What is Free Will?


*One scheduled meeting, one chance meeting*
Zac, an SEO expert, changed my thinking about how I post videos, podcasts, and articles. 
After an extended coffee-and-two-laptops-on-the-tables meeting at Fleur De Lis Bakery & Cafe near my house, I knew everything would be different.
Before meeting Zac, I would have called this article “Coincidence or not?” But, after meeting him, I learned how to research google searches. “What is Free Will?” is a better title as it is a more searched-for phrase and therefore more likely to catch people’s attention.
A new type of thinking is expected after meeting with an expert.
Parker, on the other hand, wasn’t expected.
As Zac and I stood up to say our goodbyes, commenting on how nice it was to meet each other, I heard a soft voice from the corner booth say, 
“Pardon me for saying, but your yarmulke is perhaps the finest I have seen.”
The voice was attached to a serene, joyous man with a Walt Whitman type presence.
“I would give you this hat off my head,” I exclaimed, “however, I am in the midst of recording a video module about patience and need to have the same clothing on for the sake of continuity.”
We chatted for a moment, until it became obvious that Zac was waiting on me to finalize our parting. I went back to Zac, closing up our meeting while secretly hoping  the interaction with this other man would both further explain my brand to Zac and further endear me to him.
Zac left and Parker and I chatted for a while – he learned about my online-rabbinate-ministry, and I learned that he lives on a boat in NW Portland and used to live in the belfry of a church I knew. He had been a deacon or minister in his life, but I might have misconstrued some of that information.
I asked him if he would be at the cafe long enough for me to get back to my house and bring him a yarmulke. (If you didn’t know, I crochet them myself.)
When I returned, he stood to receive the hat, and we talked some more.
When I was starting to leave, our eyes locked. I wanted to look away and didn’t want to look away at the same time. 
I didn’t look away.
It was a holy moment – the type Martin Buber described as an I-Thou moment; the type of moment when you are fulling taking in another being’s presence.
Parker said, 
“Our meeting was not an accident.” 
I rejoined without thinking, hearing the words as they fell out of my mouth,
“Brother, I know that to be true.”
*Free Will*
This is a big concept.
Free will. 
I mean, if I was meant to meet Parker, what else is fated?
  • The shoes you are wearing?
  • Hannah’s mom in the hospital and back in ICU?
  • The political climate?
If we say we don’t have freedom of will in one case, then how do we have freedom of will in another case?
We need freedom of will.
Our very beings and our worldview are predicated on our sensing ourselves as autonomous – that we are more than some combination of nurture and nature.
The legal system only works if we have freedom of will! We can’t reward and punish people if their actions are fated. And the idea of God being just and good falls apart without our having freedom of will. 
How can God reward and punish if we don’t have free will
On the other hand, how can God be all-powerful and all-knowing if we have free will?
*My thesis*
I wrote my rabbinical school thesis on this very topic.
The most interesting bit about it was that I didn’t want to write about the topic. School told me that I could write about any topic of my choosing if I could find faculty advisors to sign-off on it. I chose and found faculty willing to support me in researching and writing: “Popular culture’s conceptualizations about God.” School told me the topic wasn’t Jewish enough. I countered with “Popular culture’s conceptualizations about God and how they relate to classical Jewish notions of the deity.” They denied me again, telling me that I could write about “Popular culture’s conceptualization about God in Israel.” I asked, sarcastically, if I could write about freedom of will. And that’s how it happened. 
Other than that, very little of my thesis was of interest.
Philosophers maintained unsatisfying both/and justifications to explain how God could both reward and punish based on our having free will, and yet still be both omnipotent and omniscient.
But there was one guy. One guy who had something else to say. One guy who promoted a different line of thinking. Hasdai Crescas, living in Spain in the 14th century, said something like this:
Perhaps we don’t have freedom of will in our actions, but we have freedom of will in our thoughts about our actions. 
You are fated to be exactly where you are, doing exactly what you are doing. 
The shoes on your feet at this moment are there because it is God’s will that they are so. (For those who get wigged out by the gee-oh-dee word – and maybe you have no choice in that? – let me translate: the shoes on your feet at this moment are there because it is a result of everything that has ever happened to you, causing you to select the footwear you are currently wearing.) 

Crescas reasoned, if you commit fraud, it is nothing you can control.

It is God’s will. However, that you feel remorse and repent, about that you have free will.

*Applying it*
Perhaps you do not have the freedom to cut things from your to-do list.
Perhaps you are fated to have to do them.
That you are kind to yourself in the face of the stress of doing these things, about this, perhaps, you have control?
You have control over how you treat yourself.
If you believe you have the freedom of will to try it: experiment with being extra kind to yourself this week.
If you don’t believe you have the freedom of will to try it: fight against fate and be kind to yourself anyway.
“Your reading this article today was not an accident.” 
“I know that to be true.”

With love,
Rabbi Brian







Share with a Friend


Also by Rabbi Brian

77% Weekly
Rabbi Brian

Go To Bed, Dad

Go To Bed, Dad.  It’s Tuesday night.  I’ve just come downstairs and entered the living room; Jane, Annie, and a beloved young friend, Calliope, are

Read More »
77% Weekly
Rabbi Brian

Kickstarter Book Launch

    Hello Beloved friend,   I don’t have an article for you this week. And, I’m sorry.   I’m working (mindfully, with compassion towards

Read More »

Because you want peace trust self-esteem love .