Question: In the article “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam writes that the law of development pushing us toward its goal makes us captives because a person is always drawn to pleasure and flees from suffering. Is there any freedom within this?
Answer: No. And what kind of freedom can there be if I am just a desire to receive pleasure? There are always a certain number of options for pleasure and suffering in front of me, and I, according to my understanding and mood, choose for myself seemingly the best option. In this state, I am like an animal that simply chooses to escape from bad to good whenever possible and as soon as possible.
Question: Baal HaSulam and you too often use the term “animal” in relation to a person. Why? It sounds harsh.
Answer: This does not mean that we reduce man to the level of an animal.
The point is that our nature controls us absolutely rigidly, specifically, according to a certain formula, and thus makes us choose at every moment the state that seems the best for us. The only problem is that both animals and we choose these states according to our understanding of what is revealed to us.
A person, seeing a certain number of possibilities in front of him, chooses the best: partly instinctively, partly reasonably, by calculating his options. The animal does the same. However, it makes fewer mistakes because it has more developed instincts, which are in a smaller set of variations and possibilities.
But, in principle, it is the same program. And there is nothing a person can do here. Therefore, if we just live our life in the usual way, then we are led by nature, and we have no freewill at all.
How then can you define what freedom is? Freedom from what? I have no freedom from my desire to receive pleasure. The only thing is that I can choose a certain kind of pleasure for myself. In this case, I substitute one for the other.
For example, I can enroll in a weight-loss group. They will “brainwash” me there, and I will behave differently—I will choose other forms of pleasure instead of eating sweets. Or, I might prefer to do art, science, etc.
Thus, I can fall under the influence of certain external factors, and they will give me a different scale of values. That is, I can say that now I choose a certain activity it becomes important and for me, now I derive pleasure from it. But still, someone pushed me to it. In any case, I am within the same nature that consists only of pleasure and suffering.
From KabTV’s “Close-Up. Fire Island” 1/1/10