Good teachers don’t just see the classroom as a place to impart knowledge, but a place to impart the skills, passion and enthusiasm needed to allow their students to succeed in life. Students require more than information to become contributing members of society. There are certain life lessons that can’t be taught from a book, these lessons must be modeled and explained by teachers, both inside and outside of the classroom.
One of the most important lessons a teacher can impart to their students is making good choices. Free choice is the greatest trait that man possesses and what separates him from the rest of creation. It is only by making good choices that man is able to perfect themselves. This Dvar Torah will explain the importance of free choice. The reader should gain clarity from this Dvar Torah not just about free choice, but about the uniqueness of mankind.
In our Sedra, God discussed the change in human nature after Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge. It is written in our Sedra, “Now the Lord God said, ‘Behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil, and now, lest he stretch forth his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.'”
The Rambam wrote, “Free will is granted to all men. If one desires to turn himself to the path of good and be righteous, the choice is his. Should he desire to turn to the path of evil and be wicked, the choice is his.” Discussing the change in human nature post the seminal sin, the Rambam continued, “This is the intent of the Torah’s statement: ‘Behold, man has become unique as ourselves, knowing good and evil,’ i.e., the human species became singular in the world with no other species resembling it in the following quality: that man can, on his own initiative, with his knowledge and thought, know good and evil, and do what he desires. There is no one who can prevent him from doing good or bad. Accordingly, there was a need to drive him from the Garden of Eden, ‘lest he stretch out his hand [and take from the tree of life.'”
Free will, the Rambam wrote, “is a fundamental concept and a pillar on which rests the totality of the Torah and mitzvot as the Torah states: “Behold, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” Similarly, it states, “Behold, I have set before you today the blessing and the curse],” implying that the choice is in your hands.”
Man gains perfection by overcoming challenges to his character. When man’s desires are mismatched against what he knows to be right, it’s his ability to choose a good path over a bad path that allows man to overcome challenges and refine his character. The Mishna in Pirkie Avos backs this up when it states, reward is according to the effort. Reward is a direct reflection of one’s perfection, and therefore perfection stems from the effort put in overcoming one’s desire.
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