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Free Will and Evil

Free Will & “Grains of rice”

Yes, we’re all familiar with the movie, Mulan.
It starts with the Mongolian Huns
Who invaded the kingdom of the Chinese emperor.
The soldiers immediately run to tell the emperor about the invasion
And want to protect the emperor’s palace.
Here, the emperor displays his greatness.
First, the emperor seeks to protect the whole kingdom
And not just his own life – a real leader!
He also says that every “grain of rice” is important;
who knows how we will manage to save the entire kingdom?!
Which “Grain of rice” will be the one to save them all?!
The intention is obvious, China has a multitude of
“Grains of rice” – their huge population…

With remarkable perseverance and strength,
It was indeed the “small grain” – a woman, at that!
Who succeeded in saving the entire kingdom
And bringing honor to all of China!

Do you understand why this message is significant?
There are billions of Chinese people in the world.
Each one may “only” be a “small grain of rice”
But nevertheless, each one is important.
Every person is significant!

There’s a story about someone who approached one of the “secret keepers”
Of the “chain of secret keepers” of the Hebrew nation
After an interesting class that this rabbi had taught.
The man claimed that he was unable to connect to the unique ideas that were taught
Because he “doesn’t believe in God.”
The rabbi answered him wisely,
“It doesn’t matter if you believe in Him or not
The main thing is that
The Giver of life, the one who gave you your life,
Believes in you.
The fact that He brought you to this world,
Specifically now, at this time,
Means that you have a role here
And you must fulfill it loyally.”

We, the descendants of the ancient Hebrew nation,
Are familiar with and appreciate the great wisdom that exists in the world.
But at the same time, there is an added level of value that we add.
Today, more and more people are noticing this fact.
For example:
We’re all familiar with the willpower that every person has inside.
Essentially, it’s the most important power that a person has,
And every person is free to do with it as he pleases.
Our free will is an amazing thing in itself.

The problem is that usually, this freedom is referenced
In the context of limitations, boundaries.

Perhaps the sentence that is most often said by any parent or teacher is:
“You have a brain, think before you act…”
Which is basically a way of saying, albeit unconsciously:
“Hold back your instinctive [animalistic?] will.”
Is that it?
Is this why we were given free will?
Is this the maximum that we can do with the incredible ability called freedom of choice?
Of course not!
Let me express this a bit differently:.
Often, we feel guilty about things that we regret having done,
Or alternatively, we are filled with worries about a certain issue.
These are regular emotions
That we all feel from time to time.
Today, science has interesting ways of overcoming these “paralyzing” emotions
And the solution that science proposes is correct and interesting.
Neuroscience can be viewed as a type of “programming” for humans,
And it really works.
For years, I applied all sorts of techniques that helped my students empower themselves
At the high school where I was the principal.
These methods increased their self-confidence and the self-esteem they felt inside,
To the extent that they grew up to be creative, valuable members of the adult world.
It’s genuinely excellent
But…
We are not robots!

I don’t need to tell you that these tools can also be used to take advantage of innocent people.
Techniques that work excellently can also be used to manipulate.
The famous NLP approach is based on programming the brain in various ways.
I must say that I have never met a person who uses these techniques maliciously,
But…
Here is where the “chain of secret keepers” comes in,
Who are essentially the descendants of the Hebrew nation,
And they are finally telling the entire world
How it’s possible to improve the quality of life, to advance, to delve deeper
Using a special, additional level
The fifth dimension
That every person can find inside themselves!
Every person is capable of bringing out and realizing the incredible potential inside.
You can explore these principles

How?
This and more
In our next post.

Have great life

Meanwhile, you can start with fixing those 5 mistakes
When learning the BIBLE

Rabbi Chaim Goldberg

Real Freedom | Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy

What do we mean when we say that all men are free? These words have a legal connotation which has found its way into the Bill of Rights, stating that all men are free as long as their actions do not impinge on the freedom of another person. The exact boundary between conflicting freedoms will be set by specific laws.

However, the legal statement has nothing to say about independent character traits of people. Why do I make the choices that I do? Do I have a tendency to act the way I do because of the influence of factors over which I have no control? We can say that legal freedom is given to a person specifically because it is hard to believe that he is truly free, and it would therefore be patently unfair to demand that he act in a way that is different from his natural tendency.

The approach which denies that man is truly free is called determinism. This approach has taken several forms. One of these is astrology, which feels that the fate of a person is set by the status of the stars at the moment of his birth. There is also biological determinism, which feels that everything depends on genetic factors, and Greek fatalism, which believes in blind fate. Islam believes in prior fate, in that everything is set in advance by a decision of the Creator, or psychoanalytical determinism, which searches for the roots of behavior in basic trauma of childhood, or the historicism of Karl Marx, which blames everything on a class war. There are also some who claim that human behavior depends on effects of society, education, or other factors.

As opposed to all of these approaches, the outlook of Judaism stands out with all its power. It views man as a completely free being with respect to the choice between good and evil. Rambam bases this approach on four points: (1) The very fact that the mitzvot exist assumes that sin is possible (see Shemona Perakim, Chapter 8). (2) Reward and punishment would be unjust if there were no free choice. (3) Study. (4) Preparation to ward off damage.

However, we are still left with one basic question. The very fact that we are born into the world is an act of coercion. And here we have a surprising fact in the Talmud which completes the picture. “All of the products of creation agreed to be formed – they were asked if they wanted to be created and they replied in the affirmative.” [Rosh Hashanah 11a, and see Rashi]. That is, every creature chose the conditions under which it would exist and the space where its free choice would have an expression – and this took place before it was created, at a stage where the difference between its own will and that of the Creator was not yet defined. And this includes the choice of belonging to a specific nation – to Israel or to the other nations.

This idea can be seen in the Mishna: Against your will you are created, born, live, die, and give a reckoning of your deeds (Avot 4:29). The unavoidable chain of events begins with “being created.” This corresponds to the stage where a fetus has reached forty days after fertilization (Sanhedrin 91b). That is the point when the biological recognition of existence begins, and not before.

Source: “THE ROOTS OF FAITH: Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute). See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Mishpatim 5777, issue 1662.

Parallel universes….


fantasy cosmos background, spiral galaxyA year ago Thomas Friedman suggested that we solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict by placing NATO forces as the doorman of the Palestinian state. This suggestion is not of his own making, but that of Mahmoud Abaas, the acting governor of the civic affairs of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria. According to Thomas Friedman this is a reasonable and even a very good option, even though everyone will have to abandon their present and accepted way of thinking. In the journalist's own words: "…Yes, it will require Israel, the Palestinian Authority and America to all agree to do something they've long felt was outside their strategic comfort zones…" The writer of this article erroneously assumes that we are dealing with a territorial conflict. And this is also his and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kerry's huge mistake.
In order to understand in depth what is taking place in the Middle East we must put on the proper glasses. For some time the world has gotten used to ignoring the following basic thinking.

What differentiates between man and other living things?

There are several answers. Man can think and define things, or also, man has free will to choose between different values (for example, the issue of euthanasia: The value of human life as opposed to the value of the whole. A person who has been given the responsibility of making a decision regarding euthanasia – yes or no.) Or alternatively, take a couple who finds themselves at a crossroad decision of aborting a fetus from the woman's body. Every sensible person should realize that there is a difference between those whom the decision directly affects and their external advisors. There is an additional realm in which man differs from the animals with which he co-exists. And that is the realm of religion.
Our intention is to what is termed professionally, the "Psychology of Religion". Alfred William James, Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, Erik H. Erikson, Gordon Allport, Adler, and other worthy advisers have dealt with this field. But in the end, everyone, like all good advisers, are coming from another world. The academic world and the religious world are two parallel universes which can’t fathom each other's world language. It is impossible to negate the religious world, but we find ourselves with "researchers" who are attempting to understand the religious world but who aren't fully there; they do not possess the full responsibility of those termed religious. They will call them "fanatics", "extremists" and more derogatory names which alienate these believers from "the normal world".

In a certain sense perhaps Thomas Friedman and the rest of the aforementioned figures need to abandon their way of thinking. It is crucial that they grasp the reality that we have here an enduring battle between two contrasting and conflicting cultures.
All these people must also understand the Tanach and its meaning. It is no secret that Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) has returned, as a People, to their ancient homeland after 2000 years of exile. It is obviously very difficult for the world to accept this new version of the Jews. And despite this we have come home!

It’s not Easy to be Jew

"You are the only ones I knew intimately from among all the families of the world, I will therefore hold you to account for all your sins" [Amos 3:2].

This verse, which appears in the Haftarah for this week, leads us to understand that the status of the Chosen People is not a comfortable position. If we ask ourselves if it is worthwhile to be born a Jew, since after all the Divine guidance keeps track of all our deeds, the answer will certainly be that it is more convenient and advantageous to be born into one of the other nations, where we can live a more comfortable and natural life. The Maharal of Prague wrote that while the other nations act in accordance with nature, the Jews act in accordance with the Divine "separate" trait ("nivdal") ("Tiferet Yisrael," Chapter 1). And for this reason the other nations are the majority and the Jews are a minority.

However, you may ask, what about life in the world to come? The answer is that every person can merit the life of the world to come if he or she wants to, even if he is not a Jew. This must be so because the righteous people of the Gentiles also receive a portion in the world to come (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 3:13). A Gentile who is not interested in having an eternal life can simply refrain from doing what is required of him, thereby relieving himself of the task of achieving a place in the world to come. A son of Israel, on the other hand, can never free himself of his obligation, since, as we have been taught, "Everybody in Israel has a portion in the world to come" [Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1]. A Jew cannot escape from the life of the world to come, and therefore every member of the nation of Israel must experience all the suffering and the purification steps in this world and the world of the souls (including reincarnation) until he will be suitable for his ultimate goal in a life of eternity. (See Rav Kook, Olat Re'iyah, volume 2, page 156; ARI, Likutei Shas, introduction to Pirkei Avot.)

It is therefore clear why most of the souls in the world chose to become Gentiles and not Jews.

Does that mean that we actually choose who we will become? The answer is yes. That is what Rashi wrote, commenting on the passage in the Talmud, "All acts of Creation were performed willingly" [Rosh Hashanah 11a]. As Rashi writes, G-d asked all the creations if they wanted to be created, and they replied: Yes. The stage when the choice to be created can no longer be reversed is later, at the moment of creation. For a human child, this is forty days after conception (Sanhedrin 91b). In the Mishna, this point is described by the following passage: "You are created against your will." [Avot 4:22]. The first choice to become what we are is called by Rav Kook "the choice concealed deep within existence" [Igrot Re'iyah 283; Olat Re'iyah volume 2, page 157].

One matter that is still to be determined is why a minority of the souls did make the choice to come to the world as Jews. The answer is that they are idealistic souls, whose only objective is dedication to G-d alone. As is written, "Not for our sake, G-d, not for our sake, rather for the glory of Your name... Why should the other nations say, Where is their G-d?" [Tehillim 115:1-2]. And if you ask whether being an idealist is worthwhile, our answer is that an idealist does not ask questions about intrinsic value.

What is the ‘evil inclination’?

The common definition for the 'evil inclination' is: the urge to do evil; the totality of baser tendencies within a person.

  1. A.   One's Baser Tendencies

The common and intuitive definition for the concept of the 'evil inclination' is: the urge to do evil; the totality of baser tendencies that one finds within himself – the tendencies towards sin, destruction, jealousy, anger,  lust, and so on.

Let us delve more deeply into this definition.  There are different opinions about the source of these baser tendencies.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher, argued that man is essentially good, and that which makes him evil is the society in which he lives.   He even coined a term for the purpose of his argument: the 'noble savage'.  In his opinion, the Native American Indians or the black tribes of Africa were much better people than the residents of the cities of Europe, since the hand of civilization had not yet touched them- thus covetousness, contentiousness, purposeful destructiveness, and a whole array of other negative qualities are nonexistent among them.  It is on the basis of this argument that Rousseau wrote an optimistic book on the ideal form of education, yet it is interesting to note that he himself failed completely in the education of his own children, sending them off one after the other to be adopted.  In any case, in a theoretical sense, his work is based on the attractive assumption that man is, by nature, good.

Contrary to this, there are those who claim that man is essentially evil, a savage beast.  This is also said in the Book of Job (11:12): "…let he who is a wild ass be reborn as a man…", or in Latin: homo homini lupus (man is to man like a wolf).  In their opinion, if there is any hope for the transformation and rectification of man, it lies specifically in the values of society.  Sigmund Freud described the process necessary for change in a more detailed manner: man is born with unrestrained and unconscious urges towards bloodshed and incest which are given civilized forms as society restrains these baser tendencies by way of punishment, fear, de-legitimization, and strict behavioral codes.  That is to say, moral values, in Freud's opinion, are not to be found in the depths of the human psyche, but rather stem from social coercion – this is the exact opposite of Rousseau's approach.

A third opinion, popular among contemporary psychologists, is that man is neither good nor evil by nature.  Rather, he is a tabula rasa- a blank sheet.  Whatever is written on him is what will be.

There exists a forth opinion on this matter – that of our Sages – who claim that man is both good and evil by nature.  In the Talmudic tractate Berachot the Midrash asks: Why is it that during the description of the creation of man in the Book of Genesis the Hebrew word for 'create' (וייצר) is written with the letter yod twice, whereas in the description of the creation of animals, in the same word, the yod only appears once?  The Midrash answers: this is a hint at the two creations that are in Man – the 'good inclination' (יצר הטוב) and the 'evil inclination' (יצר הרע).  Both inclinations are intrinsic in man, neither comes from without.    Man cannot shake free of the darker forces that he finds in his soul and argue that they are some foreign element that has nested in him, and on the other hand, one cannot argue against him that his good aspirations are the result of societal and educational influences alone.

This understanding – that both inclinations are intrinsic in man – is cause for relief.  When the moral person gazes in his own soul and finds dark forces there he is startled and may even bow to despair or fear.  Yet our sages assure him: Do not worry; this is how G-d created you, with these different forces running about inside of you.  This is how you are meant to be.  You are not expected to act according to those baser forces, but be assured that in a very natural way they are a part of you.

Already at this stage one can see the enormous difference between the view of our Sages and the view of Christianity.  The Christian view sees in the baser tendencies as a curse, born in Original Sin, and as a result man is unwanted by G-d.  But our sages argue that this was the original intention in the creation of Man.  Accordingly, the individual, along with all of his inclinations, is desirable as far as G-d is concerned.  This argument removes all guilt feelings that accompany the baser tendencies: If man was created like this he need not feel ashamed.

  1. B.   Love of this world

Yet if we check these baser tendencies we find that most of them have a common element.  Let us try to imagine a man without the urge to eat, without the desire for money, without jealousy, or without anger.  Such an individual would not feed himself as he should, would not care for his own livelihood, would not strive to advance in society, and would not discover in himself his own unique personality.  His life-forces would dwindle and become weak.  In other words: the root of most of our negative tendencies is in actuality something positive – love of this world.

Love of this world is an important element in our human identity.  By way of love for this world, man strikes roots in reality and does not run away from it.  Man has a spiritualist tendency that might cause him to abandon being involved in worldly matters and even to be revolted by them, yet love of this world acts as a 'weight' pulling man down and creating in him the motivation to engage the world.  This is what the Sages explain in Kohelet Rabah (3 :16): "Rabbi Binyamin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: 'and the world too he gave in their heart'- love of the world he gave in their hearts."  In several places we find them emphasizing the importance of the evil inclination in this context.  Take, for example, the Midrash in B'reishit Rabah (9:7):

"R. Nachman b. Shmuel in the name of Rav Shmuel b. Nachman said: 'here it was very good' – this is the good inclination, 'here it was very good' – this is the evil inclination.  And is the evil inclination very good?  Strange!  Rather – if it not for the evil inclination man would never build a home, would never marry, would never heave children, and would never enter business negotiations."

The person who lacks an evil inclination, who lacks love for this world, is in danger – and needs a doctor or psychologist immediately.  Thus, the very fact that one wishes to eat is not evil at all.  This is a natural tendency of the soul, and it behooves one to desire to fulfill the inclinations of the soul.

Together with this, however, love of this world may bring one into the hands of sin – to exaggerate and overreach the bounds of morality – and for this reason it is known as the 'evil inclination'.  A healthy individual is born and grows with a great love for this world, yet if he navigates his life solely on this basis he will, in the end, reach an imbalance and perform evil deeds.   Yet the diagnosis with which we opened is extremely important: the forces in themselves are positive; it is the evil act that is evil.

The early Christians diverged from the way of our sages in this matter as well.  They saw in the fact that man was drawn to this world an existential disaster.  Paul claimed that the evil inclination was a demon found in man, a 'thorn in the flesh', and thus the possibility of man's redemption on his own accord was impossible.  Instead, one must wait for divine intervention to redeem him from his condition.  This worldview is necessarily pessimistic and gives rise to hatred towards this world.

In contrast to this view, the sages guided man to establish a pact between the good inclination and the evil inclination in order that the two might balance one another.  The Sages read the passage "And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your might (Deuteronomy 6:5)" as implying "with all of your heart – with both of your inclinations, the good and the bad (Berachot 54a)".  One must serve G-d with both inclinations, for if he were to serve with only one inclination he would lose all balance.

The Maharal of Prague (prominent Jewish Kabbalist and scholar, 1520 – 1612) explains that there are some things in our reality that have no value in and of themselves but do have value when they are used as preparation for something else.  So too with the evil inclination – it has no purpose in and of itself, but is beneficial insofar as it allows for and advances life in this world.  Without the evil inclination, one would be constantly linked to G-d but would be unable to establish a base and strike roots in this world.

  1. C.   The tension between worlds

In another place, the Maharal offers a new understanding of the concept 'evil inclination'.  The Maharal opens his words with a painful question: Why is it that all created things act in accordance with their inherent level of virtue, while the people of Israel, who were graced with special virtues, fall again and again to lowliness and to the evil inclination?

After a prolonged analysis of the question from various sides, the Maharal brings the words of the Talmud in the tractate of Sukkah (52a) where it is declared that as one advances in the rungs of holiness, so too the evil inclination grows stronger in order to cause one to fail in his advance.

Yet what is the evil inclination, and why does it grow stronger?  According to the Maharal, the evil inclination is not an independent entity – some dark demon with featherless wings, horns, and a pitchfork.  Rather, it represents the tension that is formed as a result of the existence of two worlds: the natural world, and the transcendental world.  In order to better explain this claim, let us look at the following experiment from the world of physics:  When we spread out a tablecloth on a large table and then try to pinch and lift it from its central point, we find that, due to atmospheric pressure, it remains stuck to the table.  If we may translate this experiment into more colorful language, we might say that nature hates deviations.  The natural world has a tendency towards uniformity and equal application of rules.  The moment that a given element tries to stray from the norm, it becomes subject to a system of pressures that attempt to bring it back to its place.

So too with man and holiness:  Man was created in the image of G-d, and the image of G-d is a foreign element in the natural world.  Therefore, when man tries to express himself as an image of G-d, nature pulls him down and humiliates him.  As one rises in the rungs of holiness – man, the people of Israel, talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) – the tension becomes more pronounced, and the downfall that may result will be more severe.

This is the exact meaning of the Kabbalistic term sitra achra, whose literal translation is 'the other side'.  The other side of what?  It turns out that we are talking about the other side of kedusha, holiness.  The sitra achra is not an independent entity; rather it is the other side of the same coin, the other side of the 'good inclination'.  At the very moment one decides to advance and deviate from the natural environment in which he is engulfed, a new force is born in him that expresses a strong will to cling to natural reality.  This is the deeper source of the evil inclination.

When we accept the Maharal's definition that the evil inclination is in fact the tension that exists between the natural world and the transcendental world we immediately arrive at a further definition:  Since the natural world is governed by strict laws while freedom of will exists in the transcendental world (insofar as this is an extension of the freedom of G-d), the evil inclination is, then, the tension that exists between slavery and freedom.  In other words: the inclination to sin is really the demand for slavery in the soul of man.  When one succumbs to the evil inclination, he is requesting slavery.

This definition is surprising since in most cases the evil inclination brings arguments that are themselves based on the concept of freedom ("Do whatever you want") while the arguments against this are based in structure and rules ("Do this and don't do that").  In truth, however, surrender to the evil inclination comes about as the individual proves to himself that he is incapable of standing before worldly temptation, that he is not free, and thus he is not to blame.  The moment the individual removes the responsibility from himself, he gives it to someone else, thereby affirming the definition: he is as a slave.