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Home » Chayei Sara, Free Choice

Chayei Sarah: Free Choice

Submitted by on October 20, 2013 – 2:24 amNo Comment | 22,374 views

Just A Number

The expression, age is just a number, is true, but not everyone likes to have their number called. The Torah tells us the age of the Matriarch Sarah, prompting our rabbis to ask, why. If a gentleman never asks and a lady never tells, as the aphorism goes, why did the Torah tell us Sarah’s age? Our sages answered that the Torah wanted us to know that she lived all her 127 years perfectly.[1]

We each have a Yetzer Hara, translated as evil inclination or an inner drive toward sin. Our Yetzer lays all kinds of traps for us and even the holiest among us routinely fall into them. Yet Sarah was perfect; she never once fell into her Yetzer’s traps. She lived one-hundred and twenty-seven years and never once succumbed to her Yetzer. How did she accomplish that?

Do I Exist?

A cursory search on google will show you how often the question of G-d’s existence is debated, yet no one ever debates whether we exist. We take our own existence for granted. I know that I exist because I am here, I feel and know myself, but does G-d exist? I have never met or seen Him.

The true believer reverses the question. That G-d exists is an axiom of faith, but if G-d exists, can anything else exist? The G-d that we believe in is omnipresent; He takes up all space. If G-d takes up all space, how can there be space for me? Since I believe that G-d exists, the question should be, do I exist?

The fact is that I do exist and the proof is that the Torah expressly documents the fact of creation. Yet, at the very same time, G-d fills all space. It is true that I exist, the Torah tells me so. It is also true that G-d fills all space. That is an axiom of faith. How can I reconcile these conflicting axioms?

The answer is that I am a manifestation of G-d’s creative energy. My thoughts are G-d’s thoughts flowing through my brain. My impulses are G-d’s impulses channeled through my heart. My actions are G-d’s actions implemented by my limbs. My limbs are G-d’s limbs masquerading as mine. In other words, I am an illusion. I look like myself, yet I am a walking, talking sliver of G-d, disguised to look human.

If this is true, what makes me a creation? I am merely G-d in disguise. Creation implies something that came from nothing. I am neither something nor do I come from nothing. In fact the opposite is true. I am a nothing that came from something, namely G-d.

This is a good question and is precisely the reason I have cause to question my own existence. Is it me, or is it G-d? The only evidence of my existence as an entity created by G-d, is my free choice.

Free Choice

Free choice is another one of those gifts taken for granted, free choice - innerstreambut when we pause to think that we are manifestations of G-d we marvel at the amazing fact that G-d enabled us to choose against G-d. He created a new kind of being, one that can choose to sin. This is a novelty. One we would never have imagined possible had the Torah not told us that it is so. It makes much more sense to suppose that we are entirely programmed by G-d and that everything we think or do is orchestrated by G-d. This would have been convenient too because it would absolve us from responsibility for our choices.

But a benevolent G-d didn’t want us to be dependent automatons. He wanted to grant us the greatest gift possible, namely independence and free choice. This way we can be responsible for our choices, take credit for our good decisions and blame for the bad ones. Enabling us to choose freely and to succumb to the wiles of our Yetzer is nothing short of miraculous. It is a feat of omnipotence that makes no sense and could only be pulled off by G-d.

Outside of free choice there is no evidence of our existence as beings separate from G-d. Though we appear to think, feel and act, it is easily explained as pre-programmed routines disguised to appear independent. Once the Torah tells us that we have free choice and are responsible for our decisions, we believe beyond doubt that we exist.

Avoiding the Trap

We now return to Sarah and avoiding the traps laid by the Yetzer Hara. Sarah was not the first to contend with her Yetzer. That distinction belongs to her predecessor Eve. Eve was created perfect, the personal handiwork of the creator. She was keenly aware of her role as a manifestation of G-d. She sensed intuitively that her thoughts and feelings were G-d’s thoughts and feelings channeled through her mind and heart. That was an idyllic existence with nary a temptation to sin. Yet Eve wanted more. She wanted to experience her own feelings so she could generate her own love for G-d. She wanted to be tempted by sin so she could use her own determination to choose against sin. She wanted to feel. She wanted to learn. She wanted to grow.

She invited the serpent and the beautifully tempting fruit into her consciousness. She believed that her knowledge and experience would inoculate her against the wiles of the serpent and she would be able to overcome the temptation. Yet she did not. She succumbed and ate of the forbidden fruit.

Noah also tried to measure up against the forbidden fruit and failed. Aware of the traditional teaching that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was the grape, Noah planted a vineyard upon emerging from the ark. He postulated that since he had just emerged from the Holy Ark and it’s Messianic, environment, where the wolf lay with the lamb, he would be inured to the charms of the grape. Yet Noah also failed. He overindulged and surrendered all control to the wine.

Sarah was the first to triumph over her Yetzer. She descended to Egypt, the pit of depravity, and ascended unscathed. In Egypt she was exposed to all manner of temptation and debauchery, but she emerged untouched and unsullied. What was her secret? Why did she succeed where others failed?

Others faced down the Yetzer with strength and determination. Sarah approached her Yetzer with the knowledge that her thoughts and choices belong to G-d.  Her entire being was a receptacle for G-dliness, her entire purpose was to serve as G-d’s arm on earth. While it was true that G-d had pulled off a miraculous feat by endowing her with free choice, it did not change the essential fact that she was a manifestation of G-d in a human body.

Eve yearned to experience G-d through her own senses and learn to overcome her Yetzer as an independent, but failed. Sarah always strove to remember that her strengths are G-d’s strengths and because of this she succeeded. This is a typical example of more is less and less is more. In the words of the Zohar, He who [feels] great is small, he who [feels] small is great.

We too contend with our Yetzer every day. On special occasions such birthdays and High Holidays we feel particularly strong and utilize that strength to make resolutions in the area of self-improvement. These resolutions often fall by the way side after the first few days and weeks. The key to their longevity is humility – remembering that our strengths are not our own, but G-d’s and that with His help we can prevail.

In other words, making a resolution requires strength. Following it through requires surrender. By surrendering we become meek and the meek shall inherit the earth.[2]

[1] Zohar 128b.

[2] This essay is based on Sefer Mamarim 1952, p. 34.

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