GOOD MORNING! What is free will?  It is not deciding whether you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  That is weighing your desires. It is not deciding which road you'll take to get home.  That's calculating the benefits of each alternative.  Free will is the ability to choose between moral choices -- right and wrong.ever caught up in your own angst that you failed to see the bigger picture?

What does the Torah teach us regarding free will? In Deuteronomy 30:15-19 the Almighty says, "See, I have put before you, life and good, death and evil ... choose life so that you may live..." Why does it say "choose life" and not conclude with "choose good"?

The answer: Every human being thinks he is doing the right thing -- especially the evil ones! They simply rationalize their evil activities as "good." As an extreme example, Adolph Hitler, may his name and memory be blotted out, once made a speech claiming that the German people were the only truly moral people. What was his proof? They set up societies to take care of our pets while sending us to the gas chambers.

The Torah says the problem isn't that we choose evil. The problem is that we choose death. What does the Torah mean when it uses the term "choosing death"? We can gain an understanding from looking at why a person commits suicide. He wants to avoid or escape from pain. Often this is not just from physical pain, but the pain of facing problems, challenges or embarrassment. The death the Torah refers to is the escape from pain of life.

"Death" is a choice that is available to all of us, every second of the day. Every time we decide to avoid facing an issue or dealing with responsibility it is a form of death -- it is an escape. In life, there are many ways we choose to escape. Drugs are one form of escape. Killing time is an escape. If you're turning on the TV just because you're bored, isn't that a form of suicide? We could be using our time to live and grow. But we quit because it's too difficult.

We all choose to escape, now and then, from the effort that's involved in accomplishing the goals and ambitions that we have for ourselves in life. We all want to be great; we all want to change the world. It's just that we don't always feel like putting in the effort. So, we distract ourselves and escape from who we really are and what we want to achieve.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, head of Aish HaTorah, writes: "Greatness lies in how we resolve conflicts - in using our free will to grow - not to quit. To face reality - not to escape. To live and not to die. When we escape problems, we escape the chance of becoming great. It's a constant battle every moment of our lives."

Every moment we're alive, we're using our free will to choose between life and death, reality or escapism. It's a constant choice. We are either making the choice to take the pain in order to grow, or we're quitting. How we resolve that conflict is where our greatness lies. Our greatness is found in using our free will to live, fight and accomplish - rather than run away. To choose to live is to choose to embrace life and choose to better ourselves and the world!

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Torah Portion of the Week

The Jewish people leave Egypt. Pharaoh regrets letting them go, pursues them leading his chosen chariot corps and a huge army. The Jews rebel and cry out to Moses, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?" The Yam Soof, the Sea of Reeds (usually mistranslated as the Red Sea) splits, the Jews cross over, the Egyptians pursue and the sea returns and drowns the Egyptians. Moses with the men and Miriam with the women -- each separately -- sing praises of thanks to the Almighty.

They arrive at Marah and rebel over the bitter water. Moses throws a certain tree in the water to make it drinkable. The Almighty then tells the Israelites, "If you obey God your Lord and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am God who heals you." (This is why the Hagaddah strives to prove there were more than 10 plagues in Egypt -- the greater the number of afflictions, the greater number from which we are protected.)

Later the Israelites rebel over lack of food; God provides quail and manna (a double portion was given on the sixth day to last through Shabbat; we have two challahs for each meal on Shabbat to commemorate the double portion of manna). Moses then instructs them concerning the laws of Shabbat. At Rephidim, they rebel again over water. God tells Moses to strike a stone (later in the Torah God tells Moses to speak to the stone, not here!) which then gave forth water. Finally, the portion concludes with the war against Amalek and the command to "obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens."

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And on that day the Almighty saved the Israelites from the hand of Egypt" (Exodus 14:30). Which day does the Torah refer to when it writes "on that day" and what lesson can we learn from the reference to that day?

The Ohr HaChayim comments that the Torah states that "on that day" that the Israelites were saved was the self-same day that the Egyptians who pursued them perished in the sea. However, the Israelites were liberated from Egypt and left Egypt before this. Why only now that the Egyptians drowned in the sea did they feel saved?

The answer: the Israelites only felt saved once they felt secure that the Egyptians would no longer pursue them. We see from this that even though in actuality a person is free, he is not really considered free unless he personally feels free. A person who worries and feels insecure is a person who is imprisoned even though he is not behind bars and no one will harm him.

To be truly free you must feel free and this is up to you. You have a great deal of control over your thoughts if you work on it. If you worry about the future, even though future events might work out exactly as you would have wished, you still suffer in the present. This suffering will be the same as if you actually experienced some misfortune. However, all the suffering will be unnecessary. The greater your mastery over your thoughts, the greater freedom you will experience in life!


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The important thing is... to be ready at any
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--  Charles DuBois


In Loving Memory of

Stella Ayzenberg
Sterna bat Isai

Tatyana Kibrik


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Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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