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The Choice is Ours

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

The story is told about a man that didn’t believe in free will. After 120 years he went up to heaven and was met with two paths in front of him. The first had a sign saying “Believers in predestination” and the second said “Believers in free will”.

Needless to say, he chooses the first and goes down a long path. Finally, he arrives at a large brick wall up to Shamayim and a small door. He knocks on the door and an angel appears asking him, ‘What brings you to my door, mortal?’ And the man says, ‘Well, there were these two signs, and I chose the one that said predestination.’ The angel says, “You chose it? You can’t come in here” and slams the door. The man is heartbroken.

Finally, he trudges back to the crossroads and goes down the other road. Eventually he comes to another giant wall and a door that says ‘FREE WILL.’ He knocks and another angel opens the door and says, “Why did you come this way, mortal?” And the man says, “I had no choice!’”

We believe that free will lies at the essence of our existence. Hashem has placed us here with the ability to decide our actions. He has created a world of reward and punishment that is governed by our free will.

In this week’s Parasha, we learn a great lesson in how much we are supposed to appreciate this free will. When a person came to the Bet Hamikdash to offer up a Korban, his  intentions (together with those of the Kohen) had to be clear and focused on the special mitzvah. All Korbanot were the same. Nevertheless the Torah seems to go out of its way and single out the Korban Todah (thanksgiving offering) to mention the importance of good intention when being offered up, it should be offered up Lirtsonechem – willingly (22:29).

Every Korban had to be offered up to Hashem with good intent. Why does the Pasuk single out the Korban Todah? The Korban Todah was brought as a thanksgiving to Hashem for saving the person from one of four things:release from jail, recovering from a serious illness, safely travelling across the sea and wilderness).

The Oneg Yom Tov explains that the word Toda – thanks comes from the word Modeh – to admit.

One can only admit something that one is able to deny.

Let us take a thought for a moment.

Hashem’s power is infinite and the whole world is full of His presence. How is it possible for man to sin with Hashem there at the same time? How is it possible for Hashem to be present and allow man to sin?

This is one of the greatest acts of kindness of Hashem, that in order for us to have free will, He enables us to go against His will. When something bad happens and someone survives, they have two paths in front of them. They can use their extra life to enjoy the physicalities of this world or they can focus that extra life on serving Hashem. The person that brings the Todah admits and shows his love of Hashem.

This is the meaning to our Pasuk; Lirtsonechem Tizbachuhu – we are acknowledging the gift of free will. We thank (Toda) Hashem for the free will that he has given us even whilst He is present.

So how should we guide our free will?

The Torah teaches that 3 types of domesticated animals were offered as Korbanot (sacrifices) in the temple – the cattle, the sheep and the goats. These 3 are mentioned in our Parasha. (22:27)

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor) has a fascinating insight as to why these three animals were given the merit to be offered up and stand as a merit for Am Yisrael.

The ox – Shor, was in the merit of Avraham. When the 3 angels arrived at his house as guests, he ran to the flock and chose a calf (young ox). The sheep – Kesev was in the merit of Yitschak. At the Akeida (binding of Isaac) Avraham offered the Kesev when prevented from offering his son.

The Ez – goat was in merit of Yaakov.  Rivka commanded Yaakov to get two goats so that she would cook for Yitschak tasty food and he would bless Yaakov (thinking he was Eisav).

Rabbi Yehuda Leb Eidel (Iyeh Hayam) asks that whilst we can understand why Avraham and Yitschak actions are a merit for their children, why are Yaakov’s actions- which essentially were deceiving- a merit for his children? Yaakov wore the goats skin as a means to deceive his father – is that a merit?

R’ Yehudah Leb gives a fascinating answer. When Rivka approached Yaakov with the idea, he was frightened. He stated that Eisav is an Ish Sair – literally hairy, VeAnochi Ish Chalak – and I am smooth.

On a deeper level, Yaakov was saying that Eisav always attributes everything to Seir – demons and idols, whereas I attribute everything to Hashem. Surely, he said to Rivka, Yitschak will realise. Rivka responded and calmed his fears and Yaakov dressed in the goat’s skin.

When we delve deeper, we see that Yaakov had a much better option to ‘deceive’ his father.

When Yaakov came in to his father, he was asked how come he managed to prepare the food so quick. He answered it was because Hashem had caused things to be quick. This triggered some doubt in Yitzchak’s mind. If Eisav was before him, how come he mentioned G-d’s Name – something he didn’t usually do?

It was only then that Yitschak asked him to draw near so that he could feel him to check it was really Eisav.

Surely Yaakov could have initially responded by attributing his swiftness to the idols (seirim). If that would have been the case, perhaps Yitschak would have never had any doubt and wouldn’t have needed to feel him.

Why didn’t Yaakov choose this path? R’ Yehudah Leb explains that Yaakov was a man of truth. Lying was not his nature. He had to attribute all to Hashem. He would rather dress in goat’s skin and be put in a predicament than to miss out mentioning Hashem’s Divine providence. This explains R’ Yehudah, is the reason that goats were offered up and stood as a merit and reminder to Yaakov’s testimony of Hashem’s Divine providence in all.

When we guide our free will in the right direction, the effect is eternal.

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