Please enable JavaScript in your browser to experience all the custom features of our site.
Please Use Our New Website
still under constructions
to purchase safety books and educational materials

Mr. Harry Skydell, Chairman
Mr. Mark Karasick, Vice Chairman
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Director
Rabbi Avrohom M. Gluck, Director of Operations
The first 1000 members will have a chance to win a
16 GB
with Rabbi Horowitz audio

Membership Benefits:

  • Save articles to your favorites folder.
  • Save and print selected articles in a PDF journal.
  • Receive emails containing the latest comments on your favorite articles.
  • Mark articles as "READ".
  • More member features coming soon...

Raffle Rules:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. To enter, complete the signup form and join as a member. Incomplete entries will be disqualified. All entries shall become the property of CJFL. CJFL is not responsible for lost, misdirected or delayed entries.

The contest is open to the general public. Members need to be at least 18 years old. Identification must be produced on request. Employees of CJFL, its raffle sponsor, advertising and promotional agencies and their respective affiliates and associates and such employees' immediate family members and persons with whom such employees are domiciled are excluded from this raffle. ALL PREVIOUSLY REGISTERED MEMBERS WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY ENTERED INTO THIS RAFFLE. The prize is not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. Decisions of the raffle judges are final - no substitutions will be available. By claiming the prize, the winner authorizes the use, without additional compensation of his or her name and/or likeness (first initial and last name) and municipality of residence for promotion and/or advertising purposes in any manner and in any medium (including without limitation, radio broadcasts, newspapers and other publications and in television or film releases, slides, videotape, distribution over the internet and picture date storage) which CJFL may deem appropriate. In accepting the prize, the winner, acknowledges that CJFL may not be held liable for any loss, damages or injury associated with accepting or using this prize. CJFL retains the rights, in its absolute and sole discretion, to make substitutions of equivalent kind or approximate value in the event of the unavailability of any prize or component of the prize for any reason whatsoever. This contest is subject to all federal, provincial and municipal laws. CJFL reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this raffle at any time without prior notice. One entry per person.

The Necessity of Choice
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

  Rated by 5 users   |   Viewed 9258 times since 11/19/07   |   6 Comments
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size    [ Change Font Size ] Email This Article to a Friend


Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren. And Hashem answered him, and Rivka his wife conceived (25:21)

According to Rashi, both Yitzchak and Rivka were praying for a child, but Hashem answered only him and not her. Why? Answers Rashi: Because there is no comparison between the prayer of a tzaddik who is the child of an evildoer to the prayer of a righteous person who is the child of a righteous person.

I suspect that most of us have at some point found ourselves puzzled, even angered, by Rashi's comment? Why should the merit of a tzaddik be greater by virtue of being the child of a tzaddik? If anything, is it not more meritorious to have completely separated oneself from a house of evil, as Rivka did, than to continue on in the path set by one's parents.

The source of our confusion is that we do not properly understand what is meant by a tzaddik who is the child of a tzaddik. Had Yitzchak just emulated the example of his father Avraham he would not have been considered a tzaddik. Indeed, explains Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, anything we do solely because our parents taught us to do so does not confer any merit upon us.

Imitation, in short, does not confer merit. Only those actions that we make fully ours through conscious exercise of our free will are meritorious.

Yitzchak’s father Avraham was the greatest man who had ever lived. Avraham discovered Hashem through the use of his own intellect, and then proclaimed His existence to the entire world. The stature of Avraham, and the example that he had constantly before him, could easily have overwhelmed Yitzchak.

If, as Rav Dessler maintains, the exercise of one's free will only begins where the parental model ends, the initial bar was set higher for Yitzchak than anyone who had ever proceeded him. What could Yitzchak hope to add to the path of Avraham? Yet in order for Yitzchak to be considered a tzaddik he had to do precisely that.

Only when he had added an entirely new derech of avodas Hashem, gvurah, to the chesed of Avraham, could Yitzchak be considered a tzaddik. Even when performing the same external actions as Avraham - e.g., digging the same wells that the servants of Avraham had dug - Yitzchak brought something of his inner being to those actions, and made them his own.

A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT it meant for Yitzchak Avinu to be a “tzaddik ben tzaddik” has important implications for us in our role as parents and educators. It is not enough for us to teach our children the right thing to do. We have to empower them to make choices. We would not, for instance, allow our children to choose between good and bad, but we have to give them room to choose between two good paths, between better and best.

Without instilling in young Jews an awareness of their own bechira, of life as an endless series of choices, we doom them to remain forever superficial Jews falling far short of reaching their potential.

We define ourselves as individuals through the exercise of our free will, according to Rav Dessler. And that self-definition is the precondition for any meaningful relationship with Hashem. Any true relationship must be based on the individuality of both parties and not compelled by circumstances beyond their control. Only because we are capable of defining ourselves through the exercise of our free will do we exist as individuals capable of relating to Hashem.

To be a choosing being means, above all, to be a thinking being. A teacher once asked a group of eight-year-olds, to define a tzaddikMost gave answers like, "A tzaddik is someone who fasts every Monday and Thursday." But one little girl, the daughter of a famous educator, answered, "My tatte says that a tzaddik is someone who does what is right.”

It is worth contemplating the wisdom contained in that simple statement. First, it implies that every moment presents us with an opportunity to do what is right or the opposite. And that, in turn, requires us to think about what we are doing and why.

Where we see young people raised in observant homes and educated in religious educational environments lacking any deep connection to mitzvah observance, it is often because they have never experienced the mitzvos as anything more than obligations imposed from the outside. It has never occurred to them to ask: What kind of person does the Torah seek to shape? What would person shaped by the Torah look like; how would he or she act?

At best, the mitzvos are seen as a sort of checklist, the entry ticket that has to be paid for the right to do what one wants. But once one has gone through the checklist – e.g., negel vasser, bircos hashachar, Shachris, etc. – one has paid off the admission ticket and is now free to get on with one's real life.

A famous youth organizer once asked a group of Orthodox teenagers if they had a choice to be born again would they prefer to be born Jewish or not. Well over half responded that they would prefer not to be born Jewish. And that is not so surprising. For if the mitzvos are just arbitrary obligations to be paid to enter the game of life, who wouldn't prefer to enter free of charge, with no admission ticket required.

The Jewish Observer recently carried an important piece on the subject of "Adults at Risk." Those described are just the kids mentioned above a few decades down the line. They never thought about the mitzvos in any deep fashion. Then suddenly one day they woke up and asked: Why I am doing these things? At that point, it no longer suffices that they've been doing these things (i.e., performing mitzvos, davening) all their lives, or that is what their parents or teachers taught them to do.

The problem, in Rav Dessler's terminology, is that the mitzvos always remained external; they never became something truly theirs – internal - through the conscious exercise of choice. They brought nothing of themselves to their mitzvah observance -- no thought, no feeling. And then one day, the emptiness hit.

That is what happens if we only teach our children what to do, without at the same time developing their ability to exercise their free will as conscious, thinking Jews.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on November 11th 2007

To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.

Reader's Comments:      Rating & Comments Policy      Rate & Write a Comment!
 Average Rating:              Rated by 5 users    (6 comments)
Subscribe to this Article
(by subscribing you will receive email notification
when new comments are posted)
There are no comments yet. Click above to write the first comment.
Dear Readers:

Please visit our Parenting Resource listing to learn about agencies and services that you can make use of. If you know of an agency that can be of assistance to others, kindly drop an email to our site administrator at and pass along the information to him.

I ask that you please consider supporting the work we are doing to improve the lives of our children. Click on these links to learn more about our teen and parent mentoring program that serves hundreds of teens and their families, or our KESHER program, now in 20 schools in 4 states. Your financial support can allow us to expand these services and help more children.

If you believe in the governing principles of this website – to help effect positive change through the candid discussions of the real issues we collectively face, please consider becoming a daily, weekly or monthly sponsor of this website and help defray the costs of it’s maintenance.

Working with Families and Educators on Behalf of our Children

This site is managed by The Center for Jewish Family Life, Inc., 56 Briarcliff Drive, Monsey, NY 10952
Project Y.E.S. was founded by Agudath Israel of America
The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES - 56 Briarcliff Drive, Monsey, NY 10952 (845) 352-7100 ext. 114 Fax: (845) 352-9593