Vayechi – Did I Have a Choice in Writing This?
In Our Perasha Yosef quells his brother fears that Yosef will take revenge upon them now that Yaakov has died.
And you thought evil towards me, G-d thought goodness so that I can do what I am doing today supporting many nations.
Did the brothers have Free Will, a choice, in performing their cruel sale of Yosef? Or was it all part of the divine plan? G-d had previously informed Avraham that his children will be oppressed for 400 years. Even more important, What hints do Yosef’s words give us about freedom of choice?
This question has been entertained for thousands of years by Tanaim, Emoraim and Rishonim. It has also been discussed by Philosophers, Psychologists and Sociologists.
The Gemara in Masechet Brachot says:
Rabbi Chanina says Everything is in the hands of heaven except for – Yirat Shamayim- fear of heaven. As it says: (Devarim 10) ‘And now, Israel what does G-d your Lord ask of you, but only to fear him.’ does this pasuk make Yirat Shamayim – Fear of Heaven into an easy matter? But did not Rabbi Chanina say in the name of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, “The Holy One Blessed Be He has hidden in his treasury only a collection of Yirat Shamayim, as it says (Yishayahu 33) ‘The fear of Heaven is his treasury.'” [The Gemarah answers] Yes, to Moshe Yirat Shamayim is a small issue, as Rabbi Chanina says this is analogous to asking someone for a big utensil. If he possesses it he considers it small. However, If you ask him for a small utensil which he does not posses he considers it a big utensil. [So it is with Yirat Shamayim: For people who do not possess it, it is a very big issue.]