Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A recent post by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner reminded me of a great story:

There was a young student who one day began contemplating the conundrum of Divine Foreknowledge versus Free Will. The more he thought about it. the more distressed he became - after all, how was it possible that he could have any choice at all, if God supposedly knows everything that will happen, as a matter of fact, makes it happen?

Unable to wrap his head around this ages-old paradox, he began slipping in his faith in an omniscient God. "If we have free will," he reasoned, "then God must not really know what our thoughts are. But if that's the case, then can God really be all that powerful?" His friends and relatives saw how this preoccupation was affecting the youth, and so they suggested that he go see Reb Pinchas of Koretz, the chasidic master, and pose the question to him: Does God know what Man thinks?

After a long trip, the young man - not one prone to visiting those of the chasidic persuasion - reached Reb Pinchas' home. When he entered the study Reb Pinchas was learning Torah, and he looked up at the student with his penetrating gaze. "Reb Yid!" exclaimed Reb Pinchas, "if I can tell what you're thinking, wouldn't you agree that the Holy One, Blessed Is He can obviously do the same?"

1 comment:

Micha Berger said...

I don't understand the answer. The question is based on the fact that causality runs from past to future. (Barring some weird Quantum Mechanical theories, but then, you're bigger than quantum-scale.) Therefore, our mind boggles at the idea that Hashem can know now what I will think or decide. It would seem to imply that all the causes of my future thoughts are in place, or that Hashem's knowledge "forces" a given decision on my part. The

Reb Pinchas's answer doesn't touch this point, since he could have read the chassid's thoughts any time after they were formed.

The Or Sameiach's answer (in an essay titled "HaKol Tzafui veHareshus Nesunah" found in Hil' Teshuvah) boils down to questioning that assumption of direction of causality. As R' Meir Simchah haKohein puts it, since Hashem is outside the flow of time, why would His knowledge of the future constrain us any more than His knowledge of the past?

I like the following riff on that idea... Once you focus on the fact that Hashem is outside the flow of time, you are forced to conclude that Hashem doesn't know now what I will decide in the future! Hashem's knowledge can't be pinned down to a specific point in time, to a "now". Hashem simply knows, unchangingly. My access to Him has a now and a future, but the HQBH Himself does not.