April 12, 2024
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אמר רבי חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מ

צנים פחים

שנאמר צנים פחים בדרך עיקש שומר נפשו ירחק מהם (בבא מציעא דף קז:)

אמר רבי חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מ

יראת שמים

שנאמר ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה (ברכות דף לג🙂 


Chutz: The Exceptions to the Rule

We have seen that Rebbi Chanina taught that man does not bruise a finger in this world without it being decreed from above. The same Rebbi Chanina sees us responsible for our physical and spiritual health. Though Hashem decides our makeup and experiences, we determine aspects of our physical health and personal development.

Rebbi Chanina expresses this idea by identifying two areas that are “in our hands” —common colds and yirat shamayim, fear of Heaven. The introduction to this piece presents Rebbi Chanina’s two statements. Each begins by asserting that “hakol — everything” is in heaven’s hands (bi’dei shamayim), then presents an exception (chutz), and concludes by quoting a pasuk as a proof text (m’yirat shamayim).

Taken together, Rebbe Chanina’s two statements teach us the scope of our responsibility for ourselves.


Our Physical Health

In Masechet Bava Metzia (107b), Rebbi Chanina links common colds to our behavior. Rashi explains that Hashem expects people to care for their health. If we do not, our negligence causes us to become sick, even if Hashem did not intend it. Though Hashem also affects our physical health and safety, they are in our hands as well.


Our Spiritual Development

Our spiritual development is even more in our hands. As opposed to our physical health, which Hashem also impacts, we are the sole determinants of our spiritual growth. Hashem helps us realize our spiritual goals (Yoma 38b), but we decide what to seek.

In Masechet Berachot, Rebbi Chanina declares that everything is “bi’dei shamayim, in the hands of heaven” except “yirat shamayim, fear of heaven itself.” Heaven controls everything but our relationship with it.

The Rambam (Responsa 436) explains that Rebbi Chanina uses the term “yirat shamayim” to refer to all aspects of spiritual and personal development. Though the heavens set our physical and emotional composition, we choose and determine our perspective, goals and direction.


Free Choice

The earliest indication of man’s free choice is Hashem’s words to Kayin in Sefer Bereishit: “If you will be good, you will be uplifted; if not, sin crouches at the door (Bereishit 4:7).” In other words, it’s in your hands; it’s your choice.

In Sefer Devarim, Hashem and Moshe extend our ability to choose to all mitzvot. They offer the Jewish people the choice between observance and non-observance (Devarim 30:15, 19). We have the right and the responsibility to choose.

The Seforno and Meshech Chochmah see free choice as inherent to our creation in Hashem’s image. Just as Hashem makes unhindered choices, so we humans live as Godly creatures with the same ability.

The Rambam describes belief in free choice as a basic Torah belief (an “ikkar gadol” and “amud haTorah v’ha’mitzvah”). He explains that the Torah’s need to encourage us to make the right choices assumes that we are free to do so. Without this freedom, our “decisions” would be meaningless and unworthy of reward or punishment.

Pirkei Avot uses two words to summarize our free choice: “Ha’reshut netunah (Avot 3:15).” Though the mishnah begins by asserting that “ha’kol tzafui, Hashem sees all future events,” Hashem gives us control over ourselves. The Rambam explains that despite Hashem seeing the future, He gives us the choice to decide for ourselves. He may know what we will ultimately choose, but the choice is entirely ours to make.

Our free choice includes not just matters of personal growth but also all decisions about how to live our lives. Though Hashem puts ideas in our minds, we decide which ones to act upon. This is why Dovid HaMelech asked his son Shlomo to punish Shimi for cursing Dovid (Melachim I 2:8–9). Though Dovid tolerated Shimi’s crime because he attributed it to Hashem (Shmuel II 16:10–12), he asked Shlomo to avenge him because, ultimately, it was Shimi’s decision to curse.


Complete Control

The word the Mishna uses to describe this choice—reshut—literally means “domain” or “control.” The implication is that we are given not only the ability to decide, but also control over the outcome.

The Rambam begins his discussion about free choice by emphasizing this point. Building off the mishnah, the Rambam asserts, “Ha’reshut netunah l’chol adam (Teshuva 5:1).” Each person has the ability to become a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu or a rasha like Yeravam, a wise man or a fool, and sensitive or insensitive. Though we are created with fixed genetic natures and nurtured by our cultural milieu, good choices and hard work can help us achieve whatever we aim for. Even one who starts learning at age 40 can become Rebbe Akiva.

This belief makes our decisions even more significant. Our choices are not only ours to make; they also determine who we become. They are not only something Hashem holds us responsible for. They also determine what we amount to.

May our appreciation of the significance of our decisions inspire us to take them seriously.

Rav Reuven Taragin is the dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the educational director of World Mizrachi.

 *Written by Joshua Pomerantz

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