Imagine that Reuven walks up to Shimon, pulls out a gun and says, “I’m going to kill you!”
“No, no! Don’t do it!” shouts Shimon.
Reuven responds, “You have this coming to you!” He then fires five shots, leaving Shimon dead in a puddle of blood.
If the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) were in existence, and there was sufficient evidence, they would convict Reuven as the killer of Shimon.
Here is the question. Why can’t Reuven say to the Sanhedrin, “Aren’t you religious Jews? Don’t you believe that Hashem decrees who will live and who will die? If you do, then I’m not Reuven’s killer—Hashem is. If it wasn’t slated to happen, I could never have done it. So don’t go blaming me.”
Why isn’t his claim valid?
The answer is that one level is claim is a hundred percent correct. If Shimon weren’t slated to die, there is nothing that Reuven could have done to change that. But to allow for free will, Hashem created a system where man is held accountable for what he does.
The way it works is that if on the previous Rosh Hashanah Shimon had a decree of a year of life, then there is nothing that Reuven, or any other force in existence, could do to change that.
If, however, Shimon had a decree that this would be his last year in this world, then things get more complicated. There are times when Hashem will allow another person the “opportunity” to be the messenger. If Shimon were decreed to die that year in a violent manner, Hashem might also decree that certain individuals have the option of being the one to end his life. In that case, Reuven might be granted the opportunity to kill Shimon. If Reuven doesn’t take that option, then Shimon will be hit by a drunk driver, a falling telephone poll, a stray bullet, or any number of other sudden, death-causing events.
But if Reuven does take this option, then he is called the “killer” of Shimon—even though it’s true that this decree was decided by Hashem long ago and Shimon would have died anyway. To allow for free will, Hashem gives man certain options—and if they take those options, the act is attributed to them. For all intents and purposes, he is considered the one who did the act—certainly in terms of all of man’s dealings.
The underlying concept is that man is in charge of his intentions; Hashem is in charge of the outcome. Hashem gives the illusion that one man can change the destiny of another. If man opts on that illusion, then the act is attributed to him—even though the same consequence would have occurred without him.
My relationship to you
This perspective changes my relationships with other people in a rather dramatic form. If you try to help me, I am appreciative—for your intentions. You tried to help. That part—the attempt—is in your hands. If you tried to lighten my load, for that I am thankful. But the result, whether you succeed or not, is not in your hands.
If someone saves my life, I have to thank him for his good intentions. I have to recognize that he desired to help me, and for that I have to be appreciative. At the same time, I recognize that he was but fulfilling Hashem’s decree. If he would not have been there, a speed boat would have pulled up, a log would have floated by, or any other kind of messenger would have suddenly appeared to save me. While my rescuer is credited as being the one who saved me and I have to be appreciative of his good intentions, I also have to recognize that that same result would have happened without him as well. The one who saved me wasn’t him—it was Hashem.
If I needed money and someone gave me a large sum, I have to be thankful for his good wishes and his desire to help me. But I have to be mindful that if not for him, that money would have come to me through other means.
If you attempt to harm me, this concept tempers my attitude as well. I didn’t ask you to be the nudnik to bring this about, but I understand that it would have happened, with or without you. So my anger at you is greatly diminished. For wishing my harm, I have my issues with you. But for bringing it about, not at all. The results have nothing to do with you.
Man controls intentions; Hashem controls outcomes.