GOOD MORNING!  The story is told of a bookkeeper who, for fifty years, would walk into his office, sit at his desk and use the key on his watch fob to open the uppermost right-hand drawer. He would then read a slip of paper, return it to the drawer and lock it. As you can imagine, the first thing his co-workers did after finding out that he passed away, was to jimmy the lock on drawer to look at the paper. It read: "Debits on the left, credits on the right."

I think this week's (and next week's) edition are probably the ones that should be put in the upper-most drawer to be looked at every day. Free will is the distinguishing factor that makes us human!


The Torah is the instruction book for living. In Deuteronomy 29:15-20 it says in essence, "See, I have put before you, life and death, good and evil, blessing and barrenness. Choose life so that you may live." Why does it say "choose life" and not conclude with "choose good"? The answer is that every human being thinks he is doing the right thing -- especially the evil ones! They simply rationalize their evil activities as "good." (That's why they call it "ethnic cleansing.")

The Torah says the problem isn't that we choose evil. The problem is that we choose death. The real arena of a human being's free will is between life and death. That's why God doesn't say "Choose good." Instead He tells us, "Choose life."

Now what does the Torah mean that free will is the choice between life and death? Who amongst us is choosing death? To understand what the Torah means by "choosing death," look at suicide. Why does a person choose suicide? He wants to avoid pain. He wants to escape. Often this is not just from physical pain, but to avoid the pain and effort of facing problems and challenges.

Death, or escape from responsibility, is a choice that is available to all of us, every second of the day. Suicide is only the most extreme and final form of escape. In life, there are many other ways we may choose to escape. Drugs are one form of escape, a slow death that's not quite as traumatic. Killing time is an escape. That's a form of suicide, too. If you're turning on the TV just because you're bored, isn't that suicide? You could be using your time to live and grow. But you 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.

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!

Torah Portion of the Week

Rivka (Rebecca) gives birth to Esav (Esau) and Ya'akov (Jacob). Esav sells the birthright to Ya'akov for a bowl of lentil soup. Yitzhak (Isaac) sojourns in Gerar with Avimelech, king of the Philistines. Esav marries two Hittite women bringing great pain to his parents (because they weren't of the fold).

Ya'akov impersonates Esav on the counsel of his mother in order to receive the blessing of the oldest son by his blind father, Yitzhak. Esav plans to kill Ya'akov, so Ya'akov flees to his uncle Lavan (Laban) in Padan Aram -- on the advice of his parents. They also counsel him to marry Lavan's daughter.

Esav understands that his Canaanite wives are displeasing to his parents, so he marries a third wife, Machlath, the daughter of Ishmael.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esav (Esau)." (Genesis 25:25) Esau became a murderer and his red hair became associated with a personality that might lead to murder. (Even today many people think of red-haired people as passionate, sometime quick to anger personalities.)

The Midrash, (Braishit Rabbah 63) relates that when the prophet Shmuel went to appoint David to be the king of Israel, he saw that David was "admoni," of ruddy complexion. He became very frightened and said, "He too will be a murderer like Esau." The Almighty told Shmuel that there was no need to be afraid. When Esau killed it was in cold blood, but David would only take a life to carry out the just decisions of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court).

We see from this Midrash that when someone has a basic personality tendency it is a reality of his nature that he will be what he truly is. However, a person has free will to choose how this tendency will be manifested. (The head of the FBI Behavioral Profiling Unit once said that no serial killer was so compelled to murder that he did it in front of a policeman.) Esau's tendency towards bloodshed led him down an evil path. David, on the other hand, was a mighty warrior who would utilize his natural tendencies for elevated purposes.

This concept is expressed very clearly by the Vilna Gaon: "A person should not go completely against his nature even if it is bad, for he will not succeed. He should merely train himself to follow the straight path in accordance with his nature. For example, someone who has an inclination to spill blood should train himself to become a ritual slaughterer or a mohel (ritual circumciser)."