Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 19 November 2005 / 17 Heshvan 5766

Does G-d Have Free Will?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Yra Harris

Dear Rabbi,

Does G-d have free will?

Dear Yra,

Yes, G-d has free will. G-d chose to create, when to create and how to create. G-d chooses to maintain and regulate all that exists every moment. This involves myriad, changing considerations at all times, and G-d considers them all instantaneously, deciding according to Divine Will what to do next how and in what way to influence every macro and micro dimension of everything in existence.

One might mistakenly think that since G-d is perfect, everything that G-d does must be perfect, precluding G-ds ability to exercise free will. This is incorrect for several reasons. First, G-d chooses what to do. The fact that G-d does it perfectly does not detract from Divine Free Will. Furthermore, G-d can choose to do something "imperfectly". For example, our Sages taught that G-d intentionally created man with the need for circumcision in order to enable man to act as a partner in perfecting and elevating the world much as one elevates relatively useless wheat by making it into bread (Tanchuma, Tazria, ch.5; see Ohr HaChaim, Lev. 12:3 for a deeper meaning).

One might argue that if G-d has free will, G-d should be able to will Himself out of existence. Since presumably G-d "cannot" will Himself out of existence, G-d does not have free will. This is also incorrect. The fact that man is not able to will himself away does not detract from his free will. The same applies to G-d. In any case, this is just a more sophisticated version of the illogical question, "Can G-d create a stone which He cant lift?" The reason we are inclined to answer "No" to this question is not because of G-ds limit to create, but rather because there can be no such stone that He cant lift. Here too, the fact that G-d "cannot" will Himself away is not because He lacks free will, but rather because His eternal existence is intrinsically imperative.

There are many instances in which we find G-d exercising free will. Several sources speak about G-ds deciding to create or not, and along what lines initially according to strict judgment until G-d "changed His mind" and decided to create with considerations of mercy as well (Rashi, Gen. 1:2). G-d suffered mankinds injustice until he finally decided to bring the flood. In Abrahams dialogue with G-d about saving Sodom and Gomorrah, He shows willingness to "change His mind" if the conditions could be met. G-d chose the descendents of the Patriarchs as His people to settle the Land of Israel, yet he decided to send them to Egypt before eventually deciding when and how to redeem them. The examples are virtually endless.

In short, G-d constantly reviews and decides if and how to maintain every most colossal and miniscule dimension of creation. And He continuously determines and expresses anew in which way to interact with that creation with judgment or mercy, punishment or reward, concealment or revelation, and a myriad other of multi-facetted attributes.

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