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To Be or Not To Be... That really *is* the question

We are taught that we earn our reward by exercising our free will to choose to do  mitzvos and avoid aveiros. At this point, I am wondering why it isn't eternal reward a "slam dunk"?  I mean, ok... I have a yeitzer ra which sometimes (often) compels me to make bad decisions.  It seems hard to call that "free choice" when I know I really want to do the right thing and am compelled by my baser urges to sin.  My starting point for this question is simply that I do not understand how the choice is anything but obvious and forced to a rational being.  Put another way, it seems that the choice being offered is something like standing in front of an open furnace; I have free choice (in some sense) about whether or not to enter the furnace, but there is only one rational choice.  And if I do choose to "enter the furnace"; how can I be punished for being irrational?  "oneis rachmana patrei" -- the Torah exempts one who who forced; and acting irrationally is considered to be acting under coercion.

From the description of the Ramchal in Derech HaShem, however, it doesn't sound like I'll be able to make that defense.  It sounds as though on the Day of Judgment, when called up to explain myself for a sin, I will say, "I knew the right thing to do, but decided -- after weighing my options and their consequences -- that this time I wanted to sin."  How is that the behaviour of a rational person?  And if you'll tell me that is is never rational to sin, then how can I be punished for irrational behaviour?  Worse than that, I would not longer be the owner of even my good behaviour; it would just be the result of not acting irrationally!

I believe the question starts from a mistake.  We think we exist and we are choosing to enjoy or not enjoy our (eternal) existence.  That's the mistake, because as the Ramchal noted at the beginning of Derech HaShem, there is no existence except G-d Himself.  That means that our existence is the experience of a relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  Put more bluntly, the choice of good vs evil is really existence vs non-existence.  HaShem won't force you to exist; that is entirely up to you.  Choosing existence comes with responsibility and consequences -- gan eden, gehinom, pleasure, suffering, etc; but underlying all is one's own existence, which is the ultimate gift and reward.  HaShem desires a relationship with you, but only if you want it.

Understood that way, it is (for me) much easier to appreciate that there is a real choice to be made.  I can choose to exist, but that comes with consequences.  Those consequences include punishment for making mistakes, living with doubt and uncertainty, seeing not nice people having a great time, seeing amazing people suffering for no reason; and on and on.  Choosing not to exist comes with ... nothing.  Is is so hard, then, to understand how there can be so (relatively) few people living up to the high standards of the Torah?  Is it unfair that there are and have been billions of people throughout history who seem to have had no real opportunity to connect to HaShem; in fact, have distanced themselves via all manner of avoda zara?  The decision to exist or not is not at all a "slam dunk".  Choose not to exist one gets 70 or 80 years in this world; some fun, some not so fun, but it is what it is and it came for free; you get what you pay for.  Choose to exist and one takes on all sorts of responsibilities and consequences; you get what you pay for.


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