Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot,” Item 4: The Creator Himself puts one’s hand on the good fate by giving him a life of pleasure and contentment within the corporeal life that is filled with torment and pain, and devoid of any content. […] there is no greater placement of one’s hand by Him than this.
And one’s choice refers only to the strengthening. This is because there is certainly a great effort and exertion here before one purifies one’s body to be able to keep the Torah and commandments correctly, not for his own pleasure, but to bring contentment to his Maker, which is called Lishma (for Her Name). Only in this manner is one endowed with a life of happiness and pleasantness that come with keeping the Torah.
However, before one comes to that purification, there is certainly a choice to strengthen in the good way by all sorts of means and tactics. Also, one should do whatever his hand finds the strength to do until he completes the work of purification and will not fall under his burden midway.
How can we understand this? In fact, these words paint a terrible picture: The Creator holds me “by the ears” or “by the shoulders” and directs my every step through pleasures or suffering, that is, He can do with me whatever He pleases. And besides that, there is something in which I have to “strengthen” myself above that which He sends me.
As a result, I have no choice in everyday life because I am relentlessly driven by pleasure and suffering. My nature automatically obeys their dictates, and there is nothing I can do about this. Some mechanism in me always turns my face towards pleasure and my back towards suffering. The “car” can only dodge evil and turn towards good.
In what can I strengthen then? How can I gain power over the “body”? How can I resist the “orders” of the Creator Who directs me from above on the “animate” degree? Is this possible?
The fact is that apart from the will of the Creator, there is another factor that I can use: the influence of the environment. Thus, I go against the Creator, against His nature, obtain something above the “animate” degree, and become something greater.
Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom”: Therefore, he who strives to continually choose a better environment is worthy of praise and reward. But here, too, it is not because of his good thoughts and deeds, which come to him without his choice, but because of his effort to acquire a good environment, which brings him these good thoughts and deeds.
Hence it is clear that we have freedom to build, above the “animate” level, the human degree—the human being, who will saddle an “animal” and will manage his nature. To do this, a person will also use two forces, but they will be different: Now he will define good and evil by means of a good environment that fulfills him.
Thus, the Creator controls a person at the level of “reason,” but self-management is realized “above reason.”
From the 3rd part of the Daily Kabbalah Lesson 7/7/13, Preparation for St. Petersburg Convention, “Principles for Building a Better Environment,” Lesson 4