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Freedom of Choice, and Choosing Freely

One of the central themes of Judaism is Free Choice. This issue is addressed at some length in the concluding verses of the Torah portion Nitzavim ,1 where we are told: “…I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good, and death and evil… I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse…. Choose life.”

What, exactly, impels a Jew to freely choose good over evil?

The Jew’s choice of good over evil, sacred over mundane, is rooted in the fact that the essence of a Jew’s soul is one with G-d.2 Indeed, the power possessed by every Jew to choose freely — “man being like one of Us”3 and able to freely act as he chooses, just as G-d can freely do exactly as He pleases4 — lies in the fact that his soul is rooted in G-d.

Although the soul’s essence has no desire other than G-dliness, the soul has descended to be clothed within a physical body, and as a result it is possible for it to choose something other than goodness and holiness.5

Moreover, even as the soul exists in its pristine state, the concept of Free Choice still applies, in the sense that there is not any particular benefit or merit that compels the soul to choose G-d; it does so freely because its essence is one, as it were, with Him.

When choice results from reason it is inherently limited — the choice only goes so far as the reason. Since man’s reason is intrinsically limited, his reasoned free choice is necessarily limited as well. Thus, when the soul’s essence chooses G-d because of something that transcends reason, the intensity of this choice is limitless.

Moreover, it may be argued that when choice comes as a result of logic, then it is not truly free after all; the person was compelled to act by force of logic. For the compulsion of logic is just as strong, if not stronger, than brute force.6

When, however, the soul’s essence desires and chooses G-d because of its own intrinsic being, then the choice is such that anything other than G-dliness and goodness is utterly negated.7

While rooted in the soul’s essence, freedom of choice is revealed on a conscious level in man’s intellect,8 for only when a Jew actually has before him the two paths of good and evil and chooses good is it apparent that he freely chose good and G-dliness over evil and unholiness. Intellect, and intellect alone, has the capacity to find merit in each of the two paths.

Accordingly, the connection between Free Choice and the Torah reading is readily understood: Nitzavim always precedes Rosh HaShanah , at which time we endeavor to arouse within G-d a desire to choose the Jewish people. This is expressed in the verse recited before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah: “He chooses our heritage for us, the glory of Jacob, whom He loves eternally.”9

Here, too, there are two aspects to G-d’s decision. There is no basis in reason for G-d’s choice of the Jewish people. So penetrating and meaningful is this choice that G-d says: “I cannot possibly exchange them for any other people,”10 for there exists “Israel and the King alone.”11

Yet this choice is revealed in this world when we see that the Jews have become “G-d’s treasure from the midst of all the nations ”12 — other nations exist alongside the Jewish nation, and yet He chooses us, thereby making His love for us revealed to all.13

Rosh HaShanah is the day when everything returns to its primordial state,14 and thus G-d must choose us anew. When we choose G-d, not only logically but also because of our soul’s essence, then He in turn is moved to choose and reveal His choice of us as “His treasured nation,” manifesting this decision by showering us with all manner of good.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 274-282.

Motivations for Repentance

In the Torah portion Nitzavim we read:15 “There shall come a time when you shall experience all the words of blessing and curse that I have presented to you, and you will reflect on the situation… You will then return to G-d your L-rd… with all your heart and all your soul.”

It is clear from the above, as well as from the further verses, that every Jew will ultimately return to G-d in complete repentance; even one who has strayed far from the path of righteousness will “return to G-d” upon experiencing “all the words of… curse.”

Accordingly, we must understand the verse’s intent when it states “all the words of blessing.” It is understandable that curse and misfortune can lead a person to brokenheartedness and repentance. But how does experiencing “blessing” rouse an individual to repentance?16

The Torah speaks here of repentance that is so intense that it leads a person to return to G-d “with all his heart and soul.” Understandably, the factor that induces a person to repent so mightily — his feeling of pain emanating from the curse — must itself be extremely powerful. What makes the pain so intense?

The Torah explains by stating “you shall experience all the words of blessing and curse,” i.e., the detailed fulfillment of the curse will come after having first experienced the blessing.

Experiencing misfortune after having first experienced a period of blessing is far more painful than never having experienced goodness at all. For example, a person who was once rich and then became a pauper feels the pain of poverty far more than does an individual who has always been poor.

Thus, it is specifically through blessing followed by curse that a person can reach so lofty a degree of repentance that he will return with “all his heart and all his soul.”

But this raises another question: The verse is explaining how G-d will bring each and every Jew to full repentance. But if this degree of repentance can only be reached when blessing precedes curse, how then can a person who has known only the curse attain full repentance?

Earlier on the Torah states17 — according to Rashi’s commentary — “Behold I [immediately] place before you a blessing…. Blessing so that you fulfill [the condition of obeying] the commandments…. “ G-d starts off every Jew with blessing.

Thus, every Jew began his life with blessing. The complete repentance that comes only when blessing precedes curse is therefore available to all those who are in need of repentance.

The above also relates to the days that precede Rosh HaShanah , “the day of great judgment,” during which the portion of Nitzavim is read.

G-d promises to provide all Jews with blessing, regardless of their spiritual station, adding only that everlasting blessing is dependent on a person’s fulfilling the commandments.

The reason for G-d’s generosity is plain: Each and every Jew is likened not only to a prince18 but also to a king19 ; they are therefore eminently entitled to receive all manner of good.

As the Gemara states20 with regard to feeding Jewish laborers: “Even if you were to provide them with a repast that equals [King] Shlomoh’s during his heyday, you have still not fulfilled your obligation, for they are children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.” Since “That which G-d commands the Jewish people to do He does as well,”21 He surely provides the Jewish people with all manner of good.

Surely, each and every Jew then fulfills the condition of obeying the commandments, and G-d’s blessings will last forever.

This ensures that, come Rosh HaShanah , a person will engage in Teshuvah Ila’ah , the superior level of repentance wherein the individual’s spirit reunites with G-d in a joyful manner.22 Especially so when the first day of Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos , so that the service of Shabbos is that of Teshuvah Ila’ah — a degree of Teshuvah that is performed with great joy.23

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIV, pp. 118-121.


1. Devarim 30:15-20.
2. Kvod Malchuscha 5660; Conclusion of Hemshech Tik’u 5670.
3. See Bereishis 3:22.
4. See Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah beginning of ch. 5; Likkutei Torah, Emor 38b.
5. See Likkutei Torah ibid.
6. See Likkutei Sichos IV p. 1309.
7. See Likkutei Sichos ibid., p. 1341, XI p. 7 fn. 58.
8. See places cited in fn. 2. See also Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim 46c; Likkutei Sichos VI p. 113 fn. 47.
9. Tehillim 47:5.
10. Introduction to Rus Rabbah 3. Cf. Pesachim 87a and onward.
11. See Zohar III 32a.
12. Shmos 19:5.
13. See commentary of Rashi on Shmos ibid. See also Tanya ch. 49.
14. Pri Etz Chayim, Sha’ar Rosh HaShanah ch. 1; Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim 51b; Siddur Im Dach 244d and onward, et al.
15. Devarim 30:1-2.
16. See commentaries of Shach and Orach Chayim ibid.
17. Ibid. 11:26-27.
18. Shabbos 67a; Zohar I 27b.
19. Berachos 9b; Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar 1b.
20. Bava Metzia 83a.
21. Shmos Rabbah 30:9.
22. Likkutei Torah , beginning of portion Ha’azinu.
23. Iggeres HaTeshuvah ch. 11.



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