Chapter Eight (Part 3)
"No!" Rambam reiterates. No one compels anyone to do anything. "The truth
of the matter," he says "is that you're free to do as you will",
period. "If you want to do something, you can; and if you don't want to,
you don't have to. There's nothing forcing you one way or the other". You
and I are as free as birds – to be the sort of birds we want to be.
Now, on one side of the equation that seems to say that we're utterly
unrestricted and we need answer to no one. We can do as we will and live
the life we'd like to, thank you very much. But as anyone with an inner
sense of right and wrong – to say nothing of a dream of spiritual
excellence – would know, that can't be. Are we indeed given carte blanche?
Isn't more expected of us, and aren't there rules?
Of course there are rules; and yes, there's a higher call. The point is
that we're free to be the moral beings we'd like to be … or to not. We
decide. And that's what "makes mitzvot compulsory", Rambam says. Because
if we weren't free to choose, there'd be no point in our being charged
with doing this or that on our own: it would have already been determined
whether we'd do it or not from the first.
So, the very fact that we're impelled to follow a system underscores the
freedom granted us, as only someone free can comply or not; the
preordained haven't any options.
And so G-d said, "Behold, I have placed life and goodness, death and evil,
before you today... therefore choose life"(Deuteronomy 30:15, 19), and
thus offered us a choice that we're expected to follow through on, but
which we may decide not to. The entire mitzvah system hinges upon this.
There seems to be a hitch, though. Our sages taught us that "Everything is
in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven"(Berachot 33A), which seems
to deny much of free choice. Where does that fit in? We'll soon see.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org