I am not an historian, decent author or a journalist, and the chances are that unless there is a link or reference to somewhere else, the perpetrator is yours truly – Renaud Sarda. I created this blog as a focal point, to arm people with arguments and facts that they can perhaps use to counter biased media reporting and anti-Israel propaganda, and to help counter (BDS) campaign. I am a Zionist/Sephardi/Jew who will fly the Israeli flag, and defend whatever Israel does.
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Saturday, 15 August 2015
In Judaism, to be good or sinful is a matter of free will
BY RABBI MARK S. MILLER / CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST
Editor’s note: Because it is considered sacred, many Jewish people replace the “o” with a hyphen in G-d, as is the case in this column.
For Jewish people, today marks the beginning of a 40-day period which will culminate on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This time is to be set aside to examine one’s deeds, identify what has estranged us from G-d, and resolve to live up to our highest selves. The emphasis is on free will, the condition that Hebrew Scripture identifies as the essence of what it means to be truly human.
The ancients believed the stars augured man’s fate. For Spinoza, natural necessity governed our lives. Marx held that economic interests determined history. Freud wrote that our behavior is shaped by unconscious drives. The Darwinians say we are governed by genetic codes hardwired into our brains.
But at the heart of Judaism is the confidence that we are what we choose to be and that society is what we elect to make it. The future is open and nothing is inevitable in human affairs.
The medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote, “Freedom is given to every man to direct himself to the path of good and to be righteous. If he wants to direct himself to the path of evil and be an evil person, he may do so. Since we have freedom to choose, and all the evil we have done was by our own choosing, it is proper for us to repent and to leave our evil.”
In other words, our failings do not arise from an absence of free will, but from the presence of a lazy will, a will rendered weak due to lack of exercise and discipline.
Religions differ in their perception of man’s relationship to sin and the means to overcome it. In Judaism, man can – and must – merit his own salvation through an unmediated relationship with G-d.
Early in the Book of Genesis, we read that G-d informs Cain that “sin crouches at the door, but you may rule over it.” Man is not a slave to sin in this understanding, but its master – if he so decides. For the Torah, sin is not something that we are; sin is something that we do; it is not our natural state, but our choice; it is always present in potential form, but need not be actualized. Yes, men sin, but man is not sinful.
G-d did not give us passions that we cannot control or commandments that we could not obey. The Torah was given to Israel long after the transgression in the Garden of Eden. In Judaic terms, sin is not a person; sin is an event that happened. Through the assiduous application of our free will, it need not happen again.
Rabbi Mark S. Miller is rabbi emeritus at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach.