14 Shvat 5779 / Sunday, January 20, 2019 | Torah Reading: Yitro
 
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Free Meals and Free Will    

Free Meals and Free Will



Why did Hashem create man with an evil inclination that impels him to sin and do wrong and with a coarse body that is attracted to physical pleasures that torment the soul?

 



Why did Hashem create man with an evil inclination that impels him to sin and do wrong and with a coarse body that is attracted to physical pleasures that torment the soul?

 

A person only gains pleasure from something that he has worked for. King David says, “When you eat the toil of your hands, you are fortunate, and it is good for you” (Psalms 128:2). The Gemara adds, “A person prefers his own measure to nine measures that belong to someone else” (Bava Metzia 38a). Rashi explains, “He prefers it because he worked for it.”

 

Free meals are no delight; indeed, they cause the soul great suffering. The soul is a tiny spark of Hashem, Who is entirely true and Whose seal is truth. Therefore, the soul is far from anything that has the slightest trace of falsehood, dishonesty or any lack of integrity. Something unearned lacks a degree of integrity, because it is something that a person wanted to gain without having worked for it. Therefore, it is ungratifying for the soul.

 

Even Laban the Aramean, the rip-off artist, understood that receiving something for nothing constitutes a flaw in one’s character. Therefore, he told Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me for free?” (Genesis 29:15). Ramban explains: “I know that from now on you will work for me, because you are a moral person who will not earn a living at the expense of others. And I too do not want the work that you do for me to be gratis, without full wages. So tell me what you request for your wages, and I will pay it.” Receiving something without having earned it is repugnant to a moral and virtuous soul, which by nature is true and unflawed. Therefore, when the soul receives delight without having earned it, it suffers.

 

In this world, nothing is free. Anything that is free is only a trap. The pure soul therefore wants to earn its true delight with its toil and effort, and not receive it for free. Even in this world, people are prepared to die rather than be disgraced and shamed before others; all the more so in the next world. Rebbe Nachman teaches, “The suffering of shame is much greater than the punishment of Gehennom” (Likutei Moharan I 22).

 

Everyone can understand from his own experience the bad feeling caused by a handout. Imagine how you'd feel if you were to eat at a wedding to which you hadn’t been invited…

 

A normal person hates to rely on others and to beg and go from door to door. The Gemara says, “When a person needs others, his face changes colors” (Berachot 6b) - it turns red as fire then white as water. This holds true even if a person just needs a loan. Anyone would rather work than receive a loan; he certainly does not want gifts or charity.

 

Similarly, imagine a case in which an employer told his workers, “As soon as you finish your work, I will give you lunch.” All of them worked energetically except for one, who was completely idle. When the time came to eat, they all sat down at the table except for the idle worker, who stood outside the dining room. The employer asked him, “Why don’t you go in and eat?” He answered that he feels ashamed, that he doesn’t deserve the food since it was only meant for those who worked, whereas he didn’t work, and that if he eats something that he doesn’t deserve, it is like stealing and taking something that isn’t his. That is how the soul feels in the upper world when it receives unearned delight. Not only is the delight imperfect, but the soul suffers greatly from the fact that it is receiving pleasure that it didn’t earn.

 

We can now understand why the Creator brought the soul down into this lowly physical world and gave it an evil inclination. This was for the soul will to have free will. Then, everything good that it accomplishes is by virtue of its efforts in overcoming the powers of evil that opposed it.

 

Were there were no free will, there would be no context for reward. Hashem therefore created the physical world. The Hebrew word for “world,” olam, is related to the word he’elem, “concealment,” because this world conceals the existence of the Creator, and it conceals the true delight—namely, closeness to the Creator—which is a spiritual, eternal delight. The Creator brought the soul down into the body, which hides the true delight from the soul. And He gave the body an evil inclination that pulls it to physical pleasures that completely conceal the true delight.

 

This concealment is the root of free will, because if it were easy for a person to feel the delight of closeness to the Creator and the sweetness of the Torah and of prayer, he would run after Hashem, so that all of the powers of evil couldn’t overcome him. That is because, when we feel the true delight, all evil is completely nullified. Thus, a person would attain goodness without work and effort, and he would lack free will.

 

If a person cannot choose freely between good and evil, but only has the option of choosing good, what will he receive reward for? He hasn’t done anything. And even if he does receive reward, he won’t benefit from it, because he is receiving a free meal, something that brings shame to his soul and not pleasure. Reward only makes sense in the context of free will, and free will is the outcome of the opposition between the body and the soul, the inclination to evil and the inclination for good.





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