... And He breathed into his nostrils a living soul, and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7Living Soul: a rational being capable of free-choice. HaK’sav V’HakaballahWe have seen thus that according to quantum (meta)physics, reality is established via the observation of a (free-willed) consciousness ... Free-willed choice gives the universe meaning, and is thus the ‘motivation’ for the very existence of the universe. Fusion, page 91
The cat anxiously made its way to the bowl of food, overwhelmed by the smell of fish. All of a sudden, she stopped in her tracks and thought to herself, "How selfish of me! I’ve yet to visit the cat next door who is recovering from a broken foot. Why don’t I first visit my neighbor, and eat after I return?"
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Somewhere else a dog, after eyeing an unattended steak, commented to himself, "Can I justify taking that which does not belong to me? How will my master feel about it? It is true that I deserve a steak once in a while, but that does not mean I can take the steak off the counter." Certain about his decision, the dog turned around and walked away.
Were these animals or humans?
Very few people disagree that the potential for choice for humans is superior to that of animals. ("The human race, however, is different from all other species, since it was given free will and the ability to involve itself with both perfection and deficiency" (The Way of God, 2:1:3).) Animals, at best, are instinctual; humans can choose against instinct. Examples of this range from a child who shares a chocolate bar he wanted for himself, or a person who risks his or her own life to save the lives of others.
The Torah teaches that the source of our superior ability of choice is a special soul - a spark of the divine - that animals do not possess. After all, there are very few ways in which the physical can mirror the non-physical, few ways the limited can resemble the infinite. In the case of humans who are physical and finite, and yet are created in the image of God, the element that reflects our Godliness is our special soul and the resultant capacity for a will that can be free of physical considerations.
The addition of this soul into the body is not incidental. On the contrary, it is what gives us our ability to choose our attitude regardless of circumstance and physical conditions. It is the combination of body and soul that makes possible our test of choice, the very purpose of life:
See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good [on one side], and death and evil [on the other side]... Choose Life! that you may live.. . (Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (excerpted).)And it is the moral quality of choices made while body and soul are combined that forms the basis of divine evaluation:Man is the creature placed between perfection and deficiency, with the power to earn perfection. Man must earn perfection, however, through his own free will and desire. (The Way of God, 1:3:1.)
There were once two guards, one who was lame and one who was blind. The lame one said to the blind one, "I see a beautiful date tree in the garden. Come, I will ride on you, and we will go and eat them." The lame person went on the blind one and they ate. After some time, the owner of the garden came and asked, "The beautiful dates, where have they gone?" The lame man responded, "Have I legs to walk to them?", and the blind man said, "Do I have eyes to see them?" What did he do? He put the lame man on top of the blind man and judged them as one. Thus it is with the Holy One, Blessed be He, who brings the soul and joins it with the body and then judges them as one. (Talmud Sanhedrin 91b.)Thus, to take away a person’s free will is to take away their humanity and purpose of living. And regardless of whether we appreciate this or not, it is God’s will that our will stays free; history testifies to just how far He’ll go, or how far He’ll let mankind go, to see that it does.
Sometimes to preserve the potential for choice, God avoids overt involvement in the affairs of man. This is because ‘choice,’ by definition, requires at least two options (i.e., in order to be able to choose truth, one must also be able to not choose truth). A choice reduced to one option is not a choice - it is a way of life. (Another example: does a sane person choose to not extend his or her arm into a fire? Who in their right mind would deliberately burn their skin and damage their body? Not burning one’s arm is not a choice, it’s a way of life.)
Obvious miracles reduce choices to one option, as the following midrash and explanation illustrate:
[Moses led the people out of the camp towards God.] They stood at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 19:17). This teaches that God held Mt. Sinai over Israel as a barrel and said to them, "If you accept the Torah, well and fine; if not, then this will be your burial place!" (Talmud Shabbos 88a.)If a person witnessed what the Jews at Mt. Sinai witnessed, and heard what they heard, could they refuse the Torah? Even if one didn’t yet understand the value of Torah, they still wouldn’t commit suicide by refusing it. Thus, for the Jews assembled at the base of Mt. Sinai over 3,300 years ago, there was no choice but to say ‘yes’ to God.
Yet the Jewish nation is praised for willingly accepting the Torah. Perhaps then, the above midrash can be understood as a parable, to explain the level of intellectual clarity reached by the Jewish people at that time.
(Exodus 24:7. They are also praised for the way they accepted the Torah, committing themselves first to uphold the Torah before they understood what it meant, to show their trust in God. This contradiction has other answers, the most common being that the acceptance of Torah at this stage was the willing acceptance of the Written Law. The Oral Law, which was more difficult to accept, was not willingly accepted until the time of the Purim story.)
After all, having witnessed the ten plagues and systematic destruction of what had been the most powerful nation in the world (Egypt), the mind-boggling splitting of the Reed Sea, and now the awesome spectacle at Mt. Sinai, could one doubt the reality of God and the worthiness of Torah?
Thus, virtually, there was no potential for a free choice when the Torah was given. The intellect of every Jew demanded the acceptance of Torah, with the same convincing force as if a barrel had been held over their heads, threatening them with death if they refused the Torah.
Such is the force of a miracle.
Nevertheless, God did perform miracles in Egypt, and at the Reed Sea, and throughout the 40 years the Jewish nation roamed the desert (not to mention the countless times before and after these events in history). And is there any greater interference with free will than the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus story? (Exodus 4:21.)
It seems that there are times when God will step in and perform obvious miracles, even at the cost of the free-will of the people who witness them, and there are times when He won’t. The question is, when will He, and when will He not?