Shelach: Statistics and Free Will

May 27, 2021

Experts attempt to predict people’s future behavior through statistics. Does that mean you are just a statistic? Do you have the free will to make your own decisions or are you just a cog in the machine? Join this ancient Jewish debate.

A. The Sin and The Consequence

Moses sent twelve spies to collect information about the land, with disastrous results (source 1). G-d tells Moses that the entire generation will die in the desert, but their children will enter the land (source 2).

The Rebbe asks: How is G-d so sure that the second generation won’t sin as well?

B. Statistics and Probability in Judaism

The answer, the Rebbe explains, can be taken from the concept of statistics. By evaluating past trends, we can predict the public’s future behavior, but it has no bearing on your free choice.

We learn this in Torah from Abraham’s covenant with G-d (source 3) where G-d predicts that the Egyptians will oppress the Jews. Maimonides explains (source 4) that although G-d made that prediction, individual Egyptians still retained their free choice to abstain.

The Rebbe cites these sources and applies the same concept to our verses. Every individual in the second generation retained his free choice, but it doesn’t contradict G-d’s promise that they would all ultimately enter the land.

See the Raavad’s argument (source 5).

C. The Safest Investment

The Rebbe takes a lesson: The Jewish people will go in the right direction; don’t be discouraged by an individual’s behavior.

A Story: When Bnei Akiva in Mexico Visited the Rebbe



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