Equally, if not more devastating in its impact, were the proclamations of Freud, whose underlying presumptions as they’ve been incorporated into modern thinking were to destroy the concept of the free will of man in relation to himself. Our thoughts are no longer under our conscious control. Our actions derive not from rational, free will, but emerge from the unconscious interplay of forces and influences themselves determined by the circumstances of our life, beyond our control. Hence not only are our actions and thoughts determined entities, denying free will, but we cannot therefore be held responsible for the consequences of those thoughts or actions – “we cannot help ourselves.”
Subjectivism, relativism, psychoanalysis – all declare that there is no intrinsic value to all those efforts, all those achievements, all of those great thoughts we’ve added to the history of human life on earth. Everything’s OK, what’s true for you may not be true for me; nobody can tell me what’s right because, in general, there is no right or wrong, should or shouldn’t. We aren’t responsible, so we can’t be blamed. Great efforts, great dedication, what used to be called noble and virtuous and honorable – these are not pursued in the name of “I feel like it.”
Where there is no challenge to succeed, to pursue righteousness, to transform the world, there will be no success, no righteousness, no significant change. Civilization stops progressing because it no longer believes in the notion of the objective reality of progress.
This is what Judaism (and all other western God-based religions, to the extent that they partake of the same spirit) comes to correct. The existence of God and His historical revelation of His Presence and His Torah to us is the ultimate source of human freedom, of objective value and meaning in thought, speech, and action, and is the constant source of the hope and challenge that it is man’s opportunity to fulfill.
Why is God the answer? Because by definition He is wholly Other, not contained within nor capable of being expressed by human form or human conception. Because he is not only the immanent but also the transcendent God. The God of nature, who rules over the material-physical world, is also the God Who is above and beyond nature.
The whole of the Exodus story comes to teach, among other things, the existence and meaning of this God. Over and over Pharaoh denies knowing Hashem. Only Kel, the God who might be “stronger” than all the other “gods,” a god of nature, defined by, contained within, and obeying the laws of nature – this was conceivable. But the purpose of the Exodus was l’maan teida, in order that you should know YKVK,Hashem.
This declares the absolute freedom of man in this world. Since man was created in the image of God, some of Him is in all of us. This is thus the origin of our free will, and the guarantor that our perceptions in this world can be true in an absolute sense. God stands outside of man, having announced His presence, as an objective source of value and meaning.
Man does not free himself from “shackles from above” by throwing off the yoke of religion. He replaces the mandate of heaven to achieve greatness and fulfill his potential by the shackles of circumstance, of “historical necessity,” of dark, inaccessible, and unperceived emotional drives and passions, which strip all meaning from our actions, all self-respect from our thoughts, and all worth from our souls. Living, walking with God, is living in freedom, is walking in sunlight with hope.
About the Author: Dr. Lawrence Resnick was a professor of medicine at Cornell University Medical Center and one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s personal physicians. He passed away 10 years ago this week – on the 15th of Iyar – at age 55. This essay is derived from one of several notebooks of writings he left behind.
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