We tend to think and hope that what we plan for our lives, whether day to day, or over the long haul, will come to fruition exactly how we envision it. But somehow it never turns out that way. No matter how much time we spend in planning or how detailed our plans are, the outcome is never exactly according to our vision.

Why? Some say, “Life happens” or “Circumstances beyond our control prevented certain details from occurring.” Does Judaism believe that G-d steps in and has His own agenda that “interferes” with ours? Do Jews believe G-d has His own plan for them, irrespective of what “we” want? Does G-d plan world events? If Judaism also believes in free will, then how can G-d have a plan that interferes with our individual free will desires, our futures? This chapter will try to answer these questions and try to explore the normative view of Judaism on these issues.


Judaism believes G-d indeed has a plan for the world and for us. King Solomon already told us that man devises many plans, but only the plan of G-d will come to fruition. [1] There is a Yiddish expression that “Man plans but G-d laughs,” implying that Jews think they are in control of their lives, but in reality that is not correct. Especially in the 21st century, when it seems that humans can control their environment more and better than ever before, the danger exists that man believes he is in total control of what will happen to him in the future. It is true that the Covid-19 virus helped many people realize that they are not in total control and that their lives can be changed in an instant. But as people adjusted to their situations and as time passed, many people forgot this crucial lesson of life. A simple reading of the Torah narrative shows that G-d plans events many years or even centuries in advance.

The Almighty already informs the very first Jew, Abraham, of G-d’s plan to enslave his descendants for 400 years, punish their Egyptian oppressors, and then have them emerge as a free nation of G-d returning to the Land of Israel. [2] This is a careful design that occurred precisely as G-d had informed Abraham. G-d repeats this specific plan to the Jewish people themselves while they were enslaved. [3] G-d even reminds the Jewish people about that plan after it occurred, when He spoke to them directly on Mount Sinai, and gave them the Ten Commandments. G-d repeated to the Jewish people that it was He and His plan all along Who freed them from Egypt, so they should not forget this. [4] In His first encounter with Moses at the burning bush, G-d informs him that He will bring the Jews to this very place, Mt. Sinai, to give them the Torah there. [5] The Torah is full of G-d’s design of events and predictions for the future of the Jewish people and for the world. Later, through the prophets, G-d maps out future developments, and His plans to punish the people for their sins, and eventually destroy the Temple because of their iniquities. Every aspect of G-d’s predicted course of events became a reality. 

Even after the written Torah and Jewish Scripture was completed, events that later occurred which are ostensibly devoid of G-d’s direct involvement, such as the war between the Syrian Greeks and the Maccabees or the story of Purim, which on the surface seem like a series of coincidences (with G-d’s name not even mentioned in the Book of Esther). And yet, the Rabbis understood the Maccabean war and the entire story in Persia (with Haman) as part of G-d’s plan all along. This is evident in reading the words they composed to thank G-d for the miracles of Chanukah and Purim, recited on those holidays in Jewish prayer. [6] King David reminds us that, unlike some nations that believe G-d created the world and then retreated from it, the Jewish people believe in a G-d that is totally involved in the world and in people’s lives “down here,” and that He plans events that will take place. [7] Thus, occurrences in Jewish history are clearly orchestrated by G-d and arranged down to the last detail. All these plans show the “big picture,” involving nations and the Jewish people as a whole. But what about individuals? Does G-d make a specific plan for each of us?” Does He determine what will happen to us, and how our lives will turn out?

To continue reading, please download the entire essay in WORD or PDF.

Download the source sheets in WORD or PDF.


[1] Proverbs 19:21

[2] Genesis 15:13-16 

[3] Exodus 6:6-7

[4] Exodus 20:2

[5] Exodus 3:12 and Rashi commentary

[6] Al Hanisim prayer recited on Purim in the Amidah and Grace After Meals

[7] Psalms 113:4-6 and Malbim commentary


Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel currently works with Rabbi Berel Wein and the Destiny Foundation as the Director of Education, whose mission is “to bring Jewish history to life in an exciting, entertaining and interactive way.” Rabbi Amsel has also served as a teacher, a school principal, and an adjunct professor. He has also taught over 2000 educators how to teach more effectively. Rabbi Amsel has worked in all areas of formal and informal Jewish education and has developed numerous curricula including a methodology how to teach Jewish Values using mass media. Recently, he founded the STARS Program (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers), where more than 3000 students in 12 Russian speaking countries learn about their Jewish heritage for five hours weekly. Rabbi Amsel previously served as the Educational Director of Hillel in the Former Soviet Union. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and has four children and four grandchildren.

This essay is from the forthcoming book, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values: Man to G-d Issues and Rituals.”  This essay is not intended as a source of practical halachic (legal) rulings. For matters of halachah, please consult a qualified posek (rabbi).

Comments are closed.