The essence of being human is exercising free will. This is the act by which we continuously create ourselves and form our personality and character.
The Divine has created mankind (“So God created mankind in his own image…”, Genesis 1:27); but He has also formed it (“And the Lord God formed mankind of the dust of the ground…”, Genesis 2:7). We, human beings, whether we wish it or not, are doomed throughout our lives to repeat, via exercising free will, the two acts of creating (establishing a solid link between soul and body, while we grow) and forming.
What is the needed environment for human beings to be able to exercise their free-will?
There are two conditions (necessary and sufficient):
 Existence of “Good” and “Bad” mixed together (as in “The Tree of Knowledge, good and bad”, Genesis 2:9);
 Hidden-ness of God and the concealment of God’s hidden-ness.
Prophet Isaiah delivers succinct and stunning expression to the existence of the first condition:
“That men may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides me— I am Jehovah and there is no one else; Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating the bad, I Jehovah am doing all these” (Isaiah 45:6-7).
Note that creating (“something from nothing”) precedes forming ((“imprinting form on the created”), just as forming precedes making. Yet prophet Isaiah sets absence of light (darkness) and the bad (the harmful, the evil) at a level higher than that of light— the former were created, the latter was “just” formed.
Existence of the second condition, a daily human experience revealed in countless debates on whether God exists, is evidenced both by biblical Hebrew and by the Bible. In biblical Hebrew, “World” (Olam) derives from same root as all Hebrew words pointing to concealment. Examples: Ta’aluma (Mystery); He’almut (disappearance); Ne’elam (unknown (noun), as in an algebraic equation); Alum (secret, adj.). In other words, the whole world is testimony to the hidden-ness of God. Prophet Isaiah repeats same motive:
“Indeed, thou are a God who hides thyself, O God of Israel, savior” (Isaiah 45:15).
Concealment of God, however, is itself concealed (“Does God exist?”):
“And I will surely hide my face on that day…” (Haster Astir; Deuteronomy 31:18).
The repeat of same root twice (in two consecutive words) is traditionally interpreted by Jewish scholars as implying concealment of the concealment, an integrated fact of life that we all have probably experienced at one time or another throughout our lives (“Does God exist?”).
Having studied the two conditions for the existence of free-will, the next question to ask is:
What are the limitations to exercising free-will and what does the latter entail?
We continuously live in two worlds, intermingled and most often inseparable and indistinguishable from one another: “World of Law-of-Nature” and “World of Randomness”. We can exercise free-will only in an environment that allows choice, namely, in the “World of Randomness”. Unlike in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, where external constraints force us to behave in certain ways (and not others, namely, no free choice is available), in the “World of Randomness”, where randomness prevails, we are free to exercise whatever our heart desires. It is only then, in the “World of randomness”, that we become an agent of our own free will.
What exercising free-will is comprised of? It comprises two actions:
We need to separate “Good” from “Bad”, before choosing. Most often in our daily lives, the good and the bad are intermingled to a degree that the two can rarely be told apart; Therefore, we need to separate before choosing. God created darkness (per prophet Isaiah), thereby allowing the good and the bad in our world to co-exist, mixed. Consider the biblical Hebrew word for “evening” (as in “…and there was evening and there was morning…”; Genesis 1:5, for example). The Hebrew word derives from same Hebrew root used for mixing (as in “mixture”). The “Tree of Knowledge good and bad” also implies mixed together. In biblical terms, one may allegorically assert that we all have eaten of “The Tree of Knowledge, good and bad”, where “Good” and “Bad” are mixed together in the same fruit. And since then, “Good” and “Bad” have become intermingled in our body and soul, delivering us our mission in life to grow and mature and create ourselves and form our personality and character, all via the process of separating (“Good” from “Bad”) and then choosing.
The act of separating (good from bad) is two-folded and it is expressed differently in the two worlds we inhabit:
- In the “World of Law-of-Nature”, we need to separate “good” from “bad” because absent this separation we may choose the “bad”, thereby harming our well-being and possibly even endangering our life. Thus, buying fruit in the supermarket, we are careful to separate good apples from the bad ones (rotten apples) so that we can then make the correct choice of purchasing good apples only, benefiting our health and well-being. Separation is also inherent to many of our bodily processes (like in the kidney);
- In the “World of Randomness”, the act of separating good from bad (or “good” from “evil”, as commonly used in biblical parlance) is a much harder task. Unlike in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, where science assists us in forming clear distinction and separation between the good and the bad, we do not easily, clearly and immediately differentiate between the two in the “World of Randomness”. Let us demonstrate with a simple example. I am selling a used car, aware that the car carries a certain defect. I can inform the buyer about it or I can inform her not. In the latter case, the thinking goes like this: “I have allowed the buyer to inspect and check the car thoroughly, have I not? However, the defect was not exposed. It is the buyer’s responsibility to identify the defect, not mine, is it not?”. Such thinking testifies to the daily blurring, in the “World of Randomness”, of “good” and “bad” (or “good” and “evil”, in biblical terms). Therefore, Jewish Torah explicitly instructs: “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor GIVE a stumbling block to the blind…” (Leviticus 19:14). In other words, one cannot hide behind an argument like the one just articulated. It is the seller’s responsibility to turn the blind into non-blind by alerting the buyer to the car’s defect.
Once we understand the act of separation in the two worlds, and grasp the role of science in assisting us separating in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, how do we separate and choose right in the “World of Randomness”?
Moses, speaking to the Children of Israel on behalf of the Divine, set to them clear separation and clear choice:
* Separation: “Behold, I have given thee this day life and the good, and death and the bad” (Deuteronomy 30:15);
* Choosing: “I call upon heaven and earth to witness this day against you that I have set before thee life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Is free-will an endowment of the human species, granted to it for eternity?
Not according to Scripture. The free-will act bestowed on humankind, that of separating and choosing, has a limited life-span. It is not eternal. Time will come when God will reveal Himself and then free-will, by definition, will be no more:
“For then I will convert the peoples to a non-confounded language that they all call upon the name of Jehovah to serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Zephaniah 3:9);
“And Jehovah will be king over all the earth; on that day Jehovah will be one and his name One” (Zechariah 14:7).
Furthermore, not only the task of separating and choosing no longer be in the hands of mankind; At End-Times, the Divine will conduct a process of separation of His own; However, the separation process will not be between “Good” and “Evil” (as the latter exists in the “World of Randomness”), but rather between the righteous and the evil (who exist amidst humankind):
“I will also turn my hand against thee, and will purge away your dross as with lye and remove all thy alloy” (Isaiah 1:25);
“Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will smelt them and try them…” (Jeremiah 9:6);
“As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall you be melted in the midst of it…” (Ezekiel 22:22);
“I will bring the third part through the fire, and refine them as one refines silver and test them as one tests gold…” (Zechariah 13:9);
“But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like the washers’ soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” (Malachi 3:2);
“Many will be purged, and purified and refined…” (Daniel 12:10).
4 replies on “Free Will— The Act of Separating and Choosing”
Thank you for your diligent work. Your online book is most interesting and i am looking forward to studying this phenomena in depth. There must be many more correlations to be found.
Mark R Byford
Mark, thank you for your kind words. I believe you are right and there is still much more awaiting to be revealed. Much blessing, Haim
Great article Professor! Well done, thank you very much!
This is why calling the Evil “good” and the “Good” evil is OH so terrible.
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!” (Isaiah 5, 20)
People who lost the right definitions of words, ideas and ideals get their language distorted, their goals in life twisted and their pursuit in life is wrong, either they think there is no goal in life or their goal/s are wrong.
Because it is hard to separate between Good and Evil, they get mixed all together sometimes to people and it is a tragedy – until it is found and fixed and then that period of darkness, of un-clearness/vaguensss can become the canvas for light to appear bright and good. This is called “tshuva”!
Evidence to this can be easily observed by looking at actions of people and the ideals they see as “good” (and “evil”) etc., but there is also another very intriguing way to see how this is taking place in our world – in a very profound way (that seems to accelerate during these last decades):
People started saying “sick” on things they perceive as “good” or “beneficial” or “astounding”. Like “sick move” or “sick party”. People started using “death” in a “positive” way “I’m dying to meet you” or “I’m dying to get this vacation” or “What a to-die-for vacation” etc. Also curses became more commonly used to describe “good feelings”, I won’t repeat those here.
What I learn from this is: the inner world of people is getting completely mixed up and the good/evil are becoming inseparable for them. It is SO PROFOUND that the result is, that in many cases if you point this out to someone (who does it on his own) he/she might ridicule this self-observed phenomenon and say “loosen up”, i.e don’t be so “uptight” (grandpa… i.e mature person who takes important things seriously?).
It seems that for some people, the very act of separating goodness from evil is ITSELF a bad/evil thing! I.E the very act of maturing and acting as a human being – able to separate and choose goodness became mixed up and tends to go to evil with many people in this generation. Because a person first decides what he WANTS and then, only then, he uses his wisdom to get it, so if he desire “good” but the good is defined wrong, i.e he wants “evil” described as “good”, he will pursue things that alter language, that change forms, that give him instant pleasure even at the expense of health both physically and spiritually and more.
By the way, I think that movies/tv shows and the press and of course the movie stars and tv stars themselves have a lot to do with this and to the rapid pace this is taking on. Obviously, such movies/tv-shows wouldn’t be allowed to be in the culture if people were strong enough to fight for what they believe in to begin with. The way evil comes is usually gradually, inch by inch. This way there is no fight against it because people, in many cases, won’t fight for a very small thing.
Again, excellent blog, much appreciated!!!
Thank you Professor Shore!!
Hatshuva, thank you for your comments. The ideas expressed therein very well complement mine and deliver a big-picture view of where we are at these times and age. The only solace one may have is that current-day picture had been prophecised millenia ago by the Jewish prophets and later by knowledgeable interpreters. I very much appreciate your wise comment, Haim