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Rav Dessler: Free Choice

Rav Dessler compares the decision-making process to a battle. All the fighting occurs at the front lines; beyond them, everything belongs to one camp. With each victory, the line advances. So too with free will.

At the point of decision, the nequdas habechirah, decisions require conscious thought and are the true expression of free will.

Beyond the point, decisions are made quickly, often even preconsciously. For example, most people do not actively choose not to shoplift — it’s simply not done. Shoplifting is beyond their nequdas habechirah. And with each decision, the nequdah moves.

The first time someone refuses to pay under the table and therefore has to add sales tax to his price, it may be difficult. The second time, easier. Eventually, it’s a given — cheating the government is simply not done.

A person is judged by his decisions. Therefore, we do not know where anyone really stands. We do not know what is a battlefront in his intellectual life. For you, some act may be trivial. For him, the same act may be a serious victory, one that moved his bechirah point in a positive direction.

I would like to take the liberty of recasting this idea in the terms we have been discussing in the past few entries. Rav Dessler wrote about the internal battle between good and evil, but the same is true of a slightly different axis, the battle between one’s mammalian instincts and the drive for follow a higher calling.

I wrote about the need to identify with the latter, and to see his baser desires as external. So that when faced with a choice, it becomes “I want to do the right thing, but he…” The position of Adam hearing the snake. Adam only had an internal desire to do the will of G-d, so that his choice was determining the falsehood of the snake’s argument. Then we explained taharah as that separation between one’s will and his physical desires, and qedushah as the unity between that will and his higher calling.

A person therefore has a conscious self, a set of base, animalistic urges, and a higher calling. The power of the bechirah is the ability to change that self by associated more tightly or loosely with either set of urges. Someone who repeatedly caves to those more crass desires will develop habits (hergel) that prejudice their conscious, human selves. That is the adulteration we identified with tum’ah. It is also the motion of the nequdas habechirah in a destructive direction.

On a more positive note, challenges faced and passed become easier with each repetition. One can thereby dedicate oneself to G-dliness through that same mechanism of repetition and habit. The nequdah moves so that more and more of the self is on the side of the battlefront of the forces committed to Him, our very definition of qedushah.

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