Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Question & Answer With Space Cadet - "Predetermined" Cheeseburgers

(Picture courtesy of elements.nb.ca)

A Simple Jew asks:

Let's say that a kosher hamburger and a cheeseburger are put in front of you on separate plates. You have free will to determine whether or not you will eat the kosher hamburger.

If two kosher hamburgers are placed before you, you will select the hamburger that contains the sparks that are connected to the root of your neshoma.

Now, if two cheeseburgers are put in front of you, you certainly have free will whether or not to eat the cheeseburger. However, if you do decide to commit an aveira an eat one of the cheeseburgers, does Hashem predetermine which of the two cheeseburgers you will eat?

Space Cadet answers:

The question of free will (bechirah) and divine providence (hashgochah protis) is a paradox in the choice of hamburgers and in all things.

Plus there are different views about the subject in Yiddishkeit. The Rambam's concept of hashgochah is different than that of some other authorities. For example (although he is not a Rishon) the author of the Sefer HaBris disagrees with the Rambam, and takes the view that hashgochah is specific to each creature, not just the various species. The Baal Shem Tov, as is well known, takes an even more extreme view, extending hashogochah protis to every detail of creation. But this does not detract from the fact that we have free will and are subject to reward and punishment, according to divine justice.

There is also the concept that at some point we will be elevated above all this to the level of angels, and the paradox will dissolve (see Likkutei Moharan I, 21). And there are levels beyond this, too (see Likkutei Moharan II, 1, that our destiny is ultimately to surpass the angels).

So the specific cheeseburger the sinner chooses may be "predetermined" on a higher plane, somewhere above the clouds; but the aveirah remains an aveirah. (If the meat was kosher, eating the cheeseburger violates the issur of basar b'chalav; if the meat was treife, it violates the issur of treifos u'neivelos, but not basar b'chalav.) Instead of the person raising up the food and any holy sparks it may contain, the forbidden food will pull him down spiritually, causing profound damage to the soul (see Tanya, chapter 7).

Personally, I haven't eaten even a kosher hamburger for many years -- and the one time I did so (about sixteen years ago) was an exceptional situation, since I had elimated meat from my diet long before. These days I'm working on elevating the sparks in grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products -- and maybe in my digital camera as I run around taking pictures of reflections, shadows, and sidewalks!


At September 25, 2007 at 9:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

first of all, abstract questions of this kind aren't very meaningful.

As Rebbe Nachman explains, philospher's usually trick people (and confuse themselves) by taking a question and an answer and phrasing it as if it were a question, in such a case the question is obviously unanswerable. (ie. no answer is satisfactory, because it is like asking if 2+2 is not 4, what is it?)

the second part of the question specifically is wrong, it is not that you will automatically choose the hamburger that is closer to your root neshamah. You will only feel a stronger attraction to such a hamburger---IF you are spiritually refined enough to be able to delineate between your animal desires and your holy desires. Of course you still have free will to eat the hamburger that is less appealing to you. (Let's say you wanted kosher hamburger #1, but since you wanted it more, you decided to give it to your friend, that he should have the better hamburger, so you actually ate hamburger #2)

This raises the next issue which is that raising up the sparks (which share your root neshamah) in something doesn't necesarily involve the expected action. Actually, by giving hamburger #1 to your friend out of ahavat chinam you raised up the sparks which you might not have been able to raise up by selfishly taking hamburger #1 for yourself.

Similarly by not eating the unkosher hamburger we raise up the appropriate sparks in it.

So I will reverse the final point of your question, ASJ, and put it back to you: Perhaps HaShem will arrange things such that the non-kosher hamburger you eat will be the one with fewer sparks of holiness, so that you still raise up the (greater number of) sparks of holiness in the one you didn't choose, by not choosing it.

The point is, that Chassidut is even more powerful than post-modernism, it can turn anything on its head any number of times, and the ikar is not how you judge the situation, but how you cleave to HaShem.

In hindsight the situation will always have taken the ideal path---whether because you did the wrong thing in order that you can now do teshuvah, (ultimately making that past decision the right choice) or because you did the right thing so that you can now continue in your current path with renewed strength.

The assumption that any choice presented to you has a wrong answer is the mistake. Pick either route according to your love of HaShem and it will be the right route.

(Note: you cannot claim to truly love HaShem and go against His mitzwoth---even in the cases where people have gone against HaShem's mitzwoth lshem shamayim, it is because the Torah actually dictates such behavior, in which case no mitzwoth were injured in the making of that kidush HaShem :) )

[i'm sure someone will find a way to prove me wrong in multiple ways :) ]

At September 25, 2007 at 10:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

My intention in asking this question to my friend Space Cadet was not a way to engage in philosophical pilpul, to give some a trick question, or even slightly suggest that a Jewish person is permitted to eat a cheeseburger. This question stems from a thought that I have pondered for some time after I heard a shiur on free choice and was curious what the answer was. I realized that the answer would most probably be yes and no at the same time before I even asked it, but was nevertheless I was still curious and hence the Q&A posting.

At September 25, 2007 at 11:50:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...


my sincere apologies, (and public request for mechilah) I was in no way suggesting you were tricking people on purpose. Nor were you getting into philosophical pilpul, as I saw it you were trying to apply the theory of sparks of holiness which our neshamoth are naturally drawn to, to a hypothetical question.

The paraphrased quote from Rebbe Nachman was just a means of citing my sources, since Rebbe Nachman referred to philosophers' questions, I too used that terminology so people familliar with that Torah or wanting to look up that idea in Rebbe Nachman's Torah would have a jumping off point.

[as a caveat, my claim about "IF you are spiritually refined enough to be able to delineate between your animal desires and your holy desires." is true to the best of my knowledge yet misleading in that if you aren't spiritually refined, you simply have less free will and when necesary, your neshamah elokit will override your yetzer hara.]

Nor did I mean to imply that you misunderstood the matter, only that there were two subtle places in the question. (not necesarily intentionally tricky) 1. that one is not compelled to that which is better for them, only feels greater desire towards that thing. 2. eating isn't the only way to raise up sparks of holiness.

I wasn't trying to correct you as much as educate other people who might be thinking about the question you raised. (it's something that's sort of ingrained in me and has lead to my wife calling me a teacher's pet on at least one occasion :) (birthing classes) )

At September 25, 2007 at 12:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

No need to apologize. I took absolutely no offense, I was merely trying to explain my motivations for posting this.

At September 25, 2007 at 2:21:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that this issue is answered most clearly in "Garden Of Emunah". The is as follows: Before a person acts, he has apparent free will. After the act is done, it has occured because Hashem desired it to happen.

At September 25, 2007 at 4:49:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Does any of the free will we have fall under "real" and not just "apparent"? What could the concept/function of reward and punishment be in relation to free will that is only apparent? Would the rewards and punishments also be only apparent?

2. Can we from our vantage point ever know the quality and quantity of "sparks" in anything?

3. Do the above fall into the category of unanswerable questions that Rebbe Nachman cautioned against?


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