The Only Decision


Many people struggle with the question of how to understand Hashem’s control over our lives, if at the same time we are given free will. In other words, if something is my decision, how can I say that Hashem was responsible for it?

If a businessman made a poor financial choice that resulted in significant monetary loss, he would probably conclude that had he not made that decision, he would have been much wealthier. Or, if a job-seeker was offered a position and decided to turn it down in favor of a different job – which he ended up hating – he might blame himself by making a poor choice and causing his own misery. But are these conclusions true? Or was Hashem involved?

The Gemara tells us (Berachot 33b), Everything is determined by Hashem, except for yirat Shamayaim – the way we serve Him. This means that the extent of our free will is limited. We could choose to do evil or good, aveirot or mitzvot. That is where Hashem leaves decisions up to us. If a person chose to sin, he is supposed to regret it and feel bad that he chose incorrectly. Fortunately for us, Hashem forgives easily. A person can do teshuva and the sin is erased.

In our physical lives, however, it only seems as if we are the ones making decisions. In truth, Hashem is in total control. When it comes to money, for example, Hashem already decided how much we are able to earn. He commanded us to do our part to receive what He has in store for us. We have to put in enough effort to camouflage His presence and pray to Him for success. Once we have done our part, we will receive what we are supposed to receive.

A person’s parnassah can be withheld due to certain sins, or because the person did not do his part. However, it will never be held back because of a poor decision. At the time of the decision, the person thought he was choosing correctly. He did his normal effort, he acted accordingly, and that is all Hashem required of him. Later, new information surfaced that indicated he chose incorrectly. Hashem did not allow that information to enter the person’s brain at the time of the decision, because Hashem wanted him to choose the way he did.

A man named Zack told me he had to make a major final decision. For hours, he considered the ramifications of each option, and only afterward did he finalize his decision. However, the path he ultimately chose did not yield the results he desired and threatened to cause strife between him and his partner.

He called his rabbi for advice, and the rabbi directed him how to proceed. In the course of their discussion, the rabbi pointed out something Zack had not taken into account before making his final decision. Had he done so – it would have changed everything.

“Why did I not call you earlier?” Zack lamented. “I could have avoided this entire headache!”

“Hashem could have easily allowed you to think of this piece of advice,” the rabbi told him. “Or He could have made you decide to call me a day earlier. He didn’t, because He wanted you to choose the way you chose and He gave you exactly enough information so you would do so. You should not regret your decision at all. It is what Hashem wanted and what was best for you.”

The same holds true with all decisions we make regarding our physical lives. There is never a reason to fret over the past. Hashem was and is in control. We do not lose or gain because of decisions. We lose or gain because it is the Will of Hashem.

We are totally responsible, however, for our actions when it comes to aveirot and mitzvot. There, we must fully accept accountability. Everything else is determined by Hashem except for the way we serve Him. This knowledge, if internalized properly, will save us hours upon hours of unnecessary heartache.