Rabbi Raphael Katz
Former Rosh Kollel in Johannesburg
After having warned Bnei Yisrael against an attitude of self righteousness, (by reminding them of the sin of the golden calf) Moshe turns to the people and says – ” And now, Israel what does Hashem your G-d ask of you but to fear Hashem…..”[Devarim chapter 11; verse 12.] Rashi explains that even now despite Israel’s failure and sin of the golden calf, Hashem doesn’t have “great demands” on Bnei Yisrael but that they fear Him.
Rashi quotes a second explanation from Massechet Berachot 33b, that the only thing that Hashem can ask from man is “but that He be feared.” , for all is in G – d’s hands excepting for the “fear of Heaven” i.e. All that befalls man is predestined excepting Man’s will to follow Hashem or not.
There are various approaches amongst the commentators as how to balance the tension between “All is in the hands of Heaven” – Predestination and “except the Fear of Heaven” – man’s free will. Some say that man’s physical and social characteristics, e.g. his appearance and the family he is born into, is all in the “Hands of Heaven” whilst any spiritual endeavor falls under the domain of man’s free will.
Others, [Mekor Baruch], place even the performance of mitzvot under the rubric of “Hands of Heaven” and define “fear of Heaven” in a very narrow, almost literal sense i.e. the will and attitude of man to submit to Hashem’s authority. For example,putting up a mezuza falls under the domain of Heaven, for the circumstances that-1) one can afford to buy a house and 2) is in a country which exercises freedom of religion, thus enabling affixing a mezuza – ultimately were directed by Divine providence. What was not determined by Hashem was, to what extent did one’s inner-will want to perform the mitzva of mezuza. Conversely, had the person been in a situation that he could not affix a mezuza, would his reaction been one of calm resignation or distress at having lost the opportunity of fulfilling a mitzvah.
The above definition of “fear of Heaven” enables one to understand various difficulties regarding the matter of Free will.
Massechet Sotah 9b states ” Samson rebelled with his eyes as it says ‘ And Samson said to his father – take her (the Philistine woman) for me, for she is befitting in my eyes’, therefore his eyes were put out.” The talmud finds this statement difficult, for the next verse [Judges ch’ 14; verse 4] states “His parents did not know that this was from G-d, for He sought a pretext against the Philistines.” If Samson’s marrying a Philistine woman was a “set up” planned by Hashem, why is Samson held responsible for “following his eyes”? The Talmud explains that Samson followed his eyes because he desired to “follow his eyes” and not because he wanted to fulfill a plan of Hashem and it is regarding his inner will that Hashem found him wanting. [Usually, Hashem judges a person by his actions, but this is when the actions are in themselves good; here the action in itself was bad (marrying a Philistine woman) but it could have been “redeemed” if it was done “leshem Shamayim- for the sake of Heaven”. Now that Samson didn’t marry entirely for Hashem’s sake but also for his personal benefit, – the action remained more negative than positive.]. If a person acts or doesn’t act do due to exterior duress, but without the exterior duress he would have reacted in the same way – then his action/inaction is considered as expressing his true will and he cannot excuse himself with an argument that “this was beyond my control.” Rav Elchanan Wasserman ztz’l applied the above principle to explain the contradiction of Hashem’s knowledge and man’s free will. Granted – Hashem’s Knowledge does affect the circumstances of one’s life, but Hashem judges one on what his inner will is and what would a person’s reaction be, if the situation would be different.This is the real test of Yirat Shamayim – Fear of Heaven.