13 Tishrei 5781 / Thursday, October 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Nitzavim: Balancing Body and Soul    

Nitzavim: Balancing Body and Soul

We have been effected by the secular-world view which portrays man as basically driven by instincts. It is truly perplexing: do we have free choice or not?


Parshat Nitzavim
In numerous places in the Torah, including this week's Parsha, the Jewish people are presented with the ultimate choice between a life of blessing or the opposite. Then it's up to us to decide what will be the quality of our lives.
It is often difficult to feel the importance of our choices. Today, however, we have a unique challenge believing in the freedom to choose. There are many people, primarily in the secular world, who look at man as little more than an advanced primate driven by his instincts. Free choice has little to do with that world view.
Clearly this is not the Torah's portrayal of man. The Torah fully understands our animalistic side, yet its message is clear: Our essence is our G-dly soul. And we are called upon to make the type of choices which will develop the primacy of our souls while properly using the gifts of the physical world. However, even if we can appreciate the Torah's lofty goal of balancing both the spiritual and physical parts of our being, we have been effected by the more secular world view which portrays man as basically driven by instincts. It is truly perplexing-do we have free choice or not?
Let's make a suggestion about how choices are made and hopefully this will give us the clarity to understand the gift of choice. With this understanding we will, with Hashem's help, make the kind of choices that will put us in tune with the Source of Life, Hashem Himself.
Step one is: Who am I? Who's making the decisions? The answer to these questions is essential to understanding how the Torah views freedom of choice.
Let's remove ourselves from the world of philosophy for a minute and reflect on the whole issue from a different angle. If we are  honest with ourselves we can observe our own experiences of making good and not so good choices. It doesn't take Yom Kippur to remind us of the mistakes we have made. Conversely, we all can remember times when we extended ourselves to a friend or a family member when we really weren't in the mood and when there was no direct benefit to us. We hopefully can also remember the good feelings that accompanied the altruistic act. In short, our real-life experiences reflect the obvious experience of making choices. At the same time, it's almost impossible to prove this with our minds.
Let's try to resolve this dichotomy which should then allow us to understand the Torah's approach to the subject of free choice.
We need to be thankful for the gifts and methodology of science. We have witnessed incredible advances in medicine and technology, but we have also paid a harsh price for those advancements. Man has become quantified. We have become comparable to mice in a scientific experiment. How many nerve endings are effected by which chemicals and what are the resulting human emotions? Our actions are little more than the movements of laboratory animals and our minds comparable to an efficient computer.
But the Torah tells us that we are much, much more than nerve endings and synapses. Who WE are is our G-dly soul and the brain is a tool to be used to make logical and coherent choices so we don't get lost to the world of emotions. But the brain knows no ultimate right and wrong since its really only a processing station. It's like asking a computer to process a problem and then comment on the moral correctness of the outcome. And if we do think that our brain is who WE are, we are likely to remain confused and doubt our ability to choose and assume there really is no right or wrong.
Our understanding about what is truly right and what is truly wrong can only come from the Divine soul which can connect us to the Source of truth and falsehood as explained to us in Hashem's Torah. The soul is expressed through our internal awareness that certain things are ultimately right and certain things are ultimately wrong.
Our computers, ipods, internets and, ultimately, our minds can be wonderful tools if we remember that they are just that, tools, to help us process the inner truths of our soul. The Torah is the magnet that draws out the soul to bring it closer to Hashem and to what is true and false in this world. (Practically speaking, gaining clarity with the help of a spiritual teacher and processing our issues and struggles with a friend is the wise advise of the Ethics of the Fathers. These two tools can help us keep our bearings during the storms of life.)
The Torah implores us time and again:"Choose Life". The first step is to choose to identify with the essence of who we are, the Divine soul within us. The second step is to make the type of choices that will bring us closer to our Creator. May Hashem give us the clarity to be in tune with our G-dly essence and make the sort of choices which will be a source of blessing for ourselves and the entire world.

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