See, I set before you today blessing and curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the L‑rd your G‑d. . . . And the curse, if you will not heed the commandments . . .

Deuteronomy 11:26–28

Freedom of choice is one of the core principles of our religion, and indeed every judicial system is predicated on the idea of free choice. A robot or computer is not rewarded for executing a noble mission, nor does it deserve punishment for doing an immoral task. We don’t have prisons where we store computers which have spread viruses; all credit or blame belongs to the programmers.

If man were also a robot with no ability to freely choose, then he too wouldn’t be liable for punishment. Certainly, the most violent elements of society would still have to be restrained in some sort of correctional facility—not because they can be blamed for their behavior, but to protect the rest of the population, much as wild predators must be kept away from society—but one couldn’t blame them for their acts, just as one cannot condemn the lion or eagle for their predatory natures, or give credit to the dolphin for its friendly disposition.

The Today we are told that almost any harmful behavior can be blamed on geneticsfact that we do penalize criminals—and this has always been the accepted method of dealing with criminals, by all civilizations throughout history—shows that society has always recognized that the human being possesses the intuition to distinguish between right and wrong and has the ability to choose between the two, and is therefore responsible for whichever choice he makes.

But is this factually correct? Does the human being really enjoy freedom of choice? Is there really a difference between the human and all other creatures which G‑d created, which are bound by their G‑d-given nature—for better or worse?

Today we are told that almost any harmful behavior can be blamed on genetics. Or, if a gene isn’t at fault, then it must be a traumatic childhood experience. Perhaps he lost a loved one in his youth, was abused by his parents, comes from a dysfunctional family or didn’t receive enough positive attention from his teacher. If none of these factors explain the person’s destructive conduct, that only means that he can’t afford a top-rate psychologist—one who can make a better diagnosis, and explain why he really isn’t to be blamed . . .

This is why G‑d declares, “See, I set before you today blessing and curse.” Indeed, freedom of choice isn’t a quality which is natural to the human being; naturally, the human should be compelled to behave according to his nature—a nature which is formed by a combination of genetics and life experiences. But G‑d tells every person, “No matter your nature, upbringing and intelligence, no matter how many hard knocks you may have experienced, I guarantee you the ability to be a saint like Moses.” And the same is also true in reverse: even one who has been raised by righteous parents, and is naturally disposed to doing that which is right, has the ability to choose evil and stray from G‑d’s ways.

One should never think that he can never be a spiritual person, that “it’s not within my nature.” A person’s nature is a merely a challenge which G‑d guarantees that he or she can overcome.