Why Fault Man?

Question: It is obvious that G-d knows the future, and if that is so, are we not at a decided disadvantage since our choice is very limited? How can man be faulted for any missteps?

Zvi Kirschner
(via e-mail)

Answer: We find ourselves after the Days of Awe, encompassing Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when man is judged for his misdeeds and consequently prays and seeks Divine forgiveness. Your question goes to the heart of this entire process. The Gemara (Niddah 16b) states in the name of R. Hanina, “All is in the hands of Heaven except for yir’at Shamayim – fear of Heaven,” as the verse states (Deuteronomy 10:12), “Ve’ata Yisrael mah Hashem Elokecha sho’el me’immach ki im le’yir’ah et Hashem Elokecha… – Now, O Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you but to fear the L-rd, your G-d…”

Tosafot (ad. loc.s.v. “Hakol biy’dei Shamayim”) ask why it is stated in Ketubbot 30a that “all is in Heaven’s hands with the exception of tzinim u’pachim – cold and heat – a contradiction to our Gemara. Tosafot answer that our Gemara’s concern is about man’s behavior and characteristics, while there (Ketubbot) the concern is man’s illnesses and tribulations. Though they are decreed by Heaven, through due diligence one may avert them.

You may be referring to the verse in Parashat Bereishit (Genesis 6:5), “Va’yar Hashem ki rabbah ra’at ha’adam ba’aretz vechol yetzer machshevet libbo rak ra kol hayom – G-d saw that the wickedness of man on Earth was great that his thoughts were always evil.” From the verse that follows, “Va’yinnachem Hashem ki asah et ha’adam – G-d regretted having created man,” we see that G-d regrets having created man because of the fact “that his thoughts were always evil.”

While such was the pervasive behavior at that time and place, what about the future generations? Perhaps their behavior would have, or could have, been better. Thus we clearly see that Hashem looked into the future and saw this behavior continuing, and therefore He regretted having created man.

If such is the case, as you ask, are we to be faulted for our sins?

In the Talmud (Hullin 7b) we find a statement in the same spirit in the name of R. Hanina, namely, “No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in Heaven, as it is stated (Psalms 37:23), ‘Me’Hashem mitz’adei gever konanu – The steps of man are ordered by the L-rd’; and (Proverbs 20:24), ‘Me’Hashem mitz’adei gaver, ve’adam mah yavin darko – Man’s steps are from [determined by] the L-rd, and how can a man understand his own way’?” Thus it is clear that everything in man’s destiny is beyond his control.

Yet we find a Gemara (Berachot 33b) where R. Hanina modifies this statement with yet another pronouncement, “Hakol biy’dei Shamayim chutz mi’yir’at Shamayim – All is in the hands of Heaven [G-d] except for fear of Heaven [G-d].”

Rashi s.v. “Hakol biy’dei Shamayim” (ad loc.) states in very clear terms that all that befalls an individual (as far as human characteristics and qualities are concerned), whether he be tall or short, poor or wealthy, wise or foolish, fair or dark, is in the hands of the Almighty. But to be righteous – a tzaddik, or wicked – a rasha is not a heavenly decision; this choice was given to man. Two paths are set before him and he should opt for [the path of] fear of Heaven.

The Gemara quotes the source from which the statement regarding “fear of Heaven” is derived. It is the verse (Deuteronomy 10:12) quoted at the outset, “Ve’ata Yisrael, mah Hashem Elokecha sho’el me’immach ki im le’yir’ah et Hashem Elokecha – And now, O Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you but to fear the L-rd your G-d.”

The source of Rashi’s statement is to be found in Niddah (16b), which deals with a dispute between R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish regarding verses concerning marital relations. Resh Lakish rejects R. Yochanan’s use of the verse (Job 3:2) where Job laments his troubled existence, “Yovad yom ivaleid bo, ve’halailah amar horah gaver – Lost be the day when I was born, and the night which said, There is a man child conceived,” to prove that one may not engage in marital relations by day. [This translation follows the interpretation of Rashi ad loc.; whereas Resh Lakish would probably adhere to Ibn Ezra’s rendering, “May the night when I was born be obliterated” if he happened to be born at night.] Resh Lakish derives this prohibition from a verse (Proverbs 19:16), “Bozeh derachav yamut – One who deviates in his ways will die.”

The Gemara asks: What does Resh Lakish derive from R. Yochanan’s reading of the above quoted verse? It is used in the exegesis of R. Hanina bar Papa’s statement (Niddah 16b), “The angel in charge of overseeing conception is called Lailah – Night, and he takes the tiny embryonic droplet before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, ‘Sovereign of the Universe, what will be the fate of this droplet? Shall it produce a strong person or a weak one, a wise one or a foolish one, a rich one or a poor one?’ But he does not ask whether the person will be wicked or righteous, in accordance with the statement of R. Hanina, ‘All is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven.’” The Gemara then quotes the verse (Deuteronomy 10:12), “And now, O Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d require of you but to fear the L-rd your G-d.” Rashi comments (Niddah loc. cit.) that this is the only thing G-d asks of us since it is in our hand, while everything else is pre-ordained.

Yet, Rambam opines that understanding and intelligence, too, are somewhat in man’s control, for he states (Hilchot Teshuvah 5:2), “It should not cross your mind, in the manner of the fools of the nations of the world and the boors in our own midst, that G-d has decreed from the moment of birth whether a person is to be righteous or wicked. Each person is endowed with the capability to be righteous in the manner of Moshe Rabbenu or wicked like Jeroboam b. Nevat [the first king of the seceded Israelite Kingdom], to be a wise individual or a fool.”

Hagahot Maimoniyot and Kesef Mishneh (ad loc.) note that this is in direct contradiction to the Talmudic statement that only fear of Heaven is in our own hand, but explain it to mean that this only applies to wisdom or foolishness in regard to yir’at Shamayim. This would be supported by Resh Lakish’s statement (Sotah 3a), “A man does not commit a transgression except when a ruach shetut – a spirit of folly enters into him.”

Thus we can explain, following the thinking process of Rambam that everyone has the ability to strive via his behavior for ruach chochma – a spirit of wisdom to enable him to perform the commandments of G-d, rather than to succumb to a spirit of folly. This moral choice is indeed ours to make.

With this we possibly can explain the verse, “Va’yinnachem Hashem ki asah et ha’adam – G-d regretted having created man” as referring only to the case when man sins; but when man fulfills G-d’s commandments, G-d’s finds great favor in His creation. (See Rashi s.v. “Vayit’atzev el libbo” in Bereishit 6:6, who quotes similarly from a Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 27:7).


Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.