Reader: Hello, my name is Christopher. I was wondering if Jews believe in predestination. The Presbyterians, some Baptists, and other Christian divisions believe that G-d chooses some to be saved and others to be damned regardless of faith, repentance, etc. Do Jews believe this also? Where in the Old Testament are specific places that teach free will. Also, I was wondering what the Jewish interpretation of Proverbs 16:4 is.
Mesora: The Torah (Old Testament) states, (Deut. 30:19) “…and choose life”. Again in Deuteronomy, 24:16 we read, “Fathers are not killed on their sons, nor sons on their fathers, a man in his own sin shall be killed”. Accordingly, a person is the sole cause of his actions, and is therefore culpable for his actions. Moses would not offer the people to “choose life” if we had no choice. Our lives are not predestined, and this concept you mention as belonging to other religions, paints a picture of an unjust god, not the true, just G-d. But simple intelligence offers us the answer. We know that we can choose our actions, and that there is nothing except us – i.e., our free will - that makes our choices. G-d is not guiding my hand; I can do whatever it is I wish.
How many times are we warned by the Torah to do what is right? If we are not the cause of our actions, why does G-d instruct and command us? It must be that we alone are responsible for our actions. The entire justice system was built on the fact that man guides his own actions. “Reward and Punishment” is one of Judaism’s fundamentals; teaching that man reaps what he sows.
Proverbs 16:4 reads, “G-d has made everything for His own purpose, and also the wicked, for the day of evil.” Malbim explains that the recompense of the wicked also serves to glorify G-d. This makes sense, as their punishment validates G-d’s system of Reward and Punishment. This does not mean G-d forces man to sin, far be it. It means that the wicked – those who seem to have no place in G-d’s system – also serve a purpose designed by G-d. This ‘extra’ word, “also” (as in “even” the wicked…) amplifies man’s false assumption: the wicked are a category that do not have a place in G-d’s purpose. It sounds correct: how could those who oppose G-d, simultaneously serve G-d in any way? Good question. But it is this assumption that King Solomon addresses. He is underlining a false opinion, that there exists something, which contributes nothing to knowledge of G-d. However, when King Solomon wrote that “G-d has made everything for His own purpose” he means to say that all of G-d’s creations, including His various systems of government, have as their goal the educating of mankind in G-d’s truths, or “G-d’s purposes.” G-d created all we see, so we may come to knowledge of G-d, and a life of searching further. This is the understanding of “G-d has made everything for His own purpose.” “G-d’s purpose” means man’s life of approaching Him.