Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Vayelekh/Teshuvah 5776

Every Shabbat afternoon, when we sit down to a delicious seudah shlishit (third meal) in the waning minutes of Shabbat, we study a small piece of the wisdom of the Rambam, the great 12th-century master, Maimonides. In recent weeks, we’ve been focused on hilkhot teshuvah, the laws of repentance. So it’s fitting for us, on this Shabbat Shuvah, as we stand on the bridge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to address these very questions.

We find ourselves in chapter 5 of these laws, and we have seen how Rambam, the arch-rationalist, passionately asserts that human beings have free will. He is insistent that those who believe that one’s fate is predestined are foolish. “It is no so. Rather, each person can become as righteous as Moses our teacher or as wicked as Jeroboam, wise or foolish, compassionate or cruel, miserly or overly generous” (5:2). 

The ramifications of this understanding of human nature on the possibility of teshuvah are enormous. The challenge, though, is in the idea that God is all-knowing. How can we reconcile God’s knowing what we will do with the idea that we have free will? On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at a passage from Maimonides, and think seriously about what it means to have free agency to do as we want while at the same time being commanded to act in particular ways.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Gemar Hatimah Tovah,

Rabbi David Wise