Gem of the Week from Rav Hirsch zt”l: Free Choice

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In creating man, Hashem tells us to be a miniature likeness of G-d, granting us the freedom and the power to master the forces of nature. We are to use that freedom and power to master our own impulses, subordinating them to His laws.

Implicit in the concept of freedom, however, is the possibility of opposing G-d’s will. Without the ability to sin, man ceases to be man. His dignity is contingent upon it. If desire were not attractive, if man could not resist God’s will, if all evil were bitter to him, and all good were sweet; if he could not resist God’s will, as he can resist the urges of his senses; then, he, too, would be subject to compulsion, like nature. Nature never deviates from its assigned task. Nature cannot sin, but neither does it have morals.

We are all faced with the decision between Hashem and Azazel. We all stand at the entrance to the Beis Hamikdash, choosing between God and the power of our senses. Inside, in the Kodesh Hakedashim, rests the Torah. With our eyes on the Torah, we make our decision.

We can decide laHashem, in favor of God. We can muster all our power of resistance to become like Him, fulfilling His will. With a sharp knife of kedusha, we renounce the animalistic side of life. In doing so, we draw near to Hashem even in our physical life by doing His Will on earth.

On the other hand, a person can decide laAzazel. Confronted by the demands of the Torah, he can use his power of resistance to defy Hashem’s will. He can refuse to surrender the animal within to his own knife. But in doing so, he surrenders to Azazel, to the power of uncontrolled sensuality.

Such a person has no place in the Sanctuary, no place in the sphere of human or national life. That life can flourish only in the light of the Torah. His place is in the wilderness. There, the earthy world is not elevated into the sphere of freedom through the actions of moral man.

This choice is up to us. It is not determined by physical appearance, social standing, financial status—none of our circumstances determine our decision. Great or humble, rich or poor, today or tomorrow, no matter the extent of one’s powers or possessions, at any time—anyone can become laHashem or laAzazel.

One’s decision to choose Hashem has meaning only if he could have chosen otherwise, and the opposite is also true. Without temptation, he cannot become a free man and servant of God. Desire was given to man not to control him, but in order that he control it.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Moshe Pogrow,


Ani Maamin Foundation

Please note: This week’s email, as well as all past “Gem of the Week”s, are excerpted from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.



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