Chapter Two (Part 1)
Let's now tie-in some more of what we'd learned about our makeup to our
search for spiritual excellence. We'll find that there's a lot more to be
said, and that much of it has to do with our free choice -- our sovereign
right to make ethical and mitzvah-based decisions on our own.
"Itís important to know" Rambam says, "that all acts of disobedience and
obedience mentioned in the Torah" that is, all the sins and mitzvot cited
there which we can choose to act on or not, "actually apply to only two
parts of your Spirit: your senses and emotions" and not to "your digestive
system or imagination" (though they also apply to our minds to some
degree, as we'll see).
What that means to say is that, despite whatís commonly thought and widely
rationalized, we can indeed decide to adhere to G-d's wishes for us when
it comes to our five senses and our emotions. We can truly learn to quash
feelings that run counter to G-d's requirements of us by managing to
control our anger, squelch our pride, or by becoming magnanimous, for
example. And we can likewise manage to avert our eyes or close off our
ears in order not to look at or listen to things we shouldn't be concerned
with. Even when those things seem to go against the grain.
None of that's beyond us, and most of it comes down to finally and
consciously deciding to do it.
We're not free to make ethical choices when it comes to our digestive
system or imagination, though. Simply because we can't *decide* to digest
one way or another, as those kinds of things tend to happen despite us
(though we can in fact help them along medicinally, mechanically, and the
like, but that has little to do with ethics per se). Understand of course
that we can choose what to eat and drink, which indeed touches on sins and
mitzvot, but that's not the point at hand, since those are emotional and
sensual decisions, which we learned we have control of.
And we can't decide what thoughts or images are going to occur to us all
of a sudden. We can, though, decide to reject or quell the ones that the
Torah disallows us, like idolatrous thoughts for example. (The operative
point here is that oftentimes in fact "bad thoughts occur to good people",
to coin a phrase, but that we can then reject them out of hand, and not at
all be blamed for them.)
"Thereís some confusion, though, when it comes to the intellect", Rambam
avers. Nonetheless he contends that personal choices apply to it as well.
Since we can consciously and freely decide to adopt what he terms "sound
or unsound" (i.e., good or bad) ideas which then touch upon sins or
As such, we can decide that eating kosher isn't a good idea and fall into
that trap easily enough; or contrarily we can decide that it's a good idea
and follow through on that. It's just that "the intellect (itself) canít
do anything per se that can be said to be either a mitzvah or a sin", so
on that level the intellect itself can't be culpable for anything, only
the person who uses his or her intellect to do wrong.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org