Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…