"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Friday, January 15, 2010

FNQ Parshat Hashavua - 5 Questions and a thought

Every week B'H I will be posting 5 questions and a thought.  The questions will be thought provoking and will never have simple answers.  Discuss over Shabbos and tell me what you come up with. Good Shabbos

1.  What does it mean to lose free will?
2.  Does one who lose it lose it completely or only with regards to certain decisions (i.e. Maybe Pharoah only lost free will about letting the Jews go but he still could choose what to have for breakfast?)
3.  There is a verse in Mishlei (21:1 see Malbim there) which says that kings never have free will. So what is    
the chiddush that Pharoah lost his?
4.  Can you temporarily lose free will or only as a permanent punishment? Can you get it back?
5.  Is free will an absolute? Can different people have different degrees of free will? (If there are different degrees of free will, how do I attain a greater degree?)

Parshat va'era describes the first 7 plagues and the ensuing removal of Pharoah's free will (a good mnemonic: ו and א of וארא equals 7, בא in parshat Bo equals 3.).   Free will or bechira chofshit is a topic which presents some of the most profound questions ever asked. In Hilchot Teshuva 5:5 the Rambam mentions the most powerful question on this topic: If G-d is all knowing and therefore knows what we will become and everything we will do, how is it that we are at the same time choosing our own actions and determining our own fate? In reviewing this halacha, I was struck by the fact that Rambam poses this question and yet strangely does not give an answer.  The Raavad on that halacha takes Rambam to task for this. He even goes as far as to say that the Rambam veered from the path of the wise by asking a question without answering it.

While there is certainly a philosophical argument at the core of their debate perhaps Rambam and Raavad differ as to the intrinsic value of a question, as well.  Perhaps, the Rambam says when asking a question, one is halfway towards arriving at the answer. In other words, even the question on its own has intrinsic value. The Raavad, on the other hand, seems to value the question only as a means to an answer, in which case a question with no answer has little, if any, value.  Upon further thinking I considered that it is possible that even the Raavad may agree with the intrinsic value of the question but only for one who asks the question. He may however, deny the value of forcing questions with no answers onto people who didn't ask the question in the first place.

The Rambam believes that our obligation in life is to seek out knowledge, to struggle with the reality of G-d's world and understand (to the best of our ability) Torah, life and G-d,Himself. In this vein, we say to he who has yet to ask the question – wake up, use your incredible gift of a brain and begin to ponder the wonders of existence. What do you think? 

Shabbat Shalom

Binyamin – Always looking for a good question.           


  1. Mazal Tov. This is truly wonderful and special. We hope that it creates wonderful and thought provoking dialogue.
    My question: Do you need to live in Eretz Yisrael at this time to be a true and complete Torah observer?
    Love you, best of luck Aba and Ima

  2. Very interesting. Though part of me feels intellectually dishonest saying this, I really have to say that I resonate with the shitah you have ascribed to the Raaved. While I personally like dealing with tough questions, if someone doesn't, I can't say that it is a chiyuv for them. While it may bring you and me closer to Hashem and the emes, it may have the exact opposite effect on someone how isn't ready or interested in dealing with these questions. It is much more important, in my humble opinion, for someone to remain frum and if the only way that will happen for them is to not be confronted with questions that aren't already bothering them, then I just don't see the necessity to force these questions upon them. As this blog develops I look forward to seeing if my opinion will be shifted. On a personal note, I really look forward to watching this blog develop and thinking about issues with an intellectually honest community.

  3. While I can understand what a86frieberg is saying about not forcing questions on people who aren't bothered by questions, I wonder if this approach can lead to a greater issue of complacency. Meaning, granted that for that individual the issues might not tax him, but what about when he is asked by someone else and can't provide a sufficient answer? What about when his children ask him those questions and his only response is that those questions never bothered him? Don't we as a people have the responsibility of "dah mah l'hashiv" not just to someone who denies the faith, but also to someone who is within the faith but needs strengthening in their understanding of the questions that so heavily can contradict modern sensibilities or personal discomforts. Sometimes I think the approach that is taken in some worlds is "keep things simple" because of exactly the title of this blog... fearing questions. When we fear being able to deal with the answers I question whether we are really serving God with Emunah Shelaimah. Or perhaps we are too complacent with the responses we received in 1st and 2nd grades?
    Interesting topics to think about, looking forward to reading more on the blog.