Lamentations: Kinah 3: Reflections on Fourth Stanza
“Therefore God caused it to happen so” How do we know when we have free choice? We can assume that Rechavam thought that his decision was an expression of his choice. But it was not.
How can we know if we have been deprived of free choice without realizing the truth?
We must first understand the role and power of free choice. When the verse says that we were created in the form and image of God it means that we were created with the power of choice. We emulate God by making choices that are an expression of ourselves and that define us as human beings.
The more we emulate God by making choices and taking responsibility for our very definition as human beings the more we are attaching to God. The idea of choice is so powerful that there are stories in Tanach in which the prophet urges the Jews to choose even if their choice is wrong! For example; When Elijah gathered the Jews to Mt. Carmel for the famous contest with the priests of Ba’al, (see I Kings, chapter 18) he said to them, “How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If God is the Lord follow Him; and Ba’al follow him!” Elijah does not simply say, as we would expect, “Follow God!” He challenges the people to choose. He tells them that serving both God and Ba’al means that they haven’t chosen. The main lesson Elijah wants to convey is that the people must choose. The most important step in the service of God is to choose. It is the highest level of emulation of God.
If a person serves God only because he has been raised to live this way, he is not choosing. He is preprogrammed to be observant.
The Ramchal, in Derech Hashem, defines choice as something perfectly balanced between the two choices. The word “free” in free choice means that there is nothing pushing the person more in one direction than the other. A person who has always been religious does not have free choice whether to eat non-kosher. It goes against his entire upbringing; it goes against his very nature. The choice of whether to eat something non-kosher is not self-defining. The choice must also have implications for him.
For example, a person may have a choice whether to eat vanilla or chocolate ice cream, but it is not free choice. There are no implications for his identity. The choice must matter in order for it to be called free choice. If a young man understands the important role that his wife will play in his development as a person, and he has clarity about a woman’s qualities and midos, and understands what he will gain and what he will not have, he has a self-defining choice whether to marry this woman or not. If a person understands that by choosing one Rebbi over another that he is literally choosing one way of life, one way of serving God over another, and he so chooses his rebbi, he is making a self-defining choice. When parents choose one school over another and understand what their child will gain and what he will lose by being sent to a specific school, the parents are making a self-defining choice. They are literally emulating their Creator.
Rechavam responded without free choice. He did not think through the implications for the nation, nor for him, of his decision to ignore the pleas of his people. He abdicated his free choice, therefore he forfeit it.
When we abdicate our responsibility to be choosers we forfeit that gift from God.
Therefore, everything we do must be an expression of free choice. All of our observance, prayer and study must be because we so choose to do. The way we observe, pray and study must be a result of free choice. We must understand the different ways of serving God and choose one path over all the others.
This is why the Mishna in Avot 1:6 teaches that “One must make someone his rebbi.” He must choose his rebbi and that rabbi’s path of service of God. We must not impose one path on our children without teaching them that there are other paths in Avodas Hashem.
If our children are programmed to live one way without their learning to choose then they will not see their service of God as their own. That is why we lose so many children. They were never offered options of different paths to serve God. They did not learn how to make their observance a self-defining choice.
The generation(s) preceding the destruction was not choosers. They reacted without thinking, without understanding the full implications of their “decisions.” They therefore lost their free choice and God brought about all the choices that led inevitably to the destruction.
Our responsibility, as those who want to merit the Third Temple, is to become choosers in everything we do.