on the bike for the first time without training wheels that he/she was going to fall, yet you did it anyway. What kind of cruel parent are you!? If you knew your child would fall, if you had foreknowledge of what would happen, why did you put him/her on that bike? And not only did you do it once, but you did it again and again! Didn't you know that he/she can't ride yet and letting your kid go is futile? The answer is that you did know, but unless you put the child on the bike and let the child fall a few times, he/she was never going to learn to ride. Falling is not failure; falling in this context is part of the process that leads to success.

The Sefas Emes writes that although Moshe's message was overtly dismissed, it left a roshem on the hearts of the listeners which they were not even aware of. In other words, Moshe's message was like letting the child fall off the bike -- it was a futile failure, but it is many futile failures that ultimately produce success. The answer to the question of the Shiurei Da'as is that G-d certainly does know that the Navi will be ignored, but G-d also knows that hearing the message again and again ultimately causes that message to seep in and produce an effect. When the Jewish people finally respond it is not because that final effort was successful where all others failed, but rather it was the small the final success.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:13 PM

    What is the difference between "kvad peh" and "aral sefasayim"? Have not had a chance to look into it yet....

    (Motzei Shaboos update: found it discussed in Pri tzadik by R' Tzadok, but too much to write over right now)
    Did You ever type up the answer if not can you?