We cannot do as we please

We cannot do as we please

Rabbi Alex Greenbaum
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum

Reeh Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

And God said in Deuteronomy 12:8, “You shall not continue to act as you have done so far, everyone doing what is right in her/his own sight.” But then how should we act? How do we know what is right?

We have been endowed with free will. We can choose whether we follow our Yetzer haRa, our evil inclination, or our Yetzer haTov, our good inclination.  But, we cannot act as we please. Why? Because we have rules.

God has given us the mitzvot, the commandments, guidelines for a good life.  But God’s role in our lives did not end there. God continues to direct our lives through the world around us. As mid-1850s Austrian novelist Leopold Kompert wrote, “God could not be everywhere, so God created mothers.” And others as well.

But, “It’s my life, I can do as I please.” No, we owe our lives to God. At the end of our lives, we return to God. Therefore, we cannot do as we please.  Yes, we have a responsibility to ourselves; but, we also have a responsibility to others, to God, and to our world.

Just as parents who give their children choices, God still hopes we make the right one. And how can we know how to act? Not just by following our heart, but rather by learning from others. For we learn in the Talmud, our book of Law, The Ethics of our Ancestors 4:1, “Who are wise?” Not those who think they know everything; but rather “those who learn from everyone.”

Listen to the world around you … God may be talking.

(This column is a service of the Greater Rabbinic Association.)