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May 1, 2015

Free will

by Rabbi Dovid Felt

“Nature versus nurture” is a  term used in psychology related to whether heredity or the environment most impacts human psychological development (behavior, habits, intelligence, personality, aggressive tendencies, and so on). It’s obvious that you share your parent’s’ DNA in the physical sense — you might have black hair like your father and blue eyes like your mother. But where did you get your love of reading poetry, your quick wit, or your natural athletic abilities? That’s what the nature versus nurture debate tackles.

This debate can have severe ramifications when discussing responsibility, for if a person’s character is genetically determined how can we expect a person to be responsible for their behaviour. As Jews we overcome this issue by accepting two precepts. The first is free will, regardless of one’s character makeup a person has free will to determine his own behavior. Society would not be able to function if the guilty would be able to plea “this is my nature I can’t be blamed”. It may be true that one who has the propensity for aggression may have a harder time controlling himself from hurting others but it is still in his free will to refrain. The second is that HKB”H takes all of that in consideration in how He interacts with us. A person’s innate strengths and weaknesses, his environment and experiences are all considered when judged.

This idea is highlighted in this weeks Parsha as the Torah goes through the process of Teshuvah that makes up the Avodah on Yom Kippur. When the Kohen brings the two goats, lots are used to decide which would go to the Midbar and which would stay. The Torah’s use of lots is to signify a certain lack of choice that all of us have.  This says the Akeidas Yitzchak is to demonstrate that while we are responsible for our actions Hashem always judges us fairly, with due consideration given to things that are beyond our control.

Felt Tips

One of the most difficult challenges for parents is disciplining their children. The are numerous factors that go into disciplining a child such as the timing the severity and even the setting. This becomes even more of a challenge as our children enter their adolescent years. It is clear that they are responsible for their actions but as parents we need to give them consideration for what is out of their control.

The Torah introduces the idea of a ‘Seyog” a fence to help one from desecrating the  Shabbos as well as other Aveiros. This idea is a very powerful one that should be taught to our children. Sometimes we can get ourselves into a situation where we have no free will, where we don’t have the ability to choose. Our responsibility is to exercise our free will before we get into that situation. By creating fences, points where we can stop, pause and reasses – we can avoid losing control over ourselves.

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