You are here: Kabbalah Library Home / Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) / The Freedom / Freedom of Will - lessons / Freedom of Will / Freedom of Will

Freedom of Will



Based on the article of Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) "The Freedom"

  • Bold and in quotes: Original text of Baal HaSulam

  • Regular: Commentaries of Rav Laitman

  • Capitalized italics: transliteration from Hebrew

Greetings to all the listeners and viewers of another virtual lesson.

We are studying the essay Freedom of Will by Baal HaSulam and we are at the chapter called "The influence of the environment". We have learned the four factors that basically form everything, what is called the personality of an individual.

First, there is an inherited factor which defines the data that a person receives at birth. This includes the information and its further development. We have studied this using an example with a wheat kernel. We have discussed that a kernel of a certain type should originate from a kernel of the same type. In the same way an animal cannot descend from a human. This is called Matza, i.e. the original data inside a person along with the development program for this original data. These are the first two factors. There are two more factors, the influence of the environment and the program which develops the environment.

Roughly speaking, there is "Me" and a program according to which my "Me" is developing. Then there are the external forces, the environment, and the development program of the environment which act on this "Me" from outside.

Now we approach the question what is the influence of the environment.

The Influence of the Environment

The second factor is the direct law of cause and effect that is related to the qualities of the base which does not change. Therefore, this can be explained using the above example of the wheat kernel which decomposes in the ground. The environment for the base is the ground, nutrients, rain, air, and sun. The environment acts slowly on the kernel for a long period of time according to the law of cause and effect, changing its state after state until this kernel reaches a certain stage. Then the base returns to its original form, i.e. the form of the wheat kernel, but with a change in quantity and quality.

Obviously, this kernel on its own would not go through any changes. However, because it is submerged in a certain environment, a kernel, being influenced by this environment, develops in a certain way. In addition, there is a factor that the environment is unable to change - a kernel will always come out of a kernel. However, there is a factor that the environment does change, - the quantity and quality of kernels.

In Kabbalah, when we speak about a person (you probably heard about this more than once) we say that our way to the Creator is unchangeable. Our internal spiritual gene was derived by descending from above, from the world of Infinity, down to our world. Every person has this gene that contains a program, i.e. all stages of person's development in our world and his ascent to the Upper World. These stages are unchangeable.

The only thing that can be changed through the environment is the quality and quantity, i.e. the speed and quality of the way that a person would go through it. He can either go through it with pain, in fear, in suffering, in thousands of years of wars, or he can pass through it in comfort. He can do this by changing his attitude towards the way he goes through it so it would turn out as if he has achieved the goal (even in the beginning, when he has not done it yet). He starts connecting himself with this goal and, as a result, it becomes part of him. All of this depends only on the person.

However, the issue is not only in easing our path. As a matter of fact, our path cannot be taken in any other way but independently, with our full approval, with our personal participation and kind attitude. This Reshimo, the seed that exists in us cannot develop if we do not place it in a good environment selected and created by us. Only this environment is ready and usable for the development of this seed and obtaining the correct result, which is many new, kind, and good seeds. Therefore, the environment is fundamental here.

"And the bed has retaken its former shape, meaning the shape of wheat, but with a different quality and quantity. And their general aspect remains completely unchanged, that no cereal or oats will grow from it. They change in their particular aspect in quantity - that from one stalk, come out a dozen or two dozen stalks, and in quality - which are better or worse than the former shape of the wheat.

It is the same here, that man, as a "bed", is placed in the environment, meaning in society. And he is compelled to be influenced by it, as the wheat from its environment, for the bed is but a raw form. Thus, out of the to and fro contact with his surrounding and the environment, he is impressed by them through a gradual process or a chain of situations, one by one, as cause and effect" (these laws are unchangeable, but the environment defines their entire course of flow and the quality of the result received in the future).

At the same time, the traits contained in its basis are also changing by acquiring a form of knowledge. For example, a person inherited a tendency to be stingy; when he becomes an adult he starts making various sensible excuses allowing him to come to the right conclusion that it is a good thing for a person to be stingy. That is, a person adapts the environment to fit the internal qualities he received at birth.

"Thus, although his father was generous, he can inherit from him the negative tendency, that of stinginess, for the absence is just as inheritance as the presence."

Why is this happening? Because the seed is becoming completely free of its external layer. Therefore, a certain quality, let us say an attitude towards money, changes: a spender can have a stingy son or vice versa. That is, a special attitude is inherited, but not the external form. The external form depends on the environment.

"Or if one inherits from his ancestors a tendency to be open minded. He builds for himself ideas and draws from them conclusions that it is good to be open minded. But where does one find those sentences and reasons? One takes them from his environment, unknowingly, for they implant their opinions and flavors in him in a process of gradual cause and effect.

And it is done so that man regards them as his own, that he has acquired them through free thought."

Thus, he goes to the library to check out certain books, and as a consequence ends up close to some people - these people and not others; he chooses certain professions; he seems to meet his other half by an incident; he has his own way of filtering what he hears on the radio and watches on TV, he changes channels. Where are all these influences coming from? In this way we subconsciously bring about the program that exists in us.

"And it is done so that man regards them as his own, that he has acquired them through free thought. Here too, just as with the wheat, there is one unchanging part of the bed and that is that the inherited tendencies remain just as they were in his forefathers. That is the second factor."

Thus, in no way is a person free in this. This is a simple and brief conclusion according to our understanding of Baal HaSulam.

We will talk in depth about the ways in which it is happening inside of our desires, in the soul, in the spiritual. We are still talking only about the psychological variation in a person, about his psychological structure. In the future we will be explaining this at the spiritual level, but for now it is easier for us to simply remember the conclusion.

This second factor, i.e. our study, our search in life, the things we do inside ourselves - the way that everything exists in us is absolutely predetermined. This is what we understand as our freedom. What is freedom? It is what exists in me and I realize it. However, where is the freedom of will here? Someone has chosen what to input in me and I only carry it out.

Habit turns to Second nature

"The third factor is a conduct of direct cause and effect, which the bed goes through and is changed by them. For because the inherited tendencies in man have turned, because of the environment, to concepts, they are found to work in directions that these concepts define. For example, a man of stingy nature, that through society this tendency has turned into a concept, and he can now understand stinginess through some reasonable definition.

Let us assume that he defends himself through that behavior so that he will not need others. It turns out that he has attained a scale for stinginess, that for some time, when that fear is absent, he will be able let go of that trait. It turns out that he has changed for the better from the original tendency he had inherited from his forefathers. And sometimes one manages to uproot completely a bad tendency. It is done by habit, which has the ability to become second nature."

Thus, despite the fact that I have some quality, some trend I have inherited, I can suppress it through the direct and continuous influence of the environment.

"In that the strength of man is greater than that of a plant. For the wheat cannot change but in its private part, whereas man has the ability to change through the power of environmental cause and effect, even in the general parts, that is to entirely uproot a tendency and turn to its opposite."

A person is capable of doing this under the influence of the environment. Meaning, if I constantly receive such signals from outside that will create a habit in me, it will become like a reflex instead of my original natural Reshimo. This is very important - a habit becomes second nature. The next factor is the external factor.

"The fourth factor is a conduct of cause and effect that affect the bed, by forces that are completely alien to it, and operate on it from outside. Meaning that these forces are not related to the bed's growth conduct, to act directly on it, but rather operate indirectly. For example, monetary issues, everyday burdens, or the winds etc, that in and of themselves have a complete, slow and gradual order of situations by way of "cause and effect", which change man's concepts for better or for worse."

At this point we are talking not only about the external factor that can influence us, but rather about the way this external factor changes on its own. This is our fourth parameter, the fourth factor.

"Thus, I have set up the four natural factors that each of our thoughts and ideas that come to our minds are but their products."

Everything that belongs to my "me", everything that exists in me: my feelings, my knowledge, my understanding, my mind, the way I make decisions, understand, feel, the way I search around myself, selectively perceive, somehow selectively influence others, i.e. everything that belongs to my "me" and everything outside of it, all of these exist in me as a result of the impact of these four factors and their interaction with each other. These four factors are my authentic information and the program of its development, the influence of the environment on me and the development program of the environment.

"And should one sit and meditate the whole day long, he'll not be able to add or otherwise alter what those four factors give him."

There is no way we can go beyond these boundaries; we exist inside of them, and we are enclosed in them. Whatever we could do, or think, whatever we can acquire, everything is enclosed in these four factors.

"Any addition he can add is in the quantity: whether a great mind or a small one, but in the quality he cannot add one bit. For they (these four factors) determine the character and shape of the idea and the conclusion compellingly, without asking our opinion (even my opinion comes out of what they dictate to me, and even my opinion to "not to reckon with them" also comes out of them). Thus we are at the hands of these four factors, as clay in the hands of a potter."

Besides this we do not have any other degree of freedom or possibility to feel, think, or act outside of these four factors.

Free choice

"However, when we examine these four factors, we find that although our strength is not enough to face the first factor, which is the "bed",."

We are unable to change the seed. Let us say the seed is myself, then I cannot change myself so that someone else would be born from me. This is beyond me, it is set in my nature and I am its outcome.

"...we still have the ability and the free choice to defend ourselves against the other three factors, by which the bed changes in its individual parts. Sometimes it changes in its general part as well, through habit, which endows him with a second nature."

Free choice is possible through influence of the environment that forms a habit in us. There is one factor in these four that can change us; it can create in us such qualities that will oppose our original natural ones. This is called a habit, i.e. an acquired quality. Using this ability of the environment is like protecting ourselves from the influence and power of the four factors over us. We can shield ourselves from them in some way. We will be free to the degree of our power over the influence of the environment and our ability to manage this influence.

"That protection (from slavery to the four factors) means that we can always supplement in the matter of choosing our environment, which are the friends, the books, the teachers and so on. Like a person who has inherited from his father a few stalks of wheat, that he can grow from this small amount dozens of stalks through his choice of the environment for his "bed", which is fertile soil, with all the necessary minerals and raw materials that nourish the wheat abundantly. There is also the matter of the labor at improving the environmental conditions to fit the needs of the plant and the growth, for the wise will do well to choose the best conditions and will find blessing in his work, and the fool will take from whatever comes before him, and will thus turn the sowing to a curse rather than to a blessing."

Our well being depends on our attitude towards the future crop, our future state. We are able to define it in advance.

"Thus, all its praise and spirit depends upon the choice of the environment in which to sow the wheat (the wheat will remain to be wheat, but its quality depends on the environment only). But once it has been sowed in the selected location, its absolute shape is determined according to the measure that the environment is capable of providing."

Before we start sowing, i.e. placing ourselves in certain environment, we have to clearly determine the consequences this future environment will have on me - what it will out of me at the next stage. This is very important because at the next stage I will think about ways I can change in the next environment, and then the next one... I will be coming from my current data, the data that I will have at that moment.

However, I am unable to do it in advance. Now I am defining myself for the next stage. If I make a mistake now my choice for the environment will be wrong the next time around. Thus, my every stage depends on the previous one. I will lack free choice at every stage because it becomes defined today when I understand what I can change in myself and the way I can do it. The next time I bring myself to some state, there is a chance I will not have a sense of necessity in the free choice, in choosing another environment, and so forth.

Therefore, our most important task is to define ourselves in advance, before we enter some environment. I need to define who I will be as a result of being in this environment. This is why he is saying that.

"So is the case with our topic (regarding a human), for it is true that the will has no freedom, but is impressed by the above four factors. And it is compelled to think and examine as they suggest, denied of any strength of scrutiny or change (oneself, and these four factors that influence a person), as the wheat in its environment."

Thus, after I have "sown" myself in the environment it has total power over me. If at some point later in time I decide to do some analysis or checking of my result, this analysis will be performed under the influence of what I have gained from this environment. It will no longer be independent as it is today, and therefore, it will not be free.

"However, there is freedom for the will to initially choose such an environment as books and such guides - that bestow upon him good concepts. And if one does not do that, but is willing to come inside just any environment and read any book that falls into his hands, he is bound to fall into a bad environment, or waste his time on worthless books, which are abundant and easier to come by, which compel him to foul conceptions, that make him sin and condemn."

This means one is then moving away from the goal. Of course, the question comes up: does it mean that a person has free choice only once in a life-time? Yes, only once in a life time. The time when a person is brought to this point is called the "birth of the point in heart". By using it the right way he is advancing further.

What does it mean to choose the environment? How should one understand the way he should behave in order to absorb from the environment the filtered, correct information for his growth? How can one see inside the book? A book by itself can be good, but how can one make it good, effective, useful for himself? How should one relate towards one's friends in order to absorb from them only what is beneficial for one's growth, and not everything else they have? What attitude should there be towards the teacher so that one grasps things that are the most important for advancement, and not dozens of other various qualities or, perhaps, some other perceived opposite qualities. Everything depends on the person. This is where the freedom of will lies, and it can suppress all other original unfavorable data, turning a person into a totally different spiritual creature.

"He (person) will certainly be punished, not because of his evil thoughts and deeds (that he eventually will do), which he has no choice of, but because (he chose a certain environment, i.e.) he did not choose the good environment, for as we've seen, in that there is definitely a choice" (we should not judge a person for his actions, but we have to educate him so he would understand how to fulfill his free choice).

"Therefore, he who strives to continuously choose a better environment is worthy of praise and reward. But here too, not because of his good deeds or thoughts, which come to him without his choice, but because of his effort to acquire a good environment, which brings him these good thoughts and deeds. As Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Prehya (this sage lived a few thousand years ago) said: "Make Yourself a Rav and Buy Yourself a Friend".

That means a person needs to have good surroundings if he wants to advance. Later we will discuss why he says: "Make yourself a Rav and buy yourself a friend". What is the meaning of the phrase "buy yourself a friend"? It means I invest my efforts in him so he would become my friend. This is called "buying". To make yourself a Rav" means that you have to find such ideals in the teacher that would be a Rav (big) in your eyes. Only by using these two external forces can a person realize himself correctly. Otherwise, his surroundings will be arbitrary, i.e. bad.

"Therefore, he who strives to continuously choose a better environment." That means I should not leave my group, friends, and Rav even for a second, I constantly have to try to make them a better environment for myself. This is a continuous work. I should not think that becoming part of some group would influence me. It will not affect me. It will influence me when I start to desire to be under its influence. That is why he says that he who strives to choose continuously a better environment will achieve a reward. What does "reward" mean? It means the next, higher spiritual state. Further along in the spiritual world, when we cross the Machsom (as here, so is there) we have the same group, same Rav, we just see what they are in reality. There, your eyes are opened and you see your friends as souls longing for the creator, not just their shells; you see your Rav as someone at a certain spiritual level who is pulling you to this level.

However, even after the Machsom, a surrounding society remains, and is to be the defining factor for the spiritual growth of a person. Baal HaSulam is writing regarding this in his letters "You will need each other, you will need me (after crossing the Machsom) even more than today". This is because only these four factors in person's development define the person's state every time along the way up to the Gmar Tikun, the final correction.

The must in choosing a good environment

"Hence you can understand the words of Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma (a sage who lived in the period of Zohar, i.e. about 17-18 centuries ago) (Avot 86), who, in reply to an offer to live in another person's (rich man) town and be paid for it thousands of gold coins."

Yosi Ben Kasma was known as a very poor man. It was not only that he did not have food - he lived in poverty to realize his potential. He also had a few students and this was the way he lived. We should read this whole story. It is described in the Talmud. It tells of a rich man who heard that Rav Yosi Ben Kasma gave good advice and decided to visit him. When this rich man heard Rav Yosi he said "I will give you all the conditions you may wish, you will have a huge group of people to teach, you just need to move to our town. Leave your town and move to ours."

"Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma replied "Even if you give me all the gold and silver and jewels in the world, I will live only in a place of Kabbalah". These words seem too sublime for our simple mind to grasp, for how can it be that he has given up thousands of gold coins for such a small thing, as living in a place where there are no disciples of Kabbalah, whereas he himself was a great sage who needed to learn from no one?"

Ben Kasma was a man that everyone tried to learn from; he was higher than anyone. He did not have any friends because he was a Rav for everyone. However, during that time a Rav did not receive money from everyone, not as it is today. It was a time when everyone made a living on his own. One could be a great teacher and yet, he could literally be in need of bread for eating. Today Kabbalah teaches that this is the way one should behave.

However, why did he turn this offer down? He was so big, above anyone, and he did not need the surrounding? Why did he refuse to move to another town, he could open his academy and do whatever he wanted?

"But as we've seen, it is a simple thing that should be observed by each and every one of us. For although everyone has "his own bed" (the first factor), the forces do not reveal openly but through the environment one is in, much like the wheat sowed in the ground, whose forces do not become apparent, but through its environment, which is the soil, the rain and the light of the sun.

Thus, Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma correctly assumed that if he were to leave the good environment (he still needed to grow even though he was above everyone) he had chosen and fall into a harmful environment, meaning a place with no disciples of Kabbalah, not only would his former concepts be compromised, but all the other forces, hidden in his bed, that he had not yet revealed in action, would remain concealed (that is his further development would stop). That is because they would not be subject (these internal, still potential powers) to the right environment that would activate them.

And as we've clarified above, that only in the matter of man's choice of environment, his reign over himself is measured, and for that he is worthy (for this choice) of either praise or punishment."

Whether it is a reward or punishment is determined at his next state. If it is the right surrounding it is a higher state, and a bad surrounding obviously means the next stage.

"Therefore one must not wonder at a wise man such as Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma for choosing the good and declining the bad (because he was a sage to make such a choice) and for not been tempted into material and corporeal things, as he deduces there: "when one dies one does not take with him silver or gold, or jewels, but only good deeds and Kabbalah" (i.e. the thing he could change in himself as a result of choosing the right environment). And so our sages warned: "Make a rabbi for yourself and buy yourself a friend", as well as the choice of books (i.e. it includes Rav, friends, and books), as we've mentioned.

For in that alone can one be rebuked or praised, meaning in his choice of environment. But once he's chosen that environment, he's at its hands as clay in the hands of the potter."

Today we have learned a certain part of this special, wonderful article. Generally, it points out the most important thing we have to do in this life - the way to our spiritual fulfillment.

Baal HaSulam has many more articles where he talks about our behavior in this world. Basically, understanding the fact that we are only puppets in everything is the first attainment of a person when he enters the Upper world or approaches it. Gradually he starts feeling that only the acquired quality to bestow gives him an opportunity to self-expression. Besides this everything else is under the power of the egoism made by the Creator.

This is similar to the fact that we are created as part of the Creator, and afterwards the egoism has gradually put its weight on us and brought us down to the level of this world. Today we exist completely under its influence. We can realize ourselves freely by becoming free from its power and revealing the quality of bestowal in ourselves again. The quality of bestowal is the freedom of will.

Question: How can one protected himself from the other three factors and determine that this protection works?

This is a serious question. How can one get protected from the three factors? Only by sticking to my surroundings. That means I want to make sure that neither my first nor my second factors, nor the factors that affect the environment would automatically do something with me. I want only the surroundings to determine my development.

After all, I act automatically under the influence of my internal factors that lie in me. I am only an executing mechanism. I exist under the influence of my internal qualities and the external factors that act on me. I do only whatever these internal and external factors dictate to me to do. If I wish to get rid of this control I have to set myself under the control of the environment that I choose. That means I need to have a Rav, a group, and books as the things that dictate to me what to do. Since I have to do everything these four parameters dictate to me I will not be able to have a sensible attitude towards the group, Rav, and books. I will not be able to choose what I need from the group, Rav, or books; I will still use the four parameters and I will remain under their power.

In order for me to come out from under this power I have to disconnect myself from what my internal factors dictate to me; I also have to take what my chosen environment dictates to me. I have to take it as a dictate and voluntarily submit myself to the group, Rav, and books. This means that I choose the environment, a different factor that will affect me.

However, if I approach the new environment relying on my original, natural factors, it does not mean I absorb it, I merely adapt it to these four factors. As a result, it will affect me accordingly, i.e. nothing will change in me. Therefore, one needs to approach the Rav, books, and group by giving up his true, natural motives so he would be free of any connection with them. This is a continuous struggle as Baal HaSulam writes.

"Therefore, he who strives to continuously choose (to continuously choose!) a better environment." That means one has to constantly, all the time check himself: what is the motive of my deeds, my thoughts, my decisions.

Question: If some of my qualities transform thanks to the influence of an environment is this change permanent or it holds until the next change of the surrounding? What is the starting point from which the next environment will start influencing me? Is it my transformed qualities or it can go back to my original, inherited state?

Let us say a person has immersed in the right environment for some period of time. He has decided that he wanted to set himself up to the influence of this environment so it would always shower him with its influence. Later on something happens and he falls from his level. The question comes up: would he loose everything or not? Nothing is lost, we already know this. Obviously, it stays in our internal qualities.

However, as Baal HaSulam writes, every time you still need the freedom of will. The past will not help you even if you did the right deeds some time ago. It will not help you at the current moment. It is said "Lo Yaazreni Le-Tzadik Mitzva Be-Yom Posho" (Good deeds of the past will not help the righteous man in the day of his sin). When you are righteous you do the right things, later you lose your way and become a sinner - you do sinful things.

At the end, it all adds up and shows up somewhere. Perhaps it helps you return to the better state again. However, each time your freedom of will lies in choosing the environment, and each time this has to be a conscious choice.



Back to top
Site location tree