There are many verses in the Torah and the words of the prophets which appear to contradict this fundamental principle. [Thus,] the majorities of the people err because of them and think that the Holy One, blessed be He, does decree that a person commit evil or good and that a person's heart is not given over to him to direct it towards any path he desires.

Behold, I will explain a great and fundamental principle [of faith] on the basis of which the interpretation of those verses can be understood. [As a preface,] when an individual or the people of a country sin, the sinner consciously and willfully committing that sin, it is proper to exact retribution from him as explained. The Holy One, blessed be He, knows how to exact punishment: There are certain sins for which justice determines that retribution be exacted in this world; on the sinner's person, on his possessions, or on his small children.

[Retribution is exacted upon a person's] small children who do not possess intellectual maturity and have not reached the age where they are obligated to perform mitzvot [because these children] are considered as his property. [This concept is alluded to] by the verse [Deuteronomy 24:16]: "A man will die because of his own sins." [We may infer: This rule only applies] after one has become "a man."

There are other sins for which justice determines that retribution be exacted in the world to come with no damages coming to the transgressor in this world. There are [other] sins for which retribution is taken in this world and in the world to come.


פְּסוּקִים הַרְבֵּה יֵשׁ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְדִבְרֵי נְבִיאִים שֶׁהֵן נִרְאִין כְּסוֹתְרִין עִקָּר זֶה וְנִכְשָׁלִין בָּהֶן רֹב הָאָדָם וְיַעֲלֶה עַל דַּעְתָּן מֵהֶן שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הוּא גּוֹזֵר עַל הָאָדָם לַעֲשׂוֹת רָעָה אוֹ טוֹבָה וְשֶׁאֵין לִבּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם מָסוּר לוֹ לְהַטּוֹתוֹ לְכָל אֲשֶׁר יִרְצֶה. וַהֲרֵי אֲנִי מְבָאֵר עִקָּר גָּדוֹל שֶׁמִּמֶּנּוּ תֵּדַע פֵּרוּשׁ כָּל אוֹתָן הַפְּסוּקִים. בִּזְמַן שֶׁאָדָם אֶחָד אוֹ אַנְשֵׁי מְדִינָה חוֹטְאִים וְעוֹשֶׂה הַחוֹטֵא חֵטְא שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה מִדַּעְתּוֹ וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוֹדַעְנוּ רָאוּי לְהִפָּרַע מִמֶּנּוּ וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יוֹדֵעַ אֵיךְ יִפָּרַע. יֵשׁ חֵטְא שֶׁהַדִּין נוֹתֵן שֶׁנִּפְרָעִים מִמֶּנּוּ עַל חֶטְאוֹ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּגוּפוֹ אוֹ בְּמָמוֹנוֹ אוֹ בְּבָנָיו הַקְּטַנִּים שֶׁבָּנָיו שֶׁל אָדָם הַקְּטַנִּים שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם דַּעַת וְלֹא הִגִּיעוּ לִכְלַל מִצְוַת כְּקִנְיָנוֹ הֵן וּכְתִיב (דברים כד טז) "אִישׁ בְּחֶטְאוֹ יָמוּת" עַד שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה אִישׁ. וְיֵשׁ חֵטְא שֶׁהַדִּין נוֹתֵן שֶׁנִּפְרָעִין מִמֶּנּוּ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא וְאֵין לָעוֹבֵר עָלָיו שׁוּם נֵזֶק בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. וְיֵשׁ חֵטְא שֶׁנִּפְרָעִין מִמֶּנּוּ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְלָעוֹלָם הַבָּא:


When does the above apply? When [the transgressor] does not repent. However, if he repents, his Teshuvah is a shield against retribution. Just as a person may sin consciously and willfully, he may repent consciously and willfully.


בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּזְמַן שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה אֲבָל אִם עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה הַתְּשׁוּבָה כִּתְרִיס לִפְנֵי הַפֻּרְעָנוּת. וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁהָאָדָם חוֹטֵא מִדַּעְתּוֹ וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ כָּךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה מִדַּעְתּוֹ וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ:


A person may commit a great sin or many sins causing the judgment rendered before the True Judge to be that the retribution [administered to] this transgressor for these sins which he willfully and consciously committed is that his Teshuvah will be held back. He will not be allowed the chance to repent from his wickedness so that he will die and be wiped out because of the sin he committed.

This is implied by the Holy One, blessed be He's statement [related] by Isaiah [6:10]: “Make the heart of this people fat [and make their ears heavy. Smear over their eyes, lest they see with their eyes... understand with their hearts, repent and be healed].”

Similarly, [II Chronicles 36:16] states “ They mocked the messengers of God, scorned His words, scoffed at His prophets until the anger of God mounted up against His people until there was no remedy.”

Implied [by these verses] is that they willingly sinned, multiplying their iniquity until it was obliged to hold back their Teshuvah, [which is referred to as] the "remedy."

For these reasons, it is written in the Torah [Exodus 14:4], "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." Since, he began to sin on his own initiative and caused hardships to the Israelites who dwelled in his land as [Exodus 1:10] states: "Come, let us deal wisely with them," judgment obligated that he be prevented from repenting so that he would suffer retribution. Therefore, The Holy One, blessed be He, hardened his heart.

Why did [God] send Moses to [Pharaoh], telling him: “Send [forth the people], repent”? The Holy One, blessed be He, had already told Moses that he would not release [the people], as [Exodus 9:30] states: “I realize that you and your subjects [still do not fear God].”

[The reason is stated in Exodus 9:16:] “For this alone, I have preserved you… so that My name will be spoken about throughout the earth],” i.e., to make known to all the inhabitants of the world that when the Holy One, blessed be He, withholds repentance from a sinner, he cannot repent, but he will die in the wickedness that he initially committed willfully.

Similarly, Sichon was held liable for repentance to be withheld from him, because of the sins he committed, as [Deuteronomy 2:30] states: “God, your Lord, hardened his spirit and strengthened his heart.”

Also, the Canaanites held back from repenting, because of their abominable acts, so that they would wage war against Israel as [Joshua 11:20] states: "This was inspired by God, to harden their hearts so that they should come against Israel in battle in order to utterly destroy them."

Similarly, the Israelites during the era of Elijah committed many iniquities. Repentance was held back from those who committed these many sins, as [I Kings 18:37] states: "You have turned their heart backwards," i.e., held repentance back from them.

In conclusion, the Almighty did not decree that Pharaoh should harm the Israelites that Sichon should sin in his land, that the Canaanites should perform abominable acts, or that the Israelites should worship idols. They all sinned on their own initiative and they were obligated to have Teshuvah held back from them.


וְאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיֶּחְטָא אָדָם חֵטְא גָּדוֹל אוֹ חֲטָאִים רַבִּים עַד שֶׁיִּתֵּן הַדִּין לִפְנֵי דַּיַן הָאֱמֶת שֶׁיְּהֵא הַפֵּרָעוֹן מִזֶּה הַחוֹטֵא עַל חֲטָאִים אֵלּוּ שֶׁעָשָׂה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וּמִדַּעְתּוֹ שֶׁמּוֹנְעִין מִמֶּנּוּ הַתְּשׁוּבָה וְאֵין מַנִּיחִין לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָשׁוּב מֵרִשְׁעוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁיָּמוּת וְיֹאבַד בְּחֶטְאוֹ שֶׁעָשָׂה. הוּא שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אָמַר עַל יְדֵי יְשַׁעְיָהוּ (ישעיה ו י) "הַשְׁמֵן לֵב הָעָם הַזֶּה" וְגוֹ'. וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר (דה"ב לו טז) "וַיִּהְיוּ מַלְעִבִים בְּמַלְאֲכֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וּבוֹזִים דְּבָרָיו וּמִתַּעְתְּעִים בִּנְבִאָיו עַד עֲלוֹת חֲמַת ה' בְּעַמּוֹ עַד לְאֵין מַרְפֵּא". כְּלוֹמַר חָטְאוּ בִּרְצוֹנָם וְהִרְבּוּ לִפְשֹׁעַ עַד שֶׁנִּתְחַיְּבוּ לִמְנֹעַ מֵהֶן הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁהִיא הַמַּרְפֵּא. לְפִיכָךְ כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (שמות ד כא) "וַאֲנִי (אֲחַזֵּק) [אַקְשֶׁה] אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה". לְפִי שֶׁחָטָא מֵעַצְמוֹ תְּחִלָּה וְהֵרֵעַ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הַגָּרִים בְּאַרְצוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות א י) "הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ". נָתַן הַדִּין לִמְנֹעַ הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִמֶּנּוּ עַד שֶׁנִּפְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ. לְפִיכָךְ חִזֵּק הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת לִבּוֹ. וְלָמָּה הָיָה שׁוֹלֵחַ לוֹ בְּיַד משֶׁה וְאוֹמֵר שְׁלַח וַעֲשֵׂה תְּשׁוּבָה וּכְבָר אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֵין אַתָּה מְשַׁלֵּחַ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות ט ל) "וְאַתָּה וַעֲבָדֶיךָ יָדַעְתִּי" וְגוֹ' (שמות ט טז) "וְאוּלָם בַּעֲבוּר זֹאת הֶעֱמַדְתִּיךָ". כְּדֵי לְהוֹדִיעַ לְבָאֵי הָעוֹלָם שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁמּוֹנֵעַ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַתְּשׁוּבָה לַחוֹטֵא אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לָשׁוּב אֶלָּא יָמוּת בְּרִשְׁעוֹ שֶׁעָשָׂה בִּתְחִלָּה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ. וְכֵן סִיחוֹן לְפִי עֲוֹנוֹת שֶׁהָיוּ לוֹ נִתְחַיֵּב לְמָנְעוֹ מִן הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ב ל) "כִּי הִקְשָׁה ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת רוּחוֹ וְאִמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבוֹ". וְכֵן הַכְּנַעֲנִים לְפִי תּוֹעֲבוֹתֵיהֶן מָנַע מֵהֶן הַתְּשׁוּבָה עַד שֶׁעָשׂוּ מִלְחָמָה עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יהושע יא כ) "כִּי מֵאֵת ה' הָיְתָה לְחַזֵּק אֶת לִבָּם לִקְרַאת הַמִּלְחָמָה עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַעַן הַחֲרִימָם". וְכֵן יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּימֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ לְפִי שֶׁהִרְבּוּ לִפְשֹׁעַ מָנַע מֵאוֹתָן הַמַּרְבִּים לִפְשֹׁעַ תְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים א יח לז) "וְאַתָּה הֲסִבֹּתָ אֶת לִבָּם אֲחֹרַנִּית" כְּלוֹמַר מָנַעְתָּ מֵהֶן הַתְּשׁוּבָה. נִמְצֵאתָ אוֹמֵר שֶׁלֹּא גָּזַר הָאֵל עַל פַּרְעֹה לְהָרַע לְיִשְׂרָאֵל. וְלֹא עַל סִיחוֹן לַחֲטֹא בְּאַרְצוֹ. וְלֹא עַל הַכְּנַעֲנִים לְהַתְעִיב. וְלֹא עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל לַעֲבֹד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה. אֶלָּא כֻּלָּן חָטְאוּ מֵעַצְמָן וְכֻלָּן נִתְחַיְּבוּ לִמְנֹעַ מֵהֶן הַתְּשׁוּבָה:


This is what is implied in the requests of the righteous and the prophets in their prayers, [asking] God to help them on the path of truth, as David pleaded [Psalms 86:11]: "God, show me Your way that I may walk in Your truth;" i.e., do not let my sins prevent me from [reaching] the path of truth which will lead me to appreciate Your way and the oneness of Your name.

A similar intent [is conveyed] by the request [Psalms 51:14]: "Support me with a spirit of magnanimity;" i.e., let my spirit [be willing] to do Your will and do not cause my sins to prevent me from repenting. Rather, let the choice remain in my hand until I repent and comprehend and appreciate the path of truth. In a similar way, [one must interpret] all the [verses] which resemble these.


וּכְעִנְיָן זֶה שׁוֹאֲלִין הַצַּדִּיקִים וְהַנְּבִיאִים בִּתְפִלָּתָם מֵאֵת ה' לְעָזְרָם עַל הָאֱמֶת. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר דָּוִד (תהילים כז יא) "הוֹרֵנִי ה' דַּרְכֶּךָ". כְּלוֹמַר אַל יִמְנָעוּנִי חֲטָאַי דֶּרֶךְ הָאֱמֶת שֶׁמִּמֶּנָּה אֵדַע דַּרְכְּךָ וְיִחוּד שְׁמֶךָ. וְכֵן זֶה שֶׁאָמַר (תהילים נא יד) "וְרוּחַ נְדִיבָה תִסְמְכֵנִי" כְּלוֹמַר תַּנִּיחַ רוּחִי לַעֲשׂוֹת חֶפְצְךָ וְאַל יִגְרְמוּ לִי חֲטָאַי לְמָנְעֵנִי מִתְּשׁוּבָה אֶלָּא תִּהְיֶה הָרְשׁוּת בְּיָדִי עַד שֶׁאֶחֱזֹר וְאָבִין וְאֵדַע דֶּרֶךְ הָאֱמֶת. וְעַל דֶּרֶךְ זוֹ כָּל הַדּוֹמֶה לִפְסוּקִים אֵלּוּ:


What was implied by David's statement [Psalms 25:8-9]: "God is good and upright, therefore, he instructs sinners in the path. He guides the humble [in the path of justice and] teaches the humble His way]"? That He sends them prophets to inform them of the path of God and to encourage them to repent.

Furthermore, it implies that He granted them the power to learn and to understand. This attribute is present in all men: As long as a person follows the ways of wisdom and righteousness, he will desire them and pursue them. This [may be inferred from] the statement of our Sages of blessed memory: "One who comes to purify [himself] is helped;" i.e., he finds himself assisted in this matter.

[A question may still arise, for] behold, it is written in the Torah [Genesis 15:13]: "They shall enslave them and oppress them," [seemingly implying that] He decreed that the Egyptians would commit evil.

Similarly, it is written [Deuteronomy 31:16]: "And this nation will arise and stray after the alien gods of the land," [seemingly implying that] He decreed that Israel would serve idols. If so, why did He punish them?

Because He did not decree that a particular person would be the one who strayed. Rather, each and every one of those who strayed to idol-worship [could have chosen] not to serve idols if he did not desire to serve them. The Creator merely informed [Moses] of the pattern of the world.

To what can this be compared? To someone who says, there will be righteous and wicked people in this nation. [Thus,] a wicked person cannot say that because God told Moses that there will be wicked people in Israel, it is decreed that he will be wicked. A similar concept applies regarding the statement [Deuteronomy 15:11]: "The poor will never cease to exist in the land."

Similarly, in regard to the Egyptians, each and every one of the Egyptians who caused hardship and difficulty for Israel had the choice to refrain from harming them, if he so desired, for there was no decree on a particular person. Rather, [God merely] informed [Abraham] that, in the future, his descendants would be enslaved in a land which did not belong to them.

We have already explained that it is beyond the potential of man to know how God knows what will be in the future.


וּמַהוּ זֶה שֶׁאָמַר דָּוִד (תהילים כה ח) "טוֹב וְיָשָׁר ה' עַל כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ" (תהילים כה ט) "יַדְרֵךְ עֲנָוִים" וְגוֹ'. זֶה שֶׁשָּׁלַח נְבִיאִים לָהֶם מוֹדִיעִים דַּרְכֵי ה' וּמַחְזִירִין אוֹתָן בִּתְשׁוּבָה. וְעוֹד שֶׁנָּתַן בָּהֶם כֹּחַ לִלְמֹד וּלְהָבִין. שֶׁמִּדָּה זוֹ בְּכָל אָדָם שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁהוּא נִמְשָׁךְ בְּדַרְכֵי הַחָכְמָה וְהַצֶּדֶק מִתְאַוֶּה לָהֶן וְרוֹדֵף אוֹתָם. וְהוּא מַה שֶּׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה בָּא לִטַּהֵר מְסַיְּעִין אוֹתוֹ כְּלוֹמַר יִמְצָא עַצְמוֹ נֶעֱזָר עַל הַדָּבָר. וַהֲלֹא כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (בראשית טו יג) "וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם", הֲרֵי גָּזַר עַל הַמִּצְרִיִּים לַעֲשׂוֹת רַע. וּכְתִיב (דברים לא טז) "וְקָם הָעָם הַזֶּה וְזָנָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהֵי נֵכַר הָאָרֶץ", הֲרֵי גָּזַר עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל לַעֲבֹד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה. וְלָמָּה נִפְרַע מֵהֶן. לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא גָּזַר עַל אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי הַיָּדוּעַ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה הוּא הַזּוֹנֶה אֶלָּא כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מֵאוֹתָן הַזּוֹנִים לַעֲבֹד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה אִלּוּ לֹא רָצָה לַעֲבֹד לֹא הָיָה עוֹבֵד. וְלֹא הוֹדִיעוֹ הַבּוֹרֵא אֶלָּא מִנְהָגוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם. הָא לְמָה זֶה דּוֹמֶה לְאוֹמֵר הָעָם הַזֶּה יִהְיֶה בָּהֶן צַדִּיקִים וּרְשָׁעִים. לֹא מִפְּנֵי זֶה יֹאמַר הָרָשָׁע כְּבָר נִגְזַר עָלָיו שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רָשָׁע מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוֹדִיעַ לְמשֶׁה שֶׁיִּהְיוּ רְשָׁעִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. כָּעִנְיָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו יא) "כִּי לֹא יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ". וְכֵן הַמִּצְרִיִּים כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מֵאוֹתָן הַמְּצֵרִים וְהַמֵּרֵעִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אִלּוּ לֹא רָצָה לְהָרַע לָהֶם הָרְשׁוּת בְּיָדוֹ. שֶׁלֹּא גָּזַר עַל אִישׁ יָדוּעַ אֶלָּא הוֹדִיעוֹ שֶׁסּוֹף זַרְעוֹ עָתִיד לְהִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם. וּכְבָר אָמַרְנוּ שֶׁאֵין כֹּחַ בָּאָדָם לֵידַע הֵיאַךְ יֵדַע הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא דְּבָרִים הָעֲתִידִין לִהְיוֹת: