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The Power of Our Freewill

by Rabbi Jonathan Udren


Library » Torah » Kabbalah » Kabbalistic Concepts | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Jewish mystical tradition reveals the tremendous power that each human being has to affect the world through the unique gift of freewill. The  Zohar itself illustrates this idea when it proclaims, "When man accomplishes G-d's will below, he causes a parallel rectification above."1 This single statement can gives us an understanding of the differences between the beings that inhabit the upper, spiritual worlds, and human beings in the lower, physical world.

The idea that G-d created a world where humans were given complete freewill is a gift of tremendous magnitude and responsibility in itself. But the Zohar teaches us here that G-d created a system where the ripples of our freewill in the physical world are felt even in the spiritual realms.

Let's examine this concept on a deeper level through the mystical commentary on the  Torah written by the great Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (1194-1270), known as the  Ramban.

The idea that G-d created a world where humans were given complete freewill is a gift of tremendous magnitude and responsibility
In the beginning of parashat Vayetzei, Jacob is fleeing from the murderous intentions of his brother Esau after receiving the blessing of the firstborn. On his way to seek refuge in the home of his uncle Laban, Jacob unknowingly sets up camp on the holy site of the future Temple. The Torah recounts the fantastic vision that appeared to him that night:

And behold the ladder was standing on the ground, and the top was reaching up to the heavens, and behold, angels of G-d were traveling up and down on it.2

The question that drives the Ramban's comment here is a simple one: why are the angels going up first, and then coming down? If angels are truly beings of the upper spiritual worlds, then shouldn't they come down first, and then go up? On this point the Ramban writes:

G-d shows Jacob in a prophetic dream that everything in the world is done through angels, and all that occurs in the world is done through heavenly decrees given to them. Angels themselves that are sent to interact with the world never do anything on their own accord, whether a small or a large matter, until they return and stand before the Master of the World and say: "We have traveled the earth, and behold it is filled with tranquility", or "it is filled with sword and blood", and then G-d commands them to return down to the Earth and to do what G-d desires.


  • 1. Zohar I:35a.
  • 2. Gen. 28:12.


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Philosophy » Free Choice

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
Rebecca's brother and father of Rachel and Leah. He deceived Jacob into marrying both of his daughters for the price of fourteen years of labor.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.