Tuesday night through Wednesday night is the holiest day in Judaism – Yom Kippur.
Since we’ve been speaking the last few weeks about the concept of Free Will, we will continue on that theme. One foundational principle is that, for all the positive things a person has done in one’s life, he is left to wonder how much of it was actually him, and how much of it was “given” to him by way of his genetic makeup and the conditions of his upbringing.
The story is told of the guy who, after 120 years, passed away. He gets upstairs and an angel asks him, “What’s your name? And he responds, “Joe”. The angel says, “Ah yes, Joe, you’re on the list; we’ve been expecting you. Go up two flights, make a left, then take a right down the hall and you will find room 328. Go in there, and that is where you’ll find all of your reward for the mitzvot (commandments), Torah learning, and good deeds that you’ve done.
Joe thanks the angel and begins his trek towards room 328.
He starts to get nervous, thinking to himself, ‘This is it; I know I was kind of a good guy, but then again I also messed up plenty.’
Joe follows the directions given to him by the angel and, as he gets closer to room 328, his (non-existent) heart starts pounding. He arrives at the door, slowly opens it up and… WHAM!
There it is! A big mountain of reward!
Joe starts jumping for joy. He starts doing cartwheels and backflips, etc.
Joe is on top of the world as he sees all the wonderful things he achieved in his life with his time here on Earth.
However, a couple of minutes later, a huge bulldozer comes along and smashes into Joe’s big mountain of reward, pushing half of it away.
Joe screams out, “’No! Stop! What are you doing? You’re taking away my mitzvot!” At that moment, Joe wonders, ‘Who’s driving the bulldozer anyway?’ He looks closely and, to his utter shock, he sees two gleeful people smiling and waving.
It’s his parents!
They say to him, “You did all of these great things, but we get some credit for them too. We raised you to be that good guy that you turned out to be. A lot of this reward belongs to us.”
Joe acknowledges that what his parents are saying is in fact correct and, reluctantly, he watches as what he thought were his mitzvot are dragged away.
A few minutes pass, and Joe begins to come to terms with what he just witnessed as he looks ahead to the half-a-mountain’s-worth of reward he still has left.
However, right at that moment, another bulldozer comes along – a little smaller this time – and smashes into Joe’s half-mountain of reward, pushing away half of what is left.
Joe cries out, “No! Not again! Stop! What are you doing?”. ‘Who’s riding this bulldozer anyway?’ Joe wonders. Again, Joe looks closely only to find familiar looking people gleefully smiling and waving back at him.
This time the people on the bulldozer are his teachers.
“This belongs to us, you know” they say. “We taught you. We helped you out when you needed it. We set you on your path to goodness.”
Again Joe reluctantly concedes.
This process continues until that last guy who Joe once met on a bus and got a good piece of advice from comes along with his little sack and throws a few things in and runs off.
And, at the end of this process, what Joe is left with is what he actually put in and built himself. The effort, true personal advancement, and the striving that Joe did ultimately defines who he is.
This is where Free Will comes in to play.
What did Joe actually do? What did he actually put in on his own? What did he do with what he was given? Everything else is the stage being set for greatness, but it is up to each individual to get onto that stage and be a star.
This is the individualistic relative nature of Free Will.
Everyone has Free Will in different places. Therefore, we are each to acknowledge the positive we have done while always trying to build on it, and judge others favorably and in accordance with the deeper reality that, at their core, they are a pure Godly soul.
On Yom Kippurn, as we look back on the past year and look forward to the year to come, let us keep in our minds and our hearts that our spiritual level and our relationship with the Infinite will always be one and the same with the sum total of the Free Will choices that he makes under the specific conditions that he’s been dealt – nothing more, nothing less.
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after cutting edge international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. His recently released #1 Amazon’s Best Seller, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism, has won wide acclaim as one of the clearest, most comprehensive, and reader-friendly depictions of Kabbalah and the “whys” of Judaism.