Is It True That Only Jews have Freedom of Choice?
July 10, 2019
Rabbi Yossi Paltiel in #1173, Chassidic Thought, Stump the Rabbi

As with many such ideas, there is a grain of truth to it surrounded by a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings.

To help clarify the matter, let me introduce this elementary idea: the fundamental thing one must understand about the concept of bechira (free will) is that it isn’t natural to the human species, neither are we “permitted” to have it — it is instead empowered and bestowed upon us by our Creator. It’s not that Hashem “gets out of your way” and “lets” you be free. There is no such concept.

A machine doesn’t have freedom of choice — its maker determined its course of action, and it can never do anything to exceed what was in its planner’s mind. A human being, too, in his “natural” state cannot act contrary to his Creator’s plan for him.

Hashem created everything, and he created everything with a particular design. There is no freedom in that at all.

So obviously, “free will” doesn’t mean that Hashem lets you do whatever you want. I don’t want even to call it a secular idea; it is simply foolish.

Everyone understands that if somebody created you, you exist strictly in the way your Creator wanted you to, and He makes the decisions for how you will be, not you.

Truly, however, free will is a very different concept; free will is granted to you. It’s an improvement to the natural state of man. Free will, in essence, means that He created you in a particular form and instilled within you a power to break out of that natural limit, exceed it, and go past it. Alternatively said, He designed you to be able to express something which is not based on your design but based on something He gave you at your core.

For a person to have free will, he must have within himself G-d, because only G-d is free. Hashem was not created, he has no designer, and therefore he has no containment. Since no one made him in a particular way, he, therefore, doesn’t have to conform to any set of rules and laws.

To reiterate: Hashem created everything by design of his Divine wisdom and will. Therefore, everything is limited to that design. Human beings are extremely limited creatures; they have a body, they can’t fly, and there are many more things they can’t do. The only way for a person to be “free” is if there is a part of G-d within him because only Hashem is genuinely free.

In other words: free will is the ultimate dichotomy and the ultimate contradiction. Because your free will is only possible if it’s not from you — it’s from the “piece” He so-called “broke off” from Himself and put into you.

This is the true philosophy of free will: it is not allowed; it is endowed.

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Once that is established, we can move on to the logical conclusion that Hashem is the one that decides the “rules” of when free will is given to man. The rule of thumb is that everything is predesigned, and no one is free to do what he wishes.

Everything with one exception: Jews were given freedom of choice in matters of Torah and Mitzvos. If you choose a specific color car, it’s not free will; it’s your personality that was predestined by Hashem that led you to that “choice.”

The only place where the “G-d piece” within you can have expression, is when you choose to do, or G-d forbid, not to do a Mitzvah or commit an opposite action. Here is the only time you don’t act from within the limits of your pre-programmed nature, but out of your inner Divine freedom, which is free of any disposition.

[Now, we all know that only the Jewish people were given the Torah and Mitzvos, and from here comes the statement that non-Jews don’t have free will, because they were not given the Torah and Mitzvos which are the only “outlet” through which free will can be exercised.]

However, the Rebbe (in Basi L’gani 5713) takes a novel [but logically sound] approach:

Non-Jews too, concerning their Mitzvos, the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach (the 7 Noahide laws), have the same freedom the Jew was given when it comes to his 613 Mitzvos!

So, when we say, “A Jew has bechira, and a non-Jew doesn’t,” we need to clarify two points in that statement:

Firstly, even a Jew doesn’t really “have” free will; G-d gave it to him, and it only “works” for observing Torah and Mitzvos.

Secondly, a non-Jew doesn’t have bechira only when it comes to interfering with the Jew’s bechira (in the area of Torah and Mitzvos) and everything else in his life besides for his 7 Mitzvos where he does enjoy that freedom of choice.

In simpler terms, when we say that “a non-Jew doesn’t have freedom of choice” it means that If a non-Jew tries stopping you from doing a Mitzvah, he isn’t acting out of his free will; it is Hashem Who is making him do that, [in general to elicit the Jew to invest more kavanah in his prayer or his act of any other Mitzvah, as explained in Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh epistle 25.]

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No, it’s not that simple, we haven’t addressed all the issues, it does get more complicated. I do think that there is a difference between the bechira that a Jew has in his Mitzvos to the free will that a non-Jew in his Mitzvos.

However, what I told you here is accurate. It is based on a sicha of the Rebbe in Likkutei Sichos vol. 5 on Parshas Lech Lecha and other sources.

It’s so misunderstood and so over-simplified, not because the material is not available, but because when it comes to the “free will” debate, we are so enslaved by our biases on this matter. Everybody is sure they have it all figured out, no one even listens.

I hope the above-made points help bring a bit of clarity to this subject.

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Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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