What is Free Choice?



   
    August 1998          
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Free Choice

By Gary Silverberg

In the story of the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt, one difficult point stands out. The Egyptian king, know as Pharaoh, constantly refused to send the Jewish people from his land, even after experiencing several miraculous plagues. As the story progresses, G-d tells Moses that he is going to harden Pharaoh's heart that he may continue to refuse to send the Jewish People from his land in order that He may make signs and wonders for the succeeding generations.

The question here is that G-d has taken away the free choice from Pharaoh. Is it fair to punish Pharaoh and Egypt if they refuse to send the Jewish People out of their lands when the ability to choose has been taken away?

To understand this we must first understand what is free choice.

Free choice is a concept that we have heard about. Understood superficially, it means the ability to choose or select from a number of options as per our desires with coercion from with out.

This concept of free choice is slightly different from the reality of the actuality. Free choice, as it really is does not mean the ability to select between a Ford or a Chevy, or to select a red automobile or a green one. This may be a manifestation of free choice, but it is not limited only to this form of selection.

Since man is a complex being, free choice exists on all levels of his being - but not at all times.

Man can be divided into several levels of being, the animal, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual. On each of those levels man may or may NOT possess free choice.

On the lowest level, the animal level, man needs to eat. How much free choice does he possess in regard to eating? True, he may choose to eat hamburger or pizza, but may he choose not to eat? He may choose how much to eat and when to eat, but he must eat. On that he does not possess free choice.

On the same level, it may be that he lacks even the ability to control himself in regards to eating, becoming a glutton and a slave to his bodily desires. Hence on this level he may loose his free will.

On the next level, the emotional level, man also possesses the ability to exercise free will. He may control his emotional behavior, he may dictate to his emotions how to react to an occurrence or he may be controlled by his emotions. In the former, he controls his emotions, exercising his free will. In the latter, his emotions control him. Each person is different and each set of circumstances are different. Sometimes a person may exercise his free will and some times his emotions control him. When his emotions control him, he is no longer in possession of free choice.

On an even higher level, there exists the realm of the mental or intellectual. Can a person control his thoughts or do his thoughts control him? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Each person has the ability to control his thoughts. He can decide to think about something or he can decide that he does not want to think about something. Can he be objective or is he only able to be subjective. All these contribute to a persons ability to have free choice.

Also in terms of spirituality, a person may decide to want to be a spiritual being or he may decide that the physical world and it's embellishments are for him. Each person according to who he is and where he is. Even in spiritual endeavors, a person may select a certain path and reject another. On the other hand he may be prejudiced by prior understandings and may not seek a different venue.

Free choice is an inherent part of the creation. Without it, no man is a man. An animal has no free choice. An animal eats when it is hungry and sleeps when it is tired. It is a slave to its animalism. For man to function as the perfection of creation, man must exercise his free will on all levels, for it is possible for him to lose his ability to choose. Once he looses this ability to choose, he is lost as a man and reverts to being an animal. This is true even on the upper levels of free choice.

Pharaoh, to himself had canceled his ability to choose freely after the first couple of plagues. At this point he should have been punished. Since, G-d had decided to utilize his choice of not sending away the Jews in order to benefit succeeding generations.

Let us also learn from this. When we exercise our free choice in the proper choice we retain it. When we expend our choice in the wrong manner we lose it. We retain free choice only when we use it in making proper choices. May we merit to always make the proper selection.

~~~~~~~

from the August 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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