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    Free choice – Re’eh

    The gift of free will with which the sidra opens sounds so wonderful: “everything is up to you,” it proclaims. “You have two choices, life and death, blessing and curse – the choice is yours!”

    If only it worked like that. We do not ask to be born, nor do we generally have control over our death. These are not matters of choice at all. They are imposed upon us.

    Other things are foisted upon us too – our genetic inheritance and often our cultural milieu too. We almost feel like echoing Omar Khayyam: “The moving finger writes – and having writ moved on”.

    Is this free will concept some cruel joke? Is it that we have free will in theory but no free will in actual fact?

    That cannot be what the Torah has in mind. The theologians offer countless answers. The most straightforward is probably that of Maimonides in the Eight Chapters on Ethics. He says that physical facts like when we are born and whether we will be tall or short are beyond our control.

    What is, however, up to us is our moral life. God determines whether we will be tall; we decide whether we will be good. The quantity of our life is up to God: its quality is up to us.

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