Free Will

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Min Hashamayim


Min Hashamayim, or Es ist beschert, is a concept that occurrences are divine and we as human beings have no control over  situations  in our lives.  There is of course a contradiction to this philosophy, namely that “G’d helps those who help themselves”.  That is, if we scrupulously adhere to the ten commandments, goodness will follow us.  If we do “mitzwot” we will be rewarded for our good deeds .  This is clearly described in one of the commandments:  Honor thy father and mother so that you will live long on earth. 

In our modern world, especially in the United States and other western countries, it is our middle class conviction that if we work hard, learn, have a higher education, and put forth a great deal of effort, we will achieve and feel good about our accomplishments. 

If we examine both of these concepts there is truth in either or both.  We cannot control everything in our lives.  Whether we live or die and when is not really in our hands, and unless we are suicidal or do not value our physical being we can add to the outcome.  We cannot control the weather or world events.  There is nothing we can do about earthquakes like we have recently seen in Haiti, where people perished suddenly from that which was meant to be, from a force that humanity could not control. There are lightening storms that happen and if we are caught in one of these we can be the victim without warning.  On the other hand, we can protect ourselves and not deliberately seek shelter under a tree and invite disaster. 

Both concepts of min hashamayim and what we as human beings do to change our fate to an extent are not false.  

The self help idea can readily be experienced.  When we see an individual or a group of folk who refuse to work because it is too difficult, to put forth the effort to exert themselves and then complain that they are poor, we have little sympathy.  Those who envy and begrudge others who climb the proverbial mountain to attain their earthly goods and achieve their goals cannot easily be pitied. 

When catastrophies occur over which  humanity has no control, we are devastated.  One such example was the Holocaust in Hitler’s Germany.  We can not comprehend nor can we change min hashamayim as we understand or do not understand it. 

We can explain situations to ourselves to some extent.  We realize there is evil in the world, as can be clearly seen in such people as the Ayatollah, Stalin, Luther, Hitler and others of that ilk.  There are others like those who hid the Jewish people at danger to themselves during the Holocaust.  There was the well known Mother Theresa, who helped the hungry, the sick, and the disenfranchised.  The “good” folk are the majority in the world, and they are too numerous to mention.

What we experience in our lives, we can to an extent guide and reap the results of our thoughts, our deeds, our wishes, our hopes and our actions.  Min Hashamayim is something that happens, that we have no way of imagining, of explaining, of understanding, of controlling.  We as individuals cannot not control the world order, the “beschert” part.  The potential is always there.  We can ponder over the occurrences; we have the possibility and good fortune of not being the victims of  egregious catastrophes but we have little control when they befall us.

As Jews, and as members of the human race, let us follow the well known adage to make a concerted effort to change the things that we are able to change, to accept or live with what we are unable to change and to have the wisdom to know the difference.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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