The Free Willed Fire of Spring

There’s a major philosophical problem with free will. With all the stimulus pulling at us from the outside, and our inborn instincts pushing us from the inside out, where is there any room for free will?

In the words of Victor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Yesterday’s reality sets the stage for today’s choice, it is the fuel for today’s fire; but it doesn’t dictate what today’s choice will be, or where the energy of that fire might propel us. A free willed choice is truly free, and by definition new.

Plodding faithfully along the path we chose yesterday might keep us out of trouble. It might even allow us to accomplish some really nice things.

True greatness however, requires that we consciously and consistently choose anew; asking, where are we today, and where do we want to be tomorrow?

When we stop believing in our power to choose, we become slaves to our circumstances. We may lose our drive to accomplish, or, we might overly focus on pleasing others. We subconsciously say, “If I can’t create my own reality, I’d better be in good standing with the powers that be.”

This week’s Torah readings give us tremendous insight into the power of free will, and the dangers of losing sight of our free will.

The Jews had just heard the voice of God command them “Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.” Yet, when Moshe failed to arrive, they panicked and created the Golden Calf.

Rabbi Eizek Chaver explains that the root of the sin lay in the Jews losing sight of their free-willed greatness. Lacking faith in their own greatness, they believed that they needed an intermediary to bring God’s miracles to them.

In truth, the miraculous existence of the desert was a direct result of their free-willed service of God. The soul is so great and lofty, that it requires no intermediary between itself and its Source.

We should feel no need to busy ourselves with setting the stage for our success. Success and greatness are in our hands, mouths and hearts, all we need to do is choose.

The additional reading of Parshas Parah (the Red Heifer) teaches the antidote for the sin of low self-worth.

King Solomon himself sought to understand this esoteric mitzvah and failed. While we certainly are no smarter than King Solomon, we can learn a vital lesson from his failed attempt. The sages teach us that each mitzvah corresponds to a ‘limb’ of the soul. Solomon, who understood the greatness of the soul, was able to access the deeper meaning of most mitzvos. Here he stopped short; realizing that as wise as he was, he still didn’t fully grasp the depth of the soul’s greatness.

As we take leave of the sleepy winter and head into the freshness of spring, we need to remember this vital lesson.

We must see the past as the fuel for today’s choices and tomorrow’s realities.

Let’s leave all the stage setting to God; He and only He can set the stage of our lives. Ours is the responsibility and privilege of choosing the greatness that we’re all capable of.

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