Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reward and Punishment - Is it part of nature or a result of God's interference?

Nature in general is deterministic. If one had enough information one should theoretically be able to predict how things will turn out. This is so with physical phenomena starting with the movement of the heavens and all the way to weather patterns and other such natural occurrences. The animal kingdom other than man is also theoretically predictable. Animals act out of need and feed off each other or the vegetation that surrounds them. They do not act out of free choice as man does. When it comes to man though, he has free choice. He can act out of necessity or capriciously for reasons other than need. Predicting how he will act is much more complicated. Furthermore because there are so many variables about man’s choices, the outcome or result from his actions will vary infinitely. Those results are impossible to predict accurately. One can approximate but to know with certitude to the smallest detail is something known only by God. That is the meaning of Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:2

ושיקול זה אינו לפי מניין הזכייות והעוונות, אלא לפי גודלן: יש זכות שהיא כנגד כמה עוונות, שנאמר "יען נמצא בו דבר טוב" (מלכים א יד,יג);
ויש עוון שהוא כנגד כמה זכייות, שנאמר "וחוטא אחד, יאבד טובה הרבה" (קוהלת ט,יח).
ואין שוקלין אלא בדעתו של אל דעות, והוא היודע היאך עורכין הזכייות כנגד העוונות

This measuring system does not work on a one-for-one basis, as there are some merits which outweigh many sins, as it is written, "...because of him some good thing is found". On the other hand, there are some sins which outweigh many merits, as it is written, "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good". Only God knows how to evaluate sins and merits in this respect. (Translation courtesy of Jonathan Baker's site http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/rambam.html )

In other words the consequences of man’s actions are impossible to foresee especially when they involve fellow man. The proof text that Rambam brings to demonstrate that a good deed that seems small can have great impact refers to the king Yerovam II and according to the Rabbis he removed guards that his predecessors had placed to prevent Jews from going to Yerushalaim on the Shalosh Regalim(Moed Katan 28:2). This act had such an impact on others that it warranted the respect he received when all the people mourned the death of his son. No one except God could foretell at the time Yerovam acted how great the impact would be.

The fact that the consequences of man’s actions are not foreseeable does not prevent us from seeing them as deterministic too. We are just unable to foresee the consequences but theoretically, in retrospect, whatever happened had to happen. Someone with a greater capacity then us would have predicted it. Reward and punishment is therefore a natural phenomenon. HKBH created the world and gave man freedom of choice. His choices result in consequences that could be good or bad. Man has to learn how to figure out what the consequence will be and act accordingly. Rambam in MN 2:48 thus argues:

According to the hypothesis and theory accepted, it is God that gave will to dumb animals, freewill to the human being, and natural properties to everything; chance being but an excess of what is natural, as has been explained and are mostly the result of the combined action of nature, desire, and freewill [the components of what we call chance are the combined actions of these three - DG] : it can consequently be said of everything which is produced by any of these causes, that God commanded that it should be made, or said that it should be so.”

When we say things are the result of God’s will we mean that He created and set rules that brought about these things.

I will give you instances, and they will guide you in the interpretation of passages which I do not mention. As regards phenomena produced regularly by natural causes, such as the melting of the snow when the atmosphere becomes warm, the roaring of the sea when a storm rages [I quote the following passages]," He sends his word and melts them" (Ps. cxlvii. 18):" And he said, and a storm-wind arose, and lifted up its waves" (ibid. cvii. 25) In reference to the rain we read:" I will command the clouds that they shall not rain," etc. (Isa. v. 6). Events caused by man's freewill, such as war, the dominion of one nation over another, the attempt of one person to hurt another, or to insult him, [are ascribed to God, as] e.g., in reference to the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar and his host," I have commended my holy ones, also I have called my heroes for my anger (Isa. xiii. 3): and" I will send him against a hypocrite nation" (ibid. x. 6) in reference to Shimei, son of Gera," For God said to him, Curse David" (2 Sam. xvi. 10): in reference to the deliverance of Joseph, the righteous, from prison," He sent an angel and loosed him" (Ps. cv. 20): in reference to the victory of the Persians over the Chaldees," I will send to Babylon scatterers, and they shall scatter it" (Jer. li. 2): in reference to the providing of food to Eliah," I have commanded there a woman, a widow, to maintain thee" (I Kings xvii. 9): and Joseph, the righteous, says:" Not ye have sent me hither," etc. (Gen. xlv. 8).

Chag Sameach.

9 comments:

  1. <When it comes to man though, he has free choice. He can act out of necessity or capriciously for reasons other than need.

    That is your mistake. Think about it.

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  2. JF, That is criptic. I do think about it all the time and it is a 100% true.

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  3. Jewishskeptic10/09/2006 5:31 AM

    David,I think one has to differentiate between *choose*(b'chirah) & *will*(ratson).
    I believe in *b'chirah chofshit*,but not in *ratson chofshi*.
    Sure,at any moment there are almost infinite choices from which I can pick-in this sense there is of course free choice.However,why I decided,from all those choices,to pick on a specific one depends on my will.& no one can choose their will.
    One's will stems from his personality,which we are told is has already been formed by age 3.
    It stems from his genes,environment,& to causes maybe going back ad infinitum.
    Think about it,there is no way how one can explain why he prefers,e.g.blonds over brunettes,classical music over metal music,or for that matter why one studies a blatt gemoro with a Maharam Shif than reading an Agatha Christie book.It all goes back to causes in which he had no part.
    I think most scientist,neurologists,brain specialists etc agree with that.

    You coud of course bring in the concept of a *soul*,but then 'hadra kushya l'duchtei',it woudn't solve anything.you could still ask on what basis did soul decide on one thing rather than the other,etc.

    Of course in practical terms we have no alternative but live our lives AS IF there was free will,otherwise,society would cease to exist & of course,we coudn't say 'thank you for passing the mustard'...
    But for theology it's an insurmountable problem.
    The above is called soft determinism & held by Hume & others.

    IIRC,I once wrote you in a comment about it,& added that amongst Jewish philosopers R.Chisdai Crescas held that view,or close to it.A blogger at that time,I think called,Some Guy,commented that there was a chasidic Rabbi(I don't remember the name)who also held this view.

    Moadim L'simchah

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  4. JS, Moadim Lesimcha to you too.

    Ra'avad in his comment to rambam's Yediah Bechirah connondrum in Hilchot Teshuva already states a similar idea. He calls it "Mazal" but it basically is the same thing you talk about. Rambam addresses it too and some argue that he weakened his position from the time he wrote his Pirush Hamishna, wehere he was a purist on Bechirah to the rtime he wrote the Moreh where he concedes that personality has impact. Maybe I am naive but I still tend to believe that Bechirah is completely Chofshit and, though "Ratzon" is not so free it is possible to overcome it and one has to work towards it.

    Where I have a real existential problem and that was the underlying theme of my post that I want to deal with, is consequences. Any act we do has consequences which are difficult to predict especially when others are involved. Throwing their reaction into the mix makes it impossible to predict the outcome of our act. How then can we act intelligently? How do we chose to do right or wrong? When do we invoke 'Eit La'asot"? I see paralysis. The idea that some suggest is just do and have bitachon does not satisfy me at all. I have been thinking about it a lot lately and I realize that it is Rambam's underlying issue in Hashgacha. He sets schar veonesh in Hanhagah rather then Hashgacha, thus sees it as natural. Hashgacha is another thing where the Avot and Moshe seem to be the only ones that were able to acquire it. As I sort this out I will be writing about it. Interestingly in this matter Ramban agrees with Rambam. So right now I have a headache. I am planning an article on this issue for Hakirah - if I ever figure it out.

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  5. Jewishskeptic10/09/2006 6:31 AM

    BTW,That's a different problem than the conundrum of God's foreknowlege & human free will.
    I know the Rambam writes somewhere that man has the ability to change himself & do good.Otherwise,he asks how could a JUST GOD punish him if he had no choice in doing what he did! A gute kashye! Of course, he never entertained the idea that maybe the concept of a just God is a figment of man's imagination.

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  6. Jewishskeptic10/09/2006 6:35 AM

    The above was written before I just saw yours & havn't had a chance to read it.

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  7. >Of course, he never entertained the idea that maybe the concept of a just God is a figment of man's imagination.

    Sure he did he just rejected it. :-)

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  8. JS,

    See the first essay in Rav Charlop's Mei Marom - Lechem Abirim which discusses the relationship between lower will (bechira) and higher will (ratzon) and the link of the final geula to man's ability to trully express higher will in the same way as he expresses the lower will.

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  9. "This act had such an impact on others that it warranted the respect he received when all the people mourned the death of his son. No one except God could foretell at the time Yerovam acted how great the impact would be."

    Come - you have to demonstrate that the rambam's zchuyos and avonos are natural consequences of the person's actions -

    "Reward and punishment is therefore a natural phenomenon. HKBH created the world and gave man freedom of choice. His choices result in consequences that could be good or bad. Man has to learn how to figure out what the consequence will be and act accordingly."

    Ok, this and previous posts all seem to go with your view of hashgacha (that it is not God acting on man's behalf, but all man-centered). I think this is something that needs demonstrating
    Tafkaa

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