What makes Torah so difficult to accept for many people is the level of responsibility it confers upon people in the form of commandments. The commandments are seen by many to be "restrictions" of will, not the facilitators of it.
What is the difference between a restriction and a guideline? Donít both come to limit the actions of people?
If you ask people what they think the basic difference between a guideline and a restriction is, they might say that a restriction prevents you from doing what you want to do, whereas a guideline prevents you from doing what you donít want to do, but might do without the guideline.
Guidelines channel, they focus people in the right direction. Acceptance of the Torahís way of life depends upon oneís perspective of the commandments: are they restrictions or guidelines?
Imagine for a second that you are driving along a road, barely conscious of what is around you. All that concerns you is your destination. Youíve driven down the road countless times before, but barely ever noticed the environment along your course.
One day, as you drive down the same road, you are confronted by a new stop sign. You are forced to stop your car, look all ways, and then proceed. You are irritated at first, and a little voice inside says, ďDonít stop.Ē Itís a dilemma for you, but you stop.
In a sense, the stop sign created a free will choice. Before its existence, you would drive aimlessly done the road. Now you have to make a decision about stopping. Furthermore, the stop sign has forced you to take note of the course you travel.
Commandments are "stop signs" along the road of life. Many people simply drive down that road, barely aware of the world around them. As far as they are concerned, the road of life is merely a vehicle to get to some destination. Commandments say, "Stop. Look. Evaluate your potential, and then proceed accordingly."
Commandments are issues in life. They focus us, and tell us whatís important, and how to make the best of our abilities. And whenever there is an issue, there is a choice, and the more choices one has to make, the more of their potential they use, and, the happier they become.
For example, there is the commandment to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 23:12). Without the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week is simply Saturday. What does Saturday provide, except comfort? It is a day of leisure, a time to do what you feel like doing, not what you think you have to do.
The Sabbath, on the other hand, offers much more. By having us abstain from certain creative activities, we become appreciative of our ability to create, and the responsibility of doing so. By having pleasure in honor of the Sabbath, we add heightened awareness to otherwise mundane pleasures, and in doing so, experience ecstasy.
To the unaware, the Sabbath is restrictive and stifling. To the initiated, the Sabbath is a glorious time of rejuvenation, a time to refocus in order to enhance the pleasure of the week that will follow.
This is one example of how Torah "spices" the evil inclination. The evil inclination seeks death, and when death is not possible, the closest course in life that mimics death: comfort. This is why the Torah admonishes:
"Before you I have placed life and death... Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)It is possible to exist, and yet not live, the Torah teaches. Living according to the Torah is maximizing your free will choices; simply drifting through life is a very real form of "death."
The Torah spices the evil inclination by making an issue out of every moment in life; when you rise in the morning and when you go to bed at night, and every moment in-between; when you eat and when you sleep, and even how one behaves at the most intimate moments in life.
Restriction? No, it is not restriction, because for the most part you still can do exactly that which you feel like doing. What changes through Torah is how you do it - in a noble way, or in a less-than-noble way. That is your choice, over, and over, and over again.
This is the "Y Factor." The Torah is a process for maximizing free will choices, and ultimately, for enhancing oneís pleasure in life. People who live by Torah live with less not because Torah denies them more - it doesnít - but because they are happier with less since they know that happiness is more a function of what you understand than what you possess.
The Torah guides and channels the evil inclination, and heightens the awareness of those who learn it. On the surface, it may appear as if the Torah is reducing free will when in fact, it is increasing the opportunity for using it.
Free will does not mean doing that which you feel like doing whenever you feel like doing it. Free will means being able to make an objective decision, especially when you feel like deciding differently. Free will means making decisions that are free of the influence of subjective realities. This leads to moral decisions, which is precisely what the Torah helps us to achieve.
The equation for life is solved, and can be stated as follows:
in which "maximum decisions" means maximum moral decisions.
+ Torah = Maximum
Accepting this statement, however, may still be difficult for some, but not because it doesnít make sense. Difficulties in appreciating the equation for life usually have more to do with the way we think.