Monday, December 10, 2012

"Man’s Plans; G-d’s Plans

VAYEISHEV excerpted from Unlocking the Torah Text by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin

Context: While G-d's providence is forever present in our lives, rarely is His silent guidance as evident as in the story of Yosef and his brothers. As Yosef himself maintains, their personal saga serves the higher purpose of effectuating G-d's overall plans of a divinely guided transition from the patriarchal era to the national era of Jewish history.

Questions: G-d's "behind the scenes" involvement, however, raises serious questions about the personal free will of the players in the story. The descent of the Jewish nation into Egypt was preordained generations earlier; how much choice, then, did Yosef and his brothers really have in the unfolding events? Were they simply acting out a predetermined script or can they be justifiably held accountable for their actions?

What does this narrative teach us about the delicate balance -- between G-d's foreknowledge of events, free will and predestination -- which defines our lives?

Approaches: The Jewish view of history, on a global level, mirrors the issues found in the story of Yosef and his brothers.

On the one hand, Jews certainly believe in a measure of preordination on a national level. Such a belief is, in fact, critical to our worldview. One of the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith emphatically states: "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Moshiach ... I anticipate every day that he will come."

Belief in the Moshiach is belief in a predetermined, inevitable end point to history. Rabbi Soloveitchik maintains that our introduction of the idea of Moshiach signalled a major revolution in the way man thought about his historical journey. The Jewish nation brought to the world the concept of a destiny-driven history. Where others saw history governed only by causality, with each era simply the product of what came before, we saw a march -- with rhyme, reason and a goal to the currents of history -- towards a specific destination, a predetermined, inevitable end point: the messianic era. Where others saw civilization only propelled by the past, we claimed to be pulled, as well, by the future.

On the other hand, our belief in the inevitability of the messianic era does not diminish our acceptance of the role and responsibility that individuals and communities bear in any given generation. While our nation's destination may be clear, the parameters of the journey towards that destination are not. Within the broad brushstrokes of national preordination we each freely choose the role we will play in our people's unfolding story.

That the Moshiach will arrive is clear. When he will arrive, however, how he will arrive, and, most importantly, who among us or among our children will be there to greet him upon his arrival -- all these variables are in our hands.

Much of our people's story remains unwritten. We are the authors of that portion of the story.We can now begin to understand the interplay between free will and predestination as it unfolds in the Yosef story. The descent of Avraham's progeny into a foreign land was predicted by G-d decades before it occurred, but the prophecy granted to the patriarch was general in scope. The place of exile was never mentioned. The mode by which Avraham's descendants would be exiled was never detailed nor was the exact quality of the servitude they would experience. Even the minimal details that were clearly preordained -- such as the duration of the servitude -- were also potentially flexible.

Our ancestors were destined to spend a period of time as strangers persecuted in a strange land. The story, however, did not have to play out exactly as it did. If sibling jealousy had not been the catalysts for our exile, perhaps the exile itself would have been less painful.We, like Yosef and his brothers, in each era, write our own stories, as we freely determine the roles we will play in the unfolding journey of our nation. The stories we author shape the quality of our days and affect the lives of countless generations to come.

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Additional notes:
I have mentioned before:  Hashem works His will around our will.  We have free will to decide our actions in this world.  Hashem knew every thought, word and action that we would have long before we even existed; and, He shaped history around our free will to insure that it came out to His will being fulfilled.  This is evident by how much imperfection exists in the world, our portion.  Hashem does not start wars -- man does.  Hashem does not cause killing and stealing -- man does.  But, what will result from our actions is measure for measure according to Hashem's will in affecting Tekun Ha'olam.  The coming of Geula and introduction of Moshiach is the final cleaning up of the world (all the mess we made -- so to speak) and bringing about the world of truth as it was meant to be.  We are just about there.  B"H

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