Wednesday, January 26, 2005

R' Ashlag Ch. 16 (sect. 1)

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Ch. 16


"But don’t then raise the issue of our free choice being taken away from us, seeing that we’ll inevitably be perfected and experience the third era that already existed in the first. The point is this."

-- Human free choice is a fundamental of the Jewish Faith. And R' Ashlag is suggesting that we not bother thinking that what he'd said till now about the inevitability of our reaching the third era would seem to deny our freedom to choose to do wrong, which would seem to deny us a right to it (better known as a place in the World to Come). But let's explain free choice before we get into the conundrum. Rambam lays it out as follows:
-- “Every person has been granted the capacity to either incline himself in the direction of goodness and to be righteous, or, if he so chooses, in the direction of evil and be wicked .... That means to say that ... man, of his own volition, consciously and with his own mind, can distinguish between good and evil, and can do whatever he wants to do, either good or evil, without anyone stopping him. Don’t think that G-d decrees at birth whether a person is to be righteous or wicked; ... that simply isn’t so. In truth, everyone is capable of being as righteous as Moses, or as wicked as Jereboam; wise or obtuse, compassionate or cruel, miserly or generous, and the like. No one forces, decrees or draws a person in either direction. He alone, of his own volition consciously inclines himself in the direction he so chooses” (Hilchot Teshuva 5:1-2).
-- What that means to say, among other things, is that while all other things in the world are fixed and static in their essence, and the greater part of *our* being is itself fixed and static, too (i.e. our own personal biology, chemistry, and physics), our *ethical* stature is malleable and always in flux. After all, “everything is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven” (Megillah 25A), which means that G-d furnishes us with everything, but our ethical response to it is entirely up to us.
-- Now, we’re judged in the end as to whether we used our free choice for good ends. And we earn a place in the World to Come/the third era if we’re found to have done that (see Hilchot Teshuva 3:1, 7:1).
-- Yet much of what Rambam has said about the World to Come seems to fly in the face of what R’ Ashlag had said above. For Rambam implies that we don’t each necessarily earn a share in it. But we’ll now see, though, that everyone *will* in fact enter the World to Come/third era one way or another. So, are we free to make ethical choices (with all their concomitant consequences) or not? We are; but in unthought of ways, as we’ll see. For ...

(c) 2005 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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