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footprints in the sand

You can Change! Focusing on Free Will

Week 3, Lesson 16: September 13 / Elul 22

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler was born in 1892; he was the scion of a rabbinic family and a student of the Kelm tradition of the Mussar Movement. In the early 1940’s, Rabbi Dessler assumed leadership of the newly formed Gateshead Kollel in the north of England and in 1947, moved to Israel where he became the spiritual advisor at the famed Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. His students wrote notes of his lectures that formed the basis of a five volume Hebrew masterpiece called “Michtav M’Eliyahu / Letter from Eliyahu.” Many of these lectures have been translated into English in a six-volume set entitled, “Strive for Truth!”

Rabbi Dessler compared our moral choices to life on the battlefield. He writes that “When two armies are locked in battle, fighting takes place only at the battlefront.” Any territory behind the lines of either army is assumed to be in the possession of that army. If one army pushes the other back, then that territory, too, becomes the assumed possession of that particular army. He compares this notion of the point where the troops meet to choices that individuals make:

The situation is very similar with regard to bechira/free will. Everyone has free choice – at the point where truth meets falsehood. In other words, bechira takes place at the point where the truth as the person sees it confronts the illusion produced in him/her by the power of falsehood. But the majority of a person’s actions are undertaken without any clash between truth and falsehood taking place. Many of a person’s actions may happen to coincide with what is objectively right because one has been brought up that way and it does not occur to do otherwise, and many bad and false decisions may be taken simply because the person does not realize that they are bad. In such cases no actual bechira, or choice has been made. Free will is exercised and a valid bechira is made [only] on the borderline between the forces of good and the forces of evil within that person…
 
It must be realized that this bechira-point does not remain static in any given individual. With each good bechira successfully carried out, the person rises higher in spiritual level. [Based on “Strive for Truth!” vol. 1, pp. 53-4]

Clarify Rabbi Dessler’s lesson in your own words. In what way does his formulation make your choices easier? Harder?

Continue with your intention for the week to exercise your free will in a situation that challenges you. For today, add the intention to identify three areas in your life where the struggle between “truth” and ‘falsehood” is alive, or where forces equally compelling are pulling you in different directions and where an active choice is required? Journal your insights.

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Today’s learning is sponsored by Judith Golden in memory of her mother, Maxine Simon Unger, Malkah bat Peaches v'Bob, who always expressed the middah of seder — order — with beauty and graciousness.

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