Wednesday, December 13, 2006

בחירה חפשית: Can I kill an innocent person?

Imagine 2 people Reuven and Shimon. Last Rosh Hashana Shimon was granted life for the year. Now Reuven and Shimon get into an argument and Reuven wants to kill Shimon. Can he kill him? On one hand we have the idea of בחירה חפשית on the other the idea of hashgocha pratis. In this week's parsha (וישב) a number of mefarshim address this question.

When the brothers are planning on killing Yosef, Reuven saves him by suggesting throwing him into the pit. The mefarshim ask what did Reuven accomplish, the pit was very dangerous (full of snakes, etc.), even life threatening. The אור החיים and the אלשיך both answer as follows. A person has בחירה חפשית and therefore the brothers could kill Yosef even if he was not supposed to die. However, animals since they have no בחירה חפשית cannot kill someone if he is not supposed to die. In other words, בחירה חפשית trumps hashgocha pratis. The Netziv gives this answer as well, however he qualifies it by saying that this only applies to someone who is not a צדיק גמור, but a צדיק גמור cannot be harmed even through בחירה חפשית.

The truth is that this should not be surprising. Most (if not all) the Rishonim limit Hashgacha Pratis. The Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 169, writes:

There are sects among mankind who maintain that Divine providence controls all the matters of this world… that when a leaf falls from a tree, He decreed that it would fall…. This approach is far-removed from the intellect.

Both the Rambam and the Ramban based hashgacha pratis on a person's closeness to hashem.

Meshech Chochma( Shemos 13:9)writes:

Divine Providence is manifest for each Jew according to his spiritual level as the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (3:18): Divine Providence is not equal for everyone but rather is proportional to their spiritual level. Consequently the Divine Providence for the prophets is extremely powerful each according to their level of prophecy. The Divine Providence for the pious and saintly is according to their level of perfection. In contrast the fools and the rebels lacking spirituality are in essence in the same category as animals... This concept that Divine Providence is proportional to spiritual level is one of foundations of Judaism...

Today, this idea (that the Chinuch explicitly rejects) of hashgacha pratis on everything has taken hold. There is no question that it is a very calming thought. You don't have to worry about chance occurrences affecting you, everything is directly from Hashem. However, this was not the view of the overwhelming majority of teh Rishonim.


MP said...

Could you please tell me where the Netziv speaks about this issue

bluke said...

I believe is it is Breishis 37:15 in the Harchev Davar. It is where reuven suggests throwing Yosef into the pit.

MP said...

I couldn´t find it

bluke said...

It's in the הרחב דבר there