One of the central themes of Judaism is Free Choice. This issue is addressed at some length in the concluding verses of the Torah portion Nitzavim ,1 where we are told: “…I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good, and death and evil… I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse…. Choose life.”

What, exactly, impels a Jew to freely choose good over evil?

The Jew’s choice of good over evil, sacred over mundane, is rooted in the fact that the essence of a Jew’s soul is one with G‑d.2 Indeed, the power possessed by every Jew to choose freely — “man being like one of Us”3 and able to freely act as he chooses, just as G‑d can freely do exactly as He pleases4 — lies in the fact that his soul is rooted in G‑d.

Although the soul’s essence has no desire other than G‑dliness, the soul has descended to be clothed within a physical body, and as a result it is possible for it to choose something other than goodness and holiness.5

Moreover, even as the soul exists in its pristine state, the concept of Free Choice still applies, in the sense that there is not any particular benefit or merit that compels the soul to choose G‑d; it does so freely because its essence is one, as it were, with Him.

When choice results from reason it is inherently limited — the choice only goes so far as the reason. Since man’s reason is intrinsically limited, his reasoned free choice is necessarily limited as well. Thus, when the soul’s essence chooses G‑d because of something that transcends reason, the intensity of this choice is limitless.

Moreover, it may be argued that when choice comes as a result of logic, then it is not truly free after all; the person was compelled to act by force of logic. For the compulsion of logic is just as strong, if not stronger, than brute force.6

When, however, the soul’s essence desires and chooses G‑d because of its own intrinsic being, then the choice is such that anything other than G‑dliness and goodness is utterly negated.7

While rooted in the soul’s essence, freedom of choice is revealed on a conscious level in man’s intellect,8 for only when a Jew actually has before him the two paths of good and evil and chooses good is it apparent that he freely chose good and G‑dliness over evil and unholiness. Intellect, and intellect alone, has the capacity to find merit in each of the two paths.

Accordingly, the connection between Free Choice and the Torah reading is readily understood: Nitzavim always precedes Rosh HaShanah , at which time we endeavor to arouse within G‑d a desire to choose the Jewish people. This is expressed in the verse recited before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah: “He chooses our heritage for us, the glory of Jacob, whom He loves eternally.”9

Here, too, there are two aspects to G‑d’s decision. There is no basis in reason for G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people. So penetrating and meaningful is this choice that G‑d says: “I cannot possibly exchange them for any other people,”10 for there exists “Israel and the King alone.”11

Yet this choice is revealed in this world when we see that the Jews have become “G‑d’s treasure from the midst of all the nations12 — other nations exist alongside the Jewish nation, and yet He chooses us, thereby making His love for us revealed to all.13

Rosh HaShanah is the day when everything returns to its primordial state,14 and thus G‑d must choose us anew. When we choose G‑d, not only logically but also because of our soul’s essence, then He in turn is moved to choose and reveal His choice of us as “His treasured nation,” manifesting this decision by showering us with all manner of good.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 274-282.