Perhaps the greatest philosophical dilemma a believing Jew struggles with
is knowing where his or her own input ends and G-d's begins. In other
words, where does what we do actually dovetail with what G-d does through
us? For if we have free will as we're taught we do, and if G-d is
nonetheless All Powerful and All Knowing, and He compels us to do this or
that -- then where do our efforts and His begin and end?
We delved into this before (in 3:8) but we'll discuss it again here since
it touches on our struggles with the yetzer harah.
After all, as we've found, the yetzer harah's main objective is to draw us
away from growth and spiritual excellence, which calls for a lot of
personal effort. So if it could convince us that nothing that we do
matters in the end since G-d is behind it all anyway, that would seem to be
a crafty way for it to get us to slacken off and to "let the chips fall
where they may". But as we'll see, the yetzer harah is very duplicitious
when it comes to all this; so we'd do well to lay out its arguments then
offer Ibn Pakudah's responses.
If the yetzer harah "sees you being negligent in your Divine service and
inclining toward sin" Ibn Pakudah points out, "it will try to defend the
case for Divine compulsion". That's to say, if you come to slacken off in
your worship, your yetzer harah will have you rationalize it by saying that
G-d's will is behind it. "After all" you'd rationalize, "if the Creator
really wanted you to serve Him, He'd have compelled ... you to" (as Ibn
Pakudah words it).
On the other hand if it sees you slackening off in your career or the
like, it will argue for the idea of free will and for how important it is
to do everything you can to succeed, and it will take you to task for being
The truth be known, both free will and Divine compulsion are valid,
depending on the context. But the yetzer harah tries to take the side of
the argument that best suits its needs at the time. (In fact we often
tend to believe things because they suit our needs rather than because
they're true. But that clearly goes far beyond the subject at hand, though
we'd all be wise to reflect upon the truth of it in our own lives.)
Ibn Pakudah counsels that it would be best for us to assume that we're free
to do as we will when it comes to our Divine service -- and to thus be
proactive about our spiritual growth. On the other hand, though, we're to
assume that G-d alone controls our circumstances when it comes to our
careers and the like, and to thus trust His decisions.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Hehrsh ben Daniel z"l,
and Sara Rivka bas Yaakov Dovid, z"l.