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Chapter 6. The Road to Freedom

Each of us perceives him or herself as an individual being, a unique, independently acting entity. It is no coincidence that for many centuries, humanity has been fighting to obtain a certain measure of personal freedom. The concept of freedom concerns all creatures. We can see how animals suffer when they are taken captive, when their freedom is denied. This is stark testimony to Nature’s disagreement when any creature is enslaved.

Yet, our understanding of the concept of freedom itself is rather vague. If we examine it in depth, almost nothing will remain of it. Thus, before we demand an individual’s freedom, we must assume that each individual actually knows what both freedom, and the aspiration for freedom, actually are. But first and foremost, we have to see whether the individual is even capable of acting out of free will?

Life is an endless war to find a formula for a better life. Did we ever ask ourselves what we actually controlled, and what we did not? Quite possibly, in most cases, things are mapped out to begin with, but we continue to behave as if the course of events depends on us.

The concept of freedom acts like a natural law that applies to all of life. This is why each creature aspires for freedom. Yet, Nature does not provide information concerning which actions we are free to choose, and which give us only the illusion of freedom of choice.

Thus, Nature places us in a state of complete helplessness, uncertainty, and disillusionment with our ability to change anything, either within ourselves or in life in general. Nature does that to make us stop the race of life and dedicate some thought to the question, “What can we influence?” If we know what elements shape us within and without, we will be able to understand the exact place where Nature allows us to control our destiny.


Pleasure and pain are the two forces through which our lives are managed. Our inherent Nature—the desire to enjoy—impels us to follow a predetermined behavioral formula: the desire to receive maximum pleasure for minimum effort. Hence, we are compelled to choose pleasure and flee from pain. In that, there is no difference between us and any other animal.

Psychology recognizes the possibility of changing every person’s priorities. We can be taught to perform different calculations of profitability. It is also possible to extol the future in the eyes of every person so that he or she will agree to experience present ordeals for future gain.

For example, we are willing to make tremendous efforts in schooling to learn a trade that will yield high wages or a respectable position. It is all a question of profitability calculations. We calculate how much effort will bring us how much likely pleasures, and if we are left with a surplus of pleasure, we act to achieve it. This is how we are all built.

The only difference between man and beast is that man can look forward to a future goal and agree to experience a certain measure of hardship and pain for a future reward. If we examine a specific individual, we will see that all actions stem from this kind of calculation, and that one, in fact, performs them involuntarily.

Although the desire to enjoy compels us to escape pain and choose pleasure, we are unable to choose even the kind of pleasure we will want. This is because the decision as to what to enjoy is completely out of our hands, as it is affected by others’ desires.

Each person lives within an environment of unique laws and culture. Not only do these determine the rules of our behavior, but they also affect our attitudes toward every aspect of life.

In truth, we do not choose our way of life, our fields of interest, our leisure activities, the food we eat, or the clothing fashions we follow. All these are chosen according to the whims and fancies of our surrounding society.

Moreover, it is not necessarily the better part of society that chooses, but rather the greater part. In fact, we are chained by the manners and preferences of our societies, which have become our norms of behavior.

Gaining society’s appreciation is the motive for everything we do. Even when we want to be different, to do something that no one else has done before or buy something no one else has, or even retire from society and seclude ourselves, we do it to gain society’s appreciation. Thoughts such as, “What will they say about me?” and “What will they think about me?” are the most important factors for us, though we tend to deny and suppress them. After all, admitting to them would seem to annul our “selves.”


From all the above, where, if any, do we find free choice? To answer this question, we must first understand our own essence and see which elements comprise us. In his essay, “The Freedom,” written in 1933, Baal HaSulam explains that within each object and within each person are four factors that define them. To explain these factors, he uses the example of the growth of a wheat seed. This is an excellent example, as it is easy to follow its growth process and helps us to understand the whole concept.

1. The First Matter—Our Inherent Essence

The first matter is the inherent essence within every object. Although it may take different shapes, in itself, it never changes. For example, when wheat decays in the ground and its shape is completely lost, a new bud of wheat still grows from its inherent essence. The first factor, the essence, the bedrock, our genetic code, is within us from the very start. Hence, we are unable to change or affect it.

2. Unchangeable Qualities

The evolutionary laws of the essence never change, and from them stem the unchangeable qualities of each object. For example, a wheat seed will never produce any other kind of grain besides wheat; it will produce only the previous shape of wheat that it had lost.

These laws and the qualities deriving from them are predetermined by Nature. Each seed, each animal, and each person contains the evolutionary laws of the essence. This is the second factor that comprises us, and which we cannot affect.

3. Qualities that Can Be Changed By Affecting the Environment

While the seed remains the same kind of seed, its outer appearance changes according to the external environment. In other words, when affected by external elements and by defined rules, the “envelope” of the essence changes in its quality.

The influence of the external environment adds more elements to the essence, and together they produce a new quality of the same essence. These elements might be the sun, soil, fertilizers, moisture, and rain. They determine the difficulties the new wheat will meet in its growth, as well as its quantity and quality.

If we transfer this example to a person instead of a seed, the external environment might be parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, books, and the messages one absorbs from the media. Thus, the third factor is the laws by which the environment affects the individual and induces changes in those qualities that are changeable.

4. Changes in the Environment that Affect the Object

The environment that affects the growth of the wheat is, itself, affected by external elements. These elements can change drastically: for example, there might be a drought or a flood, causing all the seeds to rot or dry out. As for man, this fourth factor involves changes in the environment itself, which then change how it affects the changeable qualities in the individual.

Thus, these four factors define the general state of each object. These factors define one’s character, mode of thinking and process of deduction. They even determine what one wants and how one acts at any given moment. In the essay, “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam discusses each of these factors at length and reaches the following conclusions:

  1. One cannot change one’s genetic code, one’s essence;

  2. One cannot change the laws by which one’s essence evolves;

  3. One cannot change the laws by which external elements affect one’s development;

  4. One can change the environment one is in, and on which one is totally dependent, and choose a more favorable environment to attain one’s life goals.

Put differently, we cannot affect ourselves directly, since we do not define our own essence and the way it develops. We are also unable to change the laws by which the environment affects us. However, we can influence our lives and our destinies by improving our environment. Thus, our only free choice is the choice of the right environment. If we induce change in our surrounding conditions and improve our environment, we will change the effect of the environment on our changeable qualities, and thus determine our future.

In all of Nature’s degrees—the still, vegetative, animate, and human—only the human can consciously choose an environment that defines its desires, thoughts, and actions. Hence, the correction process is based upon the relationship of the individual with the environment. If our environment comprises a suitable basis for growth, we will reach splendid results.

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