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To Choose or Not to Choose

09/05/2018 02:07:23 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week's parashah, Parashat Nitzavim, we read: "See, I have given you today life and good, and death and evil...I call the heavens and the earth today to testify upon you that I have given you life and death, blessing and curse; and you should choose life in order that you and your descendents live.  To love HaShem your G-d, to listen to H-s voice and to cling to H-m, for He is your life and the length of your days to dwell in the land that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, to give you..." (Devarim 30: 19-20)  A remarkable thing happens in the final six verses of this week's parashah, and it is found nowhere else in either the Torah or the Tanakh.  What we find in this passage is the fact that Moshe is conveying Hashem's willingness to allow the Children of Israel the ability to have free will.  Our tradition teaches that all is determined in Heaven, that Hashem controls everything that happens...except for free will.  But how can this be?  If HaShem is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how could we human beings have the ability to do anything independent of H-m?  If HaShem controls nature, life, death, and the destiny of this world, then how could we human beings have the power to choose what HaShem has not chosen?  How can this be?

The latest findings in neuroscience claim human beings make choices through the physical properties of the brain and not by something called the "soul" or the "spirit."  But even the scientists themselves who make this observation are at odds with it when it comes to the human experience.  We like to think that we have choices to make, and we sense that the choices we make matter in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  And it because of the choices we make that we matter in this world.  As human beings, we believe that life itself is precious, and that it has great significance.  To claim otherwise strikes us as being both inhumane and just plain wrong.

Each of us has the ability to make choices. The Torah tells us this is so.  We even have the free will to either make choices or not make choices.  This ability, this "gift" comes from Hashem.  Our moral and spiritual fate lies in our own hands - not in the "hands" of HaShem nor in the forces of nature.  The Torah states the truth: We have free will.  We have the ability to choose.  At this time, in this season, let us choose life!

Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781