4 Cheshvan 5781 / Thursday, October 22, 2020 | Torah Reading: Noach
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Shabbat Shuva: Free Choice    

Shabbat Shuva: Free Choice

Whenever we make a decision, we have to clarify and consider our thoughts and options, instead of acting on instinct alone...


On Shabbat Shuva, the height of the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we're called upon to ponder our free choice. Have we made the right choices? If not, are we asking Hashem with all our might to help us make those free choices? Where do we begin?


Free choice begins with our thoughts: which thoughts do we choose to follow - humility and emuna or arrogance and heresy? Do we find difficulty in allowing anyone to tell us what to do? Do we allow ourselves to do things that we would forbid others from doing? With honesty and careful observation, we see that many of our actions are the result of arrogance and our bodily appetites. We want to feel like the master of our own destiny. This is an eye-opening lesson for all of us to learn: we must pay attention to the ongoing debate in our minds and identify which side is the evil inclination with its thoughts of arrogance and heresy, and which side is the good inclination with its thoughts of humility and emuna. This is the core of thought clarification, which is the opposite of instinct, when one does things without premeditation, which seldom leads to a desirable outcome.


A person's thoughts will lead to good or evil. One who accustoms himself to thinking in a humble manner, observing Hashem's magnificent Divine providence, appreciating life's blessing and rejoicing in one's service of Hashem will readily cling to Hashem and be better equipped to ward off negative thoughts. Don't harbor the slightest negative thought in your head! The Gemara calls the evil inclination, "The yeast in the dough" (tractate Berachot, 17a), for it can blow any small thought way out of proportion. For that reason, we must guard against arrogant thoughts, telling ourselves how great we are, for they'll surely lead to to negative deeds. Once again, there's no alternative to begging Hashem in prayer, especially personal prayer, to strengthen us with positive desires and thoughts, while helping us to guard against any negative desires and thoughts.


Rebbe Nachman lauds the sublime loftiness of the thought process, which enables us to cling to the Ein Sof, the Infinite One. One's thoughts must therefore be closely guarded. Since our thoughts are capable of carrying us so high, they are also very vulnerable. The more we bind our thoughts to Hashem and to holiness, the happier we are. But, Heaven forbid, the more a person's thoughts are egotistical, arrogant, and heretical, the more miserable he or she is.


In all fairness, Rebbe Natan explains that we can't fully grasp the concept of free choice, especially where thoughts are concerned, for Hashem gives us our thoughts as well. Rebbe Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan I:54), that every moment of every day, Hashem sends a person his or her thoughts, speech and deeds. In light of this teaching, our thoughts truly come from Hashem! So where's the free choice? Rebbe Natan answers (see Likutei Halachot, Birkat HaRe'ach 4:19) that we cannot fully grasp the concept of free choice, for this is one of Hashem's wonders, for there is nothing in creation from great to small that escapes Hashem's constant vigil. Our free choice comes from the fact that we cannot grasp the magnitude, extent and depth of Divine Providence.


What we do know is that the more a person submits himself to Hashem and realizes that he is nothing without Hashem, the more he strengthens his emuna. The outcome is that his thoughts, speech and deeds become much more positive, all beginning with his free choice to submit to Hashem. This manifests itself not only in his relationship with Hashem, but in his relationship with his fellow human as well. The more a person leans toward arrogance, the more his thoughts, speech and deeds will be negative. But, one who is humble and happy with his lot in life, looking at his own shortcomings but focusing on the good in other people, will invariably make good choices and succeed in getting close to Hashem. I'm sure you'll succeed. May you be signed in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, amen!

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