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Thought for the Day: Free Will is in Olam haY'tzira

Making a watch, from inception to production, is essentially four steps:
  1. The thought to make the watch.
  2. Gathering the necessary raw material.
  3. Constructing the watch.
  4. Starting the watch running.
Chazal describe a similar process for creation of the world, and each step is named according to its main activity.  We live in the "olam ha'asi'a"; the world of action/doing.  The step before that is "y'tzira"; formation of the world out of parts, ie, yeish mi'yeish (something from something).  Before that is creating the raw material itself; "b'ri'a", the world of yeish mi'ayin (something from nothing). That is where our Torah haK'dosha begins; b'reishis bara elokim....  The step before that, a step that has no word nor concepts for us to use is "atzilus" (noble/refined).  We refer to all four steps in kaddish "y'hei sh'mei... l'alam u'l'olmei almaiya" -- HaShem should be sanctified l'alam (the world of action), up the the worlds (olamei -- plural) of formation and creation, and all the way to the world where there is only HaShem.

Free will is always an interesting problem.  First, there is the problem that HaShem knows what you are going to do even before He created you.  That's a real problem and that is not what I want to discuss now.  In fact, it is a huge and complex topic.  If you are interested, I would start with the two volume set by R' Chaim Friedlander, z"tzal, that summarizes the main shitos in the rishonim.

The other problem is much more mundane.  Namely, in the world of asi'a, everything happens by cause and effect.  Each effect causes more things to happen, each cause was itself put into motion by a previous cause.  Where is the room for free will?  If I am entirely physical, than just like each microscopic physical action is the result of some definite cause, so is every macroscopic action.  So my every action is the result of a previous cause... all the way back to my birth and before.

That, says Rav Dessler, is the problem living without the Torah.  If a person thinks that the physical world is the be all and end of existence, then he is completely bound by his desires.  He has no more free will than a cow choosing which blade of grass to chew.  As Rav Dessler puts it, such a person has never even tasted the experience of free will.

We b'nei Torah, however, live solidly in the world of y'tzira.  We understand that the physical world is not an end in itself, but a construction to allow us to exercise our free will.  Something like a huge laboratory constantly being set up to let us make choices and experience their effects.  That means that we are not bound by our desires, but we use them as part of our decision making process when exercising our free will.

It also means, of course, that we are responsible for our actions and their effects.  It is much more comfortable to be a cow, but it doesn't taste as good.

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