March 21, 2019


3.22.2019 Weekly Torah Portion

Command Aaron and his sons… Leviticus 6:2

This week’s parashah is Tzav.  This means “command.”  God tells Moses to command Aaron and the priests to do certain things; these are most definitely not suggestions, they are commands. Many of us have problems with this word.  We all want to be free to do as we please.  “Command” connotes force, having to do something to which we are opposed.  Here is a paradox for us: we are created with free will, we can make choices, but if we are commanded, then our free-will is taken away. Yet, when we are controlled or commanded by our emotions or our thoughts, is this really free will? We are all compelled to do things by others, by our own needs, and by our desires. How do you define free will? What primarily governs your choices now- alignment with your will or G-d’s will? Which commands do you follow, and from whom do these commands originate?

What do we do with this paradox about will?  I believe the solution is found in our tradition.  We are chayav (obligated).  Obligation is what the force of command means for us.  To reconcile our conception of free will with that of being commanded, we must be able to decide to fulfill the obligations that we have chosen.  Many of us have problems with the ideas of command and obligation.  This is because of mistaken identity, believe.  We mistake our identities for something separate from the world, separate from G-d, separate from our community or family.  While we each have unique identities, they have to come together in order to serve the whole.  What obligations have you assumed? How are the obligations helping you live well?  By fulfilling your obligations, to whom are you being responsible?

The force of commandments allows us to know that life is a gift.  To use the gift of life wisely, we must obligate ourselves to choose what is the next right thing to do in any given moment.  Choosing a life following the commandments is living an obligated life.  Living a life of obligation is living life on purpose. Living a life on purpose is living a life in and of G-d’s will.  Living a life based on G-d’s will is living a life of gratitude.  How are you using your life as a gift?  How are you living on and with purpose?  How do you actively show your gratitude for everything you have?

I have come to my understanding of free will from the teachings of Torah, Talmud, our sages, and my teachers, especially Rabbis Mel Silverman, z”l, Abraham Twerski, Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l, Jonathan Omer-Man, and Edward Feinstein.  According to these sources, free will is the ability to make moral choices and to ensure that the choices I make are moral.  In order to do this, I must make a choice about what morality means.  Our free will is a gift from G-d, a gift from our Creator.  As we all know, most gifts come with instructions.  Without life’s instruction manual, Torah, we could easily make a mess of how to use the gift of free will.  If we accept one of Rabbi Twerski’s teachings from the Spiritual Self, that the ability for “an individual to make a free moral choice, something that is uniquely human and beyond the capabilities of even the most intelligent animal,” then it is imperative to have a manual to teach us how to make these choices.  This manual is the Torah.  What is your manual for moral living?  How are you acting as the sole interpreter of morality versus consulting with others?  How are you living:  according to societal norms or according to G-d’s commands?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mark Borovitz