Friday, September 30, 2016

Nitzavim 5631

Do We Have a Natural Inclination To Do Good?  What about Free Will?

At the end of this week’s parsha Moshe Rabbeinu tells the nation, “הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ .../Today, I bring the heavens and earth as witnesses (that I have warned) you …” (Devarim 30:19)  What is the significance of the heavens and earth that God chose to bring them to testify?  Rashi[1] explains that God is referring to the heavens and earth in order to admonish us and encourage us to fulfill His will.  The heavens and the earth always fulfill God’s will.  The sun always rises in the morning.  Wheat seeds always produce wheat, never barley.  They fulfill the will of God even though they receive no reward for doing so and are not punished if they transgress.  We, who receive reward upon fulfilling the will of God and are punished when we transgress, should certainly be moved to fulfill God’s will.

How, the Sfas Emes asks, can the nation be compared to the heavens and the earth, though?  The heavens and the earth always fulfill the will of God because they have no free will.  They have no choice, make no decision.  We have free will.  Confronted with a situation, we need to decide what we are going to do.

The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe Rabbeinu is teaching us a fundamental lesson in serving God.  We learn from the heavens and the earth that fulfilling God’s will is built into the Creation.  It is a part nature.  We too, if not for the overpowering influence of our evil inclination, would be drawn to fulfill God’s will just like every other creation[2].  To the extent that we do not allow our evil inclination to overpower us, we are automatically inner-directed towards good.

With this concept we can understand a pasuk in Tehillim (62:13), “וּלְךָ־ה' חָסֶד כִּי־אַתָּה תְשַׁלֵּם לְאִישׁ כְּמַעֲשֵׂהוּ/And you God have kindness for you repay a man according to his action.”  The Gemara[3] notes the difficulty in the pasuk.  Repaying a man according to his action does not seem to be an aspect of kindness.  Does a person not deserve to be repaid according to his action? 

However, the question is based on the premise that our decisions are not influenced in any way neither for good nor for bad.  If there is nothing influencing us, then repaying a person according to his deeds is indeed justice, not kindness.  However, if the desire to do good is built into nature, and our job is to refrain from being drawn after the evil inclination, the question becomes moot.  God repays man according to his action even though the yearning to accomplish His will comes from Him.  This truly is kindness.

This concept answers a question regarding fulfilling mitzvos of the heart.  One of the Torah’s cardinal mitzvos is the requirement to love God – Ahavas HaShem.  Since this is a mitzvah of the heart – it requires no action – how does one fulfill this mitzvah if he does not feel love towards God?  The Rambam[4] teaches that we can reach Ahavas HaShem/Love for God through contemplating the wonders of the Creation.  

The Sfas Emes answers that Ahavas HaShem/Love for God, is naturally built into our hearts.  If we do not feel it, it is because the evil inclination is drawing us after illicit passions which hide the natural passion for God that is within us.  By being careful not to be drawn after illicit desires, our entire being, heart and soul, naturally gravitates towards God.  May we merit it!

[1]Rashi ad loc.
[2] See Ramban on Devarim 30:6 says exactly this, “… but after the Mashiach comes choosing good will be part of nature
[3]Rosh HaShanah17b
[4]Moreh Nevuchim 3:28; Yad HaChazakah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:1-2

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