Friday, September 7, 2018 /27 Elul, 5778
Parashat Nitzavim Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
So, do we have free-will, or is all fated and predestined?
It is the age-old question. Are we puppets or marionettes dangling from the strings of the Heavenly puppeteer, or are we self-determining?
In today’s day, who among us would contend that we do not have free-will? At least, we would argue such until we encounter some odd, unexplainable happenstance, like meeting that someone special, or avoiding some tragic accident, and question… was this my doing, or was it predestined?
The Torah speaks out of both sides of its rollers on this one. In this week’s Torah portion, we read the compelling and powerful assertion, “U’vacharta ba’chaim – Therefore, choose life… that you may live, you and your offspring.” (Deut 30:19) Clearly, we have choices. We do determine most of the deeds of our lives, and the meanings of our lives are determined in those selections. In fact, a literal translation of our verse would be rendered, “Choose IN life,” which further supports this idea.
But, the Rabbis taught centuries ago that, “All is in the hands of God, except the fear of God.” In other words, all is preset, except our decision to follow the preset way. 2000 years ago there was an historic rift between the Saducees, those of the priestly caste, who held that all was chance, the Pharisees, who subscribed to free-will, and the severe Essenes, who believed all was predestined. We, and the rabbis, are descendants of the Pharisees, so our Judaism maintains the doctrine of free will.
For most of us, we contend that we have sway over our lives, and in so doing, we make ethical and meaningful choices every day. Beyond which movie to watch, and Coke or Pepsi, we have significant decisions to consider every day. Do we reveal a confidence? Do we drive hastily and dangerously, eat healthily, listen carefully and speak ethically, return inappropriate comments? Our choices reveal our character and demonstrate the experience of holiness in the world.
As we commence the New Year, we have choices to make. “U’vacharta ba’chaim – Therefore, choose life… that you may live, you and your offspring.” Let’s choose well and rightly.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Doug Kohn