Pirkei Avot 3:15 - Big Brother vs Hashem Yisborach

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

[Rabbi Akiva continues] “All is foreseen and freedom of choice is granted. The world is judged with goodness and everything works in accordance with the amount of man’s good deeds.”

George Orwell, an Englishman who made his life’s work the protesting of totalitarian governments, The Soviet Union in particular, came up with the term Big Brother in his cautionary tale, 1984. One of its catchphrases, “Big Brother is watching you” immediately entered English vernacular as a jab at authorities who were tightening control on their underlings. Livavdil elef havdalos (a thousand separations), Rabbi Akiva’s quote that, “All is foreseen” brought to mind Big Brother and Orwell’s disturbing take on dystopian society. After all, Dovid haMelch writes in Tehillim (psalms), “I have placed Hashem (G-d) before me always” which implies that we are obligated to remember that G-d is monitoring our every move. Well, Big Brother's also highlighted for keeping an ever watchful gaze on the human race. So why does one idea take a lot of mental effort to excite awe and fear into the heart of the one who is contemplating Dovid’s psalms while the second strikes an immediate spark of fear? The answer is simple: free will.

Since time and space are Hashem's invention and He exists outside of space and time, for Him, everything is foreseen. However, He somehow made the cosmos work so that man could still have the means to make his own decisions, wise or not. You may ask how man can have free choice if everything is foreseen. The Rambam (Maimonides) explains (or doesn’t explain) that since G-d is infinite and humans are finite there is no logical explanation available. He also adds that it is only the intellectually immature or dull witted who demand explanations of the ineffable.

But more important than the mechanics of free will is why, in Heaven’s name, would G-d entrust us with such a dangerous gift as free will? Like handing a lit match to a child, He created the human race with easy access to both light and destruction. We may light the gas range and cook and nurture. But we may be just as likely to accidently let our homes go up in flames. Doesn’t the risk seem like too high a price? The risk factor is exactly the point: Hashem allows us to make decisions, based on our experiences, so we can achieve closeness with Him. By working on ourselves, we become better, and in essence, fulfill a certain purpose. Anyway, the path to spiritual greatness was never quoted for being a smooth one and ain’t nobody gonna do the thinking for you. On the other hand, dictatorships are not all geared toward an individual’s spiritual and/or emotional growth. The leader’s exploitation of the masses is always selfish and self-serving. Think Animal Farm.

Rabbi Akiva emphasizes that Hashem not only loves us and wants to see us be the best versions of ourselves, He is patient in His wait for the magic. “The world is judged with goodness.” Even when we deserve to be judged according to the strict letter of the law, Hashem leaves off, hoping we will do teshuva (repent), instead. Unlike human leeches like Stalin, Hashem isn’t looking to suck away at our life force. He wants our success. 

Funny, how life has its twists and turns: if Karl Marx’s father hadn’t ended up converting to Lutheranism, Marx might have ended up a yeshiva bachur and in England’s Gateshead (had there been a thriving religious community in his time anyway), The Communist Manifesto would never have been written and millions of lives would have been spared an idea which only looked good on paper. 

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