Saturday, February 26, 2011

Free Choice

Free choice is a range. Not everyone necessary has free choice in the exact same areas. What the Creator expects of the person depends on what the person's range is. (I heard this quoted in the name of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, author of Michtav M'Eliyahu.)

This is in line with what Rabbi Zusya of Anapoli remarked, "When I arrive before the heavenly court I won't worry about being asked why I wasn't on the level of our Teacher Moses or why I wasn't as great as the other saintly Biblical figures. What worries me is when they will ask, 'Zusya, were you Zusya?"

The lesson is that though each of us might not have the free choice to become somebody else's best, we each have the free choice to become our own best. 


What are the spiritual dynamics that limit free choice to a range?

On a simple level we're all individuals. Nothing about any of us is exactly alike. Our faces are different. Our sizes are different. Our intelligence varies. So why shouldn't our areas of free choice also vary? 

It's in our unique areas of free choice where we can play a real role in our own growth, make changes for the better and reach out for the light. This is sacred ground where like toddlers we take our very first steps toward our Divine Parent and He stands back as we clumsily waddle towards Him. Even if we fall before reaching Him, He applauds our efforts with lit hopeful eyes because we chose growth.

On a deeper level, Kabbalah teaches that spiritual growth is the process of downloading one's own soul, bringing into conscious awareness soul levels that were formerly transcendent (see "Tal Orot" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shpielman). The Zohar teaches that the way the soul wears the body resembles the way the body wears a shoe. Only a little bit at the bottom edge of the body inserts itself into the shoe, moving it along. So too, only a little bit of the bottom edge of the soul inserts itself into the body, animating it. The overwhelming vastness of the soul remains beyond the body.

However, a person can build his or her shoe higher, making it into a boot. Just like a boot encloses a greater part of the body than a shoe, so too a person can spiritually work on himself or herself and encompass more of his or her soul within the field of his or her conscious mind.

It seems from Rabbi Chaim Vital's "Gates of Reincarnation" that since cosmic repair of what's spiritually damaged, known as tikkun, is accomplished by bringing "lights" into "vessels", we repair our own souls by downloading them into our fields of conscious awareness. In this scenario, our souls are the "lights" and our fields of conscious awareness are the "vessels". 

Through this download we're bringing our "lights" into our "vessels", accomplishing some small part of the larger job of cosmic repair - tikkun. The more soul light we download, the more cosmic repair our souls experience. The soul download is accomplished by living the Torah path, serving the Creator and doing acts of kindness. When one does a favor to his/her fellow human being, one does the Creator a favor as well.

The more good we do the more receptive our minds and hearts become to receive our souls. Thus, it's primarily our behavior that drives the process of building our minds and hearts into more and more effective vessels to receive our souls.

Basically, each person's soul is in three different stages of development at once: there's a portion that's downloaded, a portion in the process of downloading and a portion which is transcendent. 

What's "downloaded" has already settled in. It's a comfortable part of ourselves, very much like a skill we've acquired long ago. What's "downloading" is what we're growing into. We're not yet fully comfortable on this level, like a skill we're in the middle of mastering. In some ways it can be a struggle. What's "transcendent" is the majority of the soul beyond the field of conscious awareness. It's full of future potential areas of growth. It's at the moment beyond reach and only indirectly influences us.

Since behavior associated with the "downloaded" aspect of our souls has already been acquired and is comfortable to practice, we don't really have free choice anymore in this area. At the other extreme, since the "transcendent" aspect of our souls are largely beyond reach, we really don't have free choice with regards to behavior associated with this soul level either. Our range of free choice lies with behavior associated with the area of our souls that are in the process of "downloading". Here we're growing, developing and blossoming. Here we're transforming and reinventing ourselves.

(A side note for Kabbalists: The three aspects of the soul correspond to "penimi", "makif hachozer" and "makif yashar" or Naran, Chaya and Yechida.)


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