One of the topics that the majority of people find difficult to understand – is the topic of “Free Will.” Non-Jewish Astrologers always debated whether there is Free Will or not. If indeed there is, as most of them admit, how does one reconcile this with the fact that one’s Mazal or fate in which one is born – is the determining factor of what his destiny will be like, and not so much his Free Will?
The best explanation that the non-Jewish Astrologers can come up with is that the stars impel but do not compel. Although the majority of our rabbis who discuss this topic could accept this explanation, it is not satisfactory enough, for it does not address other pertinent questions that arise from the more central question: What exactly is Free Will and where do we exercise it?
Since this topic is very complex, I will only outline here the major points. Our sages teach us everything that is essential for us to know concerning this subject. In what I would call a precursory remark, they stated perhaps the most important rule: “All is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.”
The above says that whether it is one’s personal Mazal (fate) or whether it concerns all types of events that occur in the world, this is all determined and controlled by Gd, except for Man’s deeds as they affect the commandments or transgressions, that is, good deeds or bad deeds. In this area is where one has Free Will – where one chooses throughout his life what he wishes to be, righteous or wicked. It is also in this area where man has to contend with the constant struggle between the Evil Inclination who spurs him to do evil and the Good inclination who encourages him to do good.
There are a few additional specific areas where man is responsible for their outcome since he has to some extent the ability to determine their general direction. For example, his mental and physical health can be influenced by his attitude and outlook. But, in general, everything that relates to making a living, marriage, and children, have already been predestined according to the Mazal given to him by Gd prior to this birth and man does not determine their success or the lack of it. The subject of Astrology and its effect on man and how one can overcome its influence is a subject that requires special treatment and will be discussed separately.
There are some who ask if Gd has advance knowledge whether a person will be righteous or wicked doesn’t that limit the individual’s Free Will since he must now act according to how Gd knows he will act? Although many have deliberated on this question, and it would be fitting to give a supplementary elaboration on these issues, but according to all of the above there is no question at all here, as I will explain.
Gd indeed knows everything, even what one will eventually make of himself, but the power of decision in the area of good and evil is in the hands of man himself, without any external factor that will influence his decisions. In all other areas all is foreseen and predetermined, but in the area of good and evil nothing is predestined. And the fact that Gd knows the future does not in any way interfere with the choices man makes. This is so since the consequences of man’s Free Will are entirely his own, not predestined by any force, and did not exist in any form prior to him being born even though Gd was always aware of their future manifestation.
The Creator differentiated the human being from the animal by granting him Free Will. After man’s death he will be judged regarding which path he chose and adopted. As long as the soul is within us, we will do well to remember that we were not created like the wild beasts, but created and destined for an important assignment, as the Torah reveals to us know “for in the image of Gd He created him…”