beeIf the universe had an obvious unity, if we would see all the connections between the window and the plant and the cat – we would see all the oneness and it would be too easy to believe in Gd, thus messing with free will, our greatest gift. We were created in Gd’s image, he with the ultimate free will ( to create anything – time, space, us…) Nothing else in our system has this gift. Teacher’s example: A plant doesn’t stop photosynthesizing just because it’s bored of chlorophyll. Everything does all it can do to survive – we are the only part of the world that has the freewill to utilize just a fraction of our potential.

When I think about this in relationship to the rest of creation, it sort of blows me away. The honey bee doesn’t sleep in. The bamboo stalk doesn’t eat two desserts.

How much kavanah am I living with?

About the author

alli

52 Comments

  • Muffti is inspired but he wants to know: did Moses lack free will because he got to see God face to face? Surely it was pretty easy for him to believe in God (as it was for the rest of the desert era children of Israel who were at Mt. Sinai)? But if they didn’t have free will, they certainly got f*#$ed pretty good for things they didn’t do freely (i.e. Moses couldn’t enter Israel, the generation who listened to the spies had to die in the desert, Korach etc. got burned…) Did none of these people have free wiil?

  • Muffti you drunken bastard, all bets are off vis-a-vis free will when G*d is directly involved. In any case, if you get burnt as part of G*d’s larger plans and your free will is abrogated, presumably that’s taken into account in olam ha ba. But, like – what do you care anyway? You’re an atheist. This is all just silly nonsense and superstition. No amount of logic will change anyone’s mind!

  • There’s a very good theological message in Alli’s comment, and we shouldn’t be too quick to obscure it with joking. Highlighting it with joking, though, is highly recommended.

    Imagine for a moment that there was zero doubt in your mind that God exists and is constantly observing your every action. You could feel and understand God’s presence in the same way that you might if your parent or boss was standing watch over you. You knew, with absolute certainty, that everything you did was being seen and was being recorded (that is, affecting the universe). Would you really be free to make any choices? Add to that a dose of perfect heavenly justice. I’ve had more than one person ask why God doesn’t prevent killing or evil, which is really a way of asking why God doesn’t have instant reward and punishment. Now, the moment you try to do something wrong, you are punished, and the wrong is corrected. Free will? Uh-uh. We simply couldn’t function that way. If God all of a sudden announce His existence from the heavens (see Mt. Sinai), we’d probably all be a bit shaken. I suspect that for a little while, we’d act in exactly the way we thought God would want us to. Then, we’d manage to convince ourselves that it was a hoax by the government or some prankish aliens on an intergalactic “punk’d” show, and we’d all go back to acting how we would choose to act.

    Point being that our free will relies on our ability to believe that their might not be a God, or at least a firm belief that he is as merciful as he is strict. Take away the room for doubt, and you take away the free will.

    There are two modes of obeying God. Those creations without free will, say grass, just do what they are created to do. Photosynthesize, grow, wave in the wind, whatever. They cannot choose to do anything else. Then, there is the mode of obeying that comes with belief and free will. We think about what God wants of us, and we choose to act accordingly. The moment our belief becomes clear knowledge, we become no more than overdressed grass. Needless to say, Judaism holds that God prefers the human mode of avodah. I’d put forth that this difference is expressed in the ideas of service of HaShem from fear and service from love. If you fear, really fear, God, then your service may be exact, but it is like grass. If you serve out of love, however, HaShem knows that you relish your role in creation.

    Where do the two (free choice and command, grass and human) meet? When we choose to serve as faithfully as grass. Naaseh V’nishma. Rebbe Nachman said: “If you could only be worthy to hear the song of the grass. Each blade sings out to God without any ulterior motive, not expecting any reward. It is most wonderful to hear their song and serve God in their midst.” Maybe that’s why we stick our feet together and shuckle when we daven…we look and feel like a blade of grass, swaying in the wind, passively basking in the presence of God. When you are davening, before the Amidah, sway a bit without praying. Imagine yourself a blade of grass in a massive field with countless other blades. Sway in whatever way feels natural. Temporarily accept God’s existence as completely real. It sounds hokey. It sounds flaky. But, oh the kavanah that follows.

  • As we all know, there is a prohibition of destroying things on which the Hebrew names of God appear. Typically, one would not write out those names so as to avoid any problem. The list of names included in that prohibition includes the tetragrammaton (yud + hey + vav + another hey), which is considered a personal name of God, Elohim, which is a more general term (like “God”), and others. When written out, in Hebrew and English, letters are often substituted to prevent pronunciation of these names. I don’t think that he prohibition against destroying the names, however, extends to transliterated versions. The term “god,” is an English non-proper noun, like “el” in Hebrew (which is amongst the forbidden ones to toss around in speech). Capitalizing it to “God” makes it a proper noun, but is not considered by Jews to be a true proper name of God. Hence, there is not really any halakhic issue with writing it out. However, as a sign of respect, many people with leave it incomplete. Since they know that the god they are referring to is “God,” they would prefer not to have the name written down and destroyed.

    It’s no wonder we just say HaShem (“the Name”).

  • “Now, the moment you try to do something wrong, you are punished, and the wrong is corrected. Free will? Uh-uh. We simply couldn’t function that way.”

    We did in the Torah. According to Tanakh, people sinned and people were punished almost as soon as the sin occured.

    “Then, we’d manage to convince ourselves that it was a hoax by the government or some prankish aliens on an intergalactic “punk’d” show, and we’d all go back to acting how we would choose to act.”

    And that’s where I think you’re wrong. It sounds good, but wrong. If everyone of my friends died in a fiery car crash after not going to shul, but I, and all of my shul going friends, lived, people would start gong to shul more…keeping kosher, etc.

    Now look, I’m a struggling Ortho Yid who wonders about these things. And I can’t help but entertain athiest thoughts like:

    Concepts like “free will” and/or the book of Job were created by Biblical scholars as apologetics…loop holes to protect themselves from folks who say: “Hey, I’m sinning my whole life and no consequence. Or…hey, that Moishe over there raped, robbed, etc., and lived to be 110…and enjoyed prison.

    From a psychological standpoint, these theologial loop holes make sense.

    Alas, I don’t fully believe, as Mufti might, that the Bible was written by man. But I still struggle with my doubt. It would be nice to Alli for a day.

  • Shtreimel,

    I think that you and I see eye to eye here. Imagine your horrible car crash scenario. Now, take it to the logical extrene, in which we find that everyone who fails to go shul dies in a car crash. Do you really feel that your decision to quickly grab the siddur and head to minyan is based on free will. “It’s shul or death” is not exactly a difficult decision.

    But, I also claimed that the feeling would pass. So, you fear for your life for a while and go to shul. Then, someone gets tired of it and decides the whole car crash thing was a coincidence. They stay home, and lo and behold, don’t die a fiery death. Suddenly, you all realize that it might have been a coincidence, and the shul attendence drops. So, God has a choice. Make the punishment instant and unquestionable and constant, thereby effectively destroying free will, or let us believe what we want to believe and sometimes make the wrong decisions.

    The Midrash does suggest that the epiphany at Sinai did affect our free will. After all, it relates that God held the mountain above our heads and threatened to drop it. What choice would we have had, seeing God manifest like that, but to say agree to the terms? Maybe the midrash is being metaphorical (of course, it is)…seeing God like that is like having a mountain held over your head–you lose your free will. When the mountain was gone, and the thunder and flames subsided, we Jews quickly returned to our quibbling and misbehaving.

    God didn’t see that and decide the lift the mountain back up over our heads. Instead, he let us mature to the point when we could say “Na’aseh v’Nishmah” of our own free will. You’ve done that, yourself. Kol ha’kavod! The fact that you struggle is, I believe, exactly what God wants (or maybe I just say that to validate my own theological struggles). When you struggle and question, it is clear that your avodah is motivated by love and not fear.

  • “did Moses lack free will because he got to see God face to face?”
    i had a shiur 2day it was abou the moshiach but we talked about free will aswell and he told us that the hollier a man is the less free will he actually has…so i guesse that answers it..anyway thats how well all be in time of the moshiach when we all clearly know god exists with no doubt and live and breath spirituality

    grandmuffti have u read books like “beyond a reasonable doubt”?

  • Staff?

    Unpaid friends of ck’s who post on here for fun.

    Anyhoo, that story has been out there forever and will continue to bubble up because too many people believe the story was staged. If you read the Atlantic article to which this article alludes, you can’t help but feel this sinking sensation that those who claim this scene was staged are fairly convincing in the case they make. There are numerous other flaws in the story including the impossible angle of the firing from Israeli positions and the incorrect angle of the bullet holes in the wall behind the boy’s head. There is a whole bunch of footage missing or that has never been exposed to the world, and that is part of the problem with this story. The documentary that was made by Schapira from Germany also calls into question whether the boy was killed by Israelis and comes to a conclusion that it’s impossible to know.

    All of this is irrelevant. Even if it turns out to be a lie, the media impact it generated around the world is so great that there is no way to regain all the goodwill Israel lost with this event. We have filmmakers winning film festival prizes for documentaries that lie about the conflict, artists winning awards and attention for art that flatters suicide bombers, and severe academic incidents (albeit, handled quietly most of the time) against Israel scholars. We are definitely in a defensive posture as far as the representation of Israel in the world at large.

    Not to worry, the ADL is supporting movies about 6 million paper clips.

  • That story about the paper clips is a real tearjerker. Anything that helps people “understand” the Holocaust. Especially in towns where no one ever met a Jew.

    This is a fascinating discussion. Free will, huh? God, absent of letters or spelled out? (See here: http://tinylink.com/?X0wqRdd8Dc ) Is “shul or death” a motivational marketing campaign for synagogues? These are the discussions that keep me coming back, even if, as a result of losing the JIB Awards, I retreat into a depressed, hermity isolation, I shall still visit Jewlicious as my sole contact with the outside world.

  • Everyone here is forgetting that even within halacha, there are a lot of opportunities for free will. Particularly if you think, as I do, that much of what we observe as halacha is actually a protective barrier against what is more clearly halacha. Presumably, we would have a greater sphere of freedom if we knew more precisely what halacha required. G-d’s direct action on earth would reveal whether things like mixing dairy and chicken, or turning on hot water during shabbat are actual violations of halacha or merely the protective laws to prevent us from violating narrower halachic requirements. Interestingly, it would turn Rabbinic Judaism into Karaite Judaism. Once G-d acts in such a way, interpretation would not be required. The law would be self evident.

  • Again, everytime I was at Aish and Ohr, and they threw around the “free will” concept, it always sounded like a slick campaign to prove how “free” religious people are visavis their practice (because the 1st challenge by a secular Jew to an Aish rabbi is: “Your lives are so restrained by law, you have no free will, everything you do is governed by something/body else”. And then they throw the “free will” around like: “You see, we’re actually more free than you secular folks”. Look, I’ve done both, and I can say, with full confidence, that secular living clearly feels more unrestrained. More meaningful? No. But I stand by my claim, that “free will” sounds like a theological excuse forr all those nasty things we do with very little consequence. Trust me, if Yids started getting acne, every Sunday, for now showing up to shul on Saturday, they’d start going. If the punishment was direct, consistent, etc., and rabbis preached it as sin, and it occured, you’d see folks filling the pews.

  • Esther, I’m sure it’s a fine movie, and chances are that I will be giving the ADL some funds as a result of their good activities, blah blah blah. My point is that we need these resources elsewhere. The ADL should be promoting films celebrating Jewish life, not commemorating Jewish death. There’s nothing wrong with the commemoration, per se, but it is not what being Jewish is about and yet for two generations we have let ourselves be defined by this.

    Please do not seal yourself off from the world. It’s always fun to visit your blog and, as ck will tell you, it’s no big deal if you get a few votes less than another site.

  • TM,

    I agree with you. Which is why jewlicious is important. Somehow, you’re able to pull together pop culture, Jewish issues, Israel advocacy…without sounding shmaltzy and old-country-ish. In general, whenever a Jew wants to appear funky and proud, they do so at the expense of Israel/Judaism. So keep up the good work, some of us are paying attention.

  • Shtreimel,

    Pardon me if I’m wrong, but you don’t seem to understand the philosophical/theological concept of free will. Free will does not mean individuality or an anarchist lack of laws. Free will means the ability to choose “a” or “b,” right or wrong. The fact that it is illegal to break the speed limit in no way affects your ability to do so. The fact that the Aish rabbis think that it is wrong to eat a cheeseburger doesn’t make them unable to. The whole thing about being more free for having the laws is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with free will. Knowing right and wrong, as religions claim to help you do, does not take away your ability to choose the wrong. As a secular person, you had no more ability to choose your path than you do now. On the other hand, having someone hold a mountain above your head and declare himself to be the creator and sustainer of existence…? That might take away your free will…at least for a little while.

  • No, I think I grasp the concept. But the way it is thrown around by some rabbis I’ve come into contact with is suspect i.e. God created free will. Why? Because if you didn’t have a choice to follow a mitzvah, it would be God choosing not yourself. Ok, I sorta get that. But God clearly wants us to follow certain laws or He wouldn’t have created such an elaborate punishment/reward system. So perhaps we’re not really talking about free will – and this could be my error, I confess. Perhaps we’re, or I am, talking about reward/punishment. And that’s what I have had trouble with for many, many years.

  • Reward/punishment is indeed a difficult (and related) issue. Rambam seems to suggest that the desire for reward or the avoidance of punishment is not the ideal motivation for performance of the mitzvot. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in the concept of divine justice. He just doesn’t see it as a good reason to choose to do avodah. That seems obvious enough–if you do it to get something, its not quite pure service. On the other hand, the reward of heaven or punishment of hell seems to be the primary religious motivator for many Christians.

    Nonetheless, my belief that God’s justice is tempered by his mercy makes me comfortable enough to feel that when I choose the wrong thing sometimes, I won’t be condemned. In a sense, it is the idea of divine mercy that gives me greater freedom.

  • uh oh whats up wuth the posts? i keep getting “sorry nothing seems to match your criteria” driving me crazy!

  • Never fear, The Shiksa is on the case! Or at least, I’ve alerted our server guy and he’s on the case. But he doesn’t have a funny nickname so I’m happy to take all the credit.

    ck, that’ll be my standard consultancy fee plus a 20% funny-name-bonus. Cheers.

  • Yikes, ck, muffti found that rather rude. Thanks to fineline for pointing out the main point that ck characteristically overlooked. Free will, if it is coherent at alll, is presumably a power you have to do anything you want. What you know and what you can do are obviously connected, but its not clear that the latter can constrain the former so much as enlarge it’s range. For example, knowing that there is a country called china can enlarge the options amongst which I can choose (i.e. maybe I can choose to talk about China, or go there, things I couldn’t choose if I didn’t know about.) It’s not clear how knowing stuff however can abrogate your free will. If the story is true, Moses knew there was a god and still hit the rock in defiance. That looks like an act of free will if there ever was one, and that occurred despite what was perhaps the most perfect knowledge of god any man has ever attained. Thus, I take it that God’s not manifesting himself in any obvious way to us may be due to very good reason, but not to curb our free will.

  • Oh yeah, Muffti remembers: the notion of olam habah is a mysterious and equally bandied made for intellectually lazy bastards people like ck who try to compensate for their lack of understanding by assuming that everything gets fixed up there. It is like the black box of the religion that you feel free to treat as a dumping ground because you are lazy and know that there is no real clear conception that you can appeal to. To (mis)quote you:

    This is all just silly nonsense and superstition. No amount of logic will change anyone’s mind!

    Sure, why would you let it when you can avoid any real thought?

  • ever notice how funny it is that self proclaimed atheists are so preoccupied with God and matters of theology?

  • Muffti! I am sooo sorry if I offended your delicate sensibilities. I did not mean to be rude, I was simply feigning hip irreverence. Forgive me mon ami.

    Vis-a-vis G*d’s not manifesting himself and how that relates to free will – you make a good and valid point, but you really can’t use biblical times as a model for current days. G*d clearly had an agenda then. I mean the people of Israel were led through the dessert by a pillar of fire, they witnessed the complete defeat of the Egyptian people and their Pharoah, they witnessed almost unimaginable miracles and yet they still worshipped the Golden Calf. What can I tell ya? People are often irrational. Perhaps G*d does not manifest himself to us for other reasons as well. I don’t know. I’m not a Rabbi and everything I say is conjecture.

    As for real thought Muffti, your rigorously logical approach is admirable in scope, depth and exhaustiveness, but say what you will – it’s just not enough. It does not answer all questions. Think about that for a bit bud.

    Oh and send me those pics….

  • One last note to Alli: the honey bee and the bamboo stalk don’t know what they’re missing. Nothing like a nap and a cheesecake to restore your faith in Divinity.

  • Muffti wasn’t offended; he was just a little disgusted. I don’t see why the model of the bible shouldn’t hold any different for now unless you think that jewish human nature has somehow radically changed (are people not still irrational?) The point was that people then, like now, can have free will whether or not they know god to exist. Anyhow, Muffti has no approach to speak of, but so far as I can tell, rigorous logic fits right in with a jewish approach, unless the talmud doesn’t count (those guys even invented inductive inference principle for interpreting texts.) Anyhow, it would be nice if you for once said just which questions you think aren’t answered and said exactly what does answer those questions. Appeals to a black box explanation like olam ha’ba don’t answer any questions whatsoever; they just appeal to things we don’t understand at all.

    The pics are on my camera and I don’t have anything to transfer them. I’ll sent them when I can. Maybe you’ll see them in olam ha’bah.

  • “Maybe you’ll see them in olam ha’bah.”

    Ok, now that was one of the funniest things I’ve read on a blog in a long time.

  • Some of the responses here are so eloquent. Thank you for the insights. I’d reply if I wasn’t at the Internet Cafe where they sell Meir Kahane books and charge by the minute.

    xox

  • Actually, Muffti isn’t sure that he didn’t miswrite: he thinks its really an interpretive (hermeneutic) inference principles. It’s not a principle of deductive logic, for instance, that if one case is an extreme case of another, then what holds of the first holds of the second vis a vis their ethical status (i.e. kal va chomer is a principle of inference that they developed: it is clearly related to principles like monotonicity (i.e. if no man is happy then man who is 5’10 is happy)). Inductive inference principles, by contrast, are ones that let you generalize from properties of individuals to general laws (i.e. everything so far falls if dropped, so we can generalize to a law that all things that are dropped will fall, so we can deduce that all future things that are dropped will fall.) I’m sure that Madonna could use them. For more info, see:
    here

  • Muffti gave a link! The basic idea is that the Rabbis wanted to interpret the torah, on the assumption that it was all both true and every word divinely intended. (We won’t reopen the documentary hypothesis argument again! We’ve been through that!) Anyhow, in order to help their research, they need principle of inference, or logical transitions they felt would take them from things they know to things they didn’t. Thus, for example, kal va chomer is a perfect instance: we take a case where we know that something of a certain type is wrong because God doesn’t like it (or whatever). Then we notice that somewhere else it says that God HATES something of a certain type. Then we reason as follows: The first thing was wrong coz God didnt’ like it. the second thing is hated by God. Therefore, the second thing is wrong. That is a principle of inference that is not any part of deductive logic, but is a principle of interepretation.

    Does that help?

  • Of course it does. And didn’t you enjoy rewriting that blurb in clear layman’s terms. 😉

    By the way, I’m a proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis. It ain’t a perfect theory but it sure makes a lot of sense in some ways.

  • Muffti, i like you dude, but you’re really beginning to sound like a pompous philosophy professor with something to prove….so i guess it’s a good head start for you.

  • He’s not coming off pompously at all. Heck, he even translated his post for me. I’ve got your back, Muffti.

  • Muffti thanks TM. Sorry, Laya, Muffti didn’t mean to sound all pompous and the last thing he would do is want to vote you off the island. I like you too even though you sound like a cross between a hippy stoner and a victim of OCD.

  • Why does the Muffti always refer to himself in third person? Could you post a dissertation that explains the logic behind this expression of ‘free will’, Muffti. 😉

  • this begs the eternal question…who IS the dude? Now please excuse me, i have to go wash my hands 17 times, or something.

  • Muffti wants to know: Jim_R, why do you always refer to yourself in the first person? 🙂

    Whoever the dude is, he’s on to you Laya. Kudos to him.

  • Laya, TM knows who The Dude is. One day I might reveal it to the world. In the meantime, however, The Dude owes me one.

  • Jim_R,
    He’s got us all beat, now he’s actually now talking in FOURTH person! Or maybe it’s signs of a multiple personality disorder?

  • Uh… the dude? Didja notice that handy search by ip address feature in the Word Press comments section? I’m just sayin’ is all ….

  • Muffti and Laya, Please hug and make up. If any of you vote yourself off the Jewlicious Island, I am seriously going to cry.

    While you’re at it, don’t forget to congratulate yourselves for that ‘Jewlicious’ showing at the Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards.

    R_E_S_P_E_C_T.

  • Muffti has nothing but love for Laya. C’mere and give the Muffti a hug, missy!

    As for the JIBA, as Ricky (of Trailer Park Boys) would say, ‘Awards are F*&#ED!’ and Bubbles would answer, ‘awards ARE f*&#ed!’.

Leave a Comment