Thursday, May 3, 2012

Free Will

I mentioned yesterday the importance of us having free will in accomplishing our rectification.  The problem is most people really don’t know what free will is or how to use it to their greatest advantage.  So, what is it? 

One way to gain insight of the concept of free will is to determine what it isn’t.  Animals, as an example, do not have free will.  If an animal is hungry, he eats; if he is tired, he sleeps.  If he has a choice of things to eat, he instinctively chooses the one that is more physically satisfying.  He does not look at the two possibilities and reason the situation as a human might.  “Well, let me see,” said the animal, “I ate that just the other day; so, I think for this meal I will choose the other possibility, especially since it is more nutritious.”  But, is that really free will even for a human being or would we only be justifying in our mind what we instinctively really would prefer?  If we wish to watch a TV show, would we reason out the situation or merely decide based on which show we favor?  We have the same instinctive behavior, picking out the most satisfying or most physically comfortable choice.  Then if most decisions we make are for creature comfort, what is free will? 

Human beings have the ability to choose something that they don’t want.  We possess, usually to meet obligatory requirements, the free will ability to do something not comfortable – not what we would prefer.  Example, on Yom Kippur when we are required to fast for approximately 25 hours, we are capable of doing it.  Our first thought is, I am hungry and I would like to eat.  But, we have the ability to restrain and meet our obligation – overcome creature comfort through free will decision.  Another example is on the night of Shavuot, commemorating the receiving of the Torah, we have the custom to stay up all night and study Torah.  Three, four o’clock in the morning we are tired and really would like to hit the hay, so to speak.  We have the tool of free will that says “I prefer to serve Hashem than to satisfy my comfort.”  What’s really satisfying is the next day when we feel good and much more fulfilled about our accomplishments.  It is said that the reward for a good deed is the deed itself (there is more to it than that).  It means that we feel good about ourselves and what we have done when we know that we are satisfying Hashem’s will.  It’s a great motivator or, at least, should be.

The trap that we don’t want to fall into is arrogance or seeking honor.  We should have the proper motivation to do all deeds, especially since Hashem is watching and taking notes.  An example is giving money to help the poor.  When we give anonymously we are doing it for the right reason, to help people.  If we like to give help directly to the person out of arrogance – “look how wonderful I am,” we are doing the deed contrary to free will since it is self-satisfying and not self-sacrificing.  Remember what I said about animals.  Does the family pet really do anything out of love for his owner?  “No, I’m in it for the treats and a good scratch on the neck.”  Even if a dog jumped into a body of water where someone is drowning, it is still instinctive.  The dog doesn’t stop to reason, as we humans do, this may be a dangerous act – it is a very good thing my life insurance is current and valid.

Why is all this so important?  To serve Hashem and to perfect ourselves requires strong desire, motivation and action over what is comfortable.  The most important thing in our lives should involve a desire to satisfy and show love for our Creator.  I realize this may require a high level of spirituality, but that is exactly what our goal is and our purpose on Earth.  When we exercise our free will to serve a higher level, we in essence improve and achieve that goal.  This is also why free will is not needed when the redemption comes.  We have completed our task; have achieved whatever level that we were able to and no longer need the tool of free will.  When we have one choice and a great desire only to do things the one way, no decision making is needed.

Even though I have been speaking mostly about spiritual improvement, free will is vital for physical improvement as well.  Exercise that we don’t want to do because maybe it is very uncomfortable.  It’s more fun to be a couch potato; even though we may wind up shaped like one (was that a fat potato or an overstuffed couch that I was referring to – you decide).  There are medical procedures that we might prefer to avoid but, even though very uncomfortable, are necessary for good health or even physical survival.  To put this into perspective, our bodies are a gift from Hashem for the purpose of doing the commandments.  Therefore, the body is also a tool for our rectification and requires free will decision making to succeed.
We should see from all this that free will is a mechanism given to us by Hashem to help us succeed in our mission of complete rectification.  Use it wisely and, I can’t forget, – thank You, Hashem.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for explaining this concept clearly