3 types of freedom: how to maximise free choice in everyday living

True freedom is often mistaken for free choice and is a very elusive concept nowadays.

Many people, under the war cry to demand true freedom don’t really know what it means and what to do with it. They think freedom means doing whatever you want to do without giving any satisfaction to a third party, as long as you are not killing anyone and paying you taxes.

But what is free choice and how can we acquire it?

Continue reading this article in order to learn more about:

  1. The animalistic type of freedom
  2. The behavioristic type of freedom
  3. The real (spiritual) type of freedom

The three types of free choice

There are many types of freedom.

I’m not going to get into the psychological side of the matter here and cite the many schools of thought that have explored this question. I’m just here to give one very comprehensive, logical view on the matter.

So first of all, what’s true freedom supposed to taste like? Nowadays, many are demanding all kinds of it. The discussion is as old as time and, of course, deserves a good answer.

When we consider the concept of choosing, we need to address a few elements in order to understand it. Are choices always equal? Or are some choices higher than others? How do we define whether we are genuinely free?

And, most important of all: what are we, really, to choose something?

Mind you, what will be presented here is definitely not exhaustive. Hopefully this will dispel some of the fake notions people entertain nowadays and open some discussions.

The animalistic type of freedom

For the sake of simplicity, consider you have the “huge” opportunity to choose between having an orange juice and lemon juice.

Would you call that freedom of choice?

In essence, no. We could say “yes”, but that would be a very low, almost animalistic type of free choice.

The reason is because the psychological (and physiological) processes involved in this simple choice are so overwhelming it gives you very little power to chose. Your choice, in this case, is merely a by-product of your genes, your life experiences (remember the orange juice accident that traumatised you?), your taste buds, emotions, and many other heavy factors revolving around it.

The real you, is not in charge and there’s no way you can have true freedom to choose. Even if you decide to childishly go against all of these forces that propel you to choose from one of the options, you’d only be doing so because you were coerced to choose the other one. That’s not really a free choice to begin with.

But was that a pure free choice?

This type of choice has no moral or ethical considerations. It could be aptly called an animalistic type of “freedom” because your true power of free choice is almost non-existent. In a way you are simply doing what these external influences tell you to do (or its exact opposite). And, again, even if you were to chose the other “rejected” option, you’d still be acting with very superficial consciousness on the act, maybe only to “prove the other side is wrong”.

Again, the real you is not in charge. You are merely reacting to the circumstances.

And by “real you”, the soul, the innermost core of your being who really is behind your action, speech and thought processes.

Yet, while we could say that this choice could also have done by the soul, there really is no way of knowing. Having a myriad of external factors influencing you puts everything in doubt.

We simply cannot affirm with absolute certainty that this is what you would have chosen for yourself (though it might indeed be what you would have chosen because, well… you only have 2 choices).

gift of free choice

The “behaviouristic” type of freedom

The next notch in the scale of choice is the “behavioristic” type of freedom. I called that because it’s not as low as the first one, but not as high as the next. This is the case when a person has reached a high level of “equanimity”, where nothing can affect him/her.

Choices of this type are made without any considerations outside one’s own intellect and I’d say that only applies in theory because no one is really 100% immune to influences.

So let’s say a person doesn’t care what he’ll drink, what career he’ll pursue and doesn’t mind what comes to him at all. He can choose “more freely” than the in the first type of freedom. Technically.

Then again, another question arises: was it really a choice? If you theoretically eliminate all the elements of a choice, what just happened?

While this can be aptly be considered a higher type of freedom, it’s still dismisses the one who chooses, namely you.

Here, again, the soul is also not fully in charge of the choices.

The real type of freedom

The highest form of freedom is the choice between true good and evil. Ah, bet you didn’t see that coming.

This is because the system of creation is structured in such a way that it necessarily leaves ultimate free choice to us entirely. Hashem cannot (and does not) demand righteousness if it were impossible in any given situation (even though, righteousness here is also a relative term. What is righteous for one might be wickedness to another, and vice-versa).

The Talmud states that “everything is in the hands of Heaven, except fear of Heaven”. This is ultimately what will define the level we are holding on. And, according to the Zohar, the degree of divine perception in Olam HaBa.

In a way, fear of Heaven is truly the only thing what prevents individuals from sinning. Some sins demand more fear of Heaven and some less. Here we would have to also distinguish between one who’s merely religious / spiritual and one who’s internalised true fear of Heaven.

When a person has intense desire to sin, say commit adultery, and he refuses it in the face of opportunity, that’s a direct manifestation of the fear of Heaven of his soul. This is one of the principles of faith and belief in the Creator that is unchangeable. This is the highest and, really, only true free choice we have.

The bottom line of freedom

From an atheistic point of view, there would be little moral ground to prevent someone from committing adultery… after all, aren’t we all “sacks of meat” animated by a bunch of chemical processes? Could there be enough moral and ethical justification for preventing a man from taking another’s wife?

Highly doubtful, because even if a person were to argue “I wouldn’t want that done to me” or that “sexual immorality has been the downfall of civilization” (as demonstrated by Doctor Joseph Unwyn), that’s still not a strong enough moral deterrent to justify not committing the act). Sadly, most men would easily fall for this given a chance to get away with it.

Yet, most people don’t do it for some “unknown” reason even thought they might have more than enough stimuli and justification for it.

wine spilled cup heaven

The essence of true freedom

In essence, free choice (or true freedom) is manifesting one’s innermost being without impediments.

This, of course, demands a lot of inner work and wisdom. Without knowing what the soul truly is and how its relationship with the Creator is supposed to be (because good and evil can only be measured in regards to the will of God), then a person is obviously not fully in charge of the ship, but wanders through life in guesswork, each according to his level.

In the words of Rabbi Akiva Tatz:

“Only a slave to the truth is free.”
This means that one who wishes to be spiritually free must know the truth, Halacha and Mussar.

Therefore, we can conclude that real freedom is not a right, but a privilege. It is perforce an offshoot of a life full of spiritual responsibility.

One who has no regard for the Creator can never achieve such a level. This is because he has no moral, divine absolutes to seek. To such an individual, everything is questionable. Because everything is questionable, everyone could justify their own actions solely based on their own decisions. This is one of the reasons people think they are Chozer B’Sheelah (to go off the derech). It’s not so much as a result of questioning the Torah because lacks the truth, because it doesn’t. One who goes OTD hasn’t really reached a level of mental development to find inconsistencies there, because there really aren’t if you know where to look for answer.

It’s more like the person in question simply desires the “freedom” for immorality.

That would, again, be a very lowest type of freedom.

Concluding remarks

Recognising that we have enormous power to affect reality by ourselves is essential to acquiring free choice. This is the level of true Tzaddikim. A person who is led by his passions and thinks that by doing whatever he/she wishes to do is free is nothing more than an animal who’s only guided by instinct.

As the great Rabbi Bachya already said:

“Truth is burdensome, therefore its bearers are few.”

Knowing truth and consciously pursuing it is what makes a person free.

Because then, he can chose between ultimate truth and everything else.

And that’s true free choice.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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