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Parashat Re’eh: Freedom and Responsibilities

Rabbi MargolisOur weekly Torah portion is “Re’eh”: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.  The blessing; if ye shall hearken unto the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day – And the curse; if ye shall not hearken unto the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.”

( Deuteronomy, 11:26- 28)

The nineteenth century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, emphasises this word “Behold” saying: This is not a teaching that must be taken because of the belief in someone’s special competence; This – his appeal to you, is based on what he had seen himself … you have come to the clear conclusion that G-d handed you, your future in your hands – and thereafter that it turned into a blessing or a curse – by the teachings transmitted to you through Moses.

Jewish teachings are the doctrine of free choice, and the responsibility for the consequences of those life choice(s). Life can be a blessing or a curse, but this can only be determined by a human-being.

In chapter 12 verse 8 there is a wonderful phrase: “Ye shall not do after all that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes;” The real question is then; what is this free will, granted to each of us?

It would be remiss not to observe here, that our practical choice(s) in terms of our action(s) and our behaviour in everyday life, are due to just such a “rudimentary” understanding. As an example: We allow ourselves to raise our voices in conversation, hurt and humiliate people around us, ignore the feelings of another close to us, and further to be absolutely confident in our right “freedom” to do so. We need to realise that the freedom that was given to us, not only has boundaries, and very definite responsibilities – but has repercussions attached directly to it – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Our right “free will” needs to be balanced in many cases with the right of another human being, our confidence coexists with confidence of those who are close to us. Indeed G-d has given us the freedom and wisdom to understand this!

 

We also hear so often the two points of view; on the one hand “free will,” and on the other, to use a common phrase, that which is “basheret.” These are often spoken about as if things can only be ordered by the creator with one or the other being in place – either or?

But what if both these points of view could coexist, so to speak. In the sense that when we (as human beings) observe something, we do so from a relative point of view and (based on this view) we have the free will to make our choice. While from an absolute point of view, perhaps things as the mind of G-d sees them, sees the globe right around the outside, and right through the inside (seen simultaneously from All points) as it were, then such potential outcomes are simply known “basheret” to the infinite observer – both relative (free will) and absolute (basheret) can then as such coexist – think about it…

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Julia Margolis

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