We have free will, that is the ability to think, feel, and do as we so decide is right for us in life, in religion, in the workplace etcetera. Through this, we have a religious/spiritual autonomy as well, whereas we can choose our religious affiliations or have no affiliations, to be atheists, or to strictly adhere to our religion of choice. We can choose our religious or spiritual practices, our rituals or prayers, and when, and I’m not talking about all of this in a strictly Jewish or Reform Jewish context, I am talking about the whole of humanity.
in Judaism, we are all well aware of our autonomy, so the bigger question lies that if we have free will and believe it is given to us by and from G-D, why would it give us this freedom if it expected us to follow the 613 mitzvot (commandments)?
I have wrestled with this thought a great deal and for a time I believed “well, G-d is in control, free will isn’t real,” but then I had a revelation that struck me as true. We do indeed have full autonomy, but we have it under the willful covenantal agreement to live via the ten commandments and mitzvot. In this, we are given the choice, the free will to decide whether or not we will follow the commandments, in this we either accept the covenant and G-D’s will. This is where we garner the distinction of holiness or profane, through our words, deeds, and thoughts, our free will to do, be, and think as we so desire.
Our autonomy affords us the ability to discern what we will do with our lives, who we will be, therefore in willfully choosing to live by the commandments, we commit ourselves to something greater, knowing that we didn’t “need,” to do so. Choosing willfully to be within and care for a community, means committing to something greater. Choosing one’s religion and abiding by it, willfully and wholly, means committing to something greater. This transforms us from a place of “I,” to a place of “we,” and from a place of self-service, to a place of serving G-D and others. So yes, every single being on the face of the planet has autonomy, yet those who willfully and totally choose Judaism, temper their autonomy to be under the auspice of G-D, to live a moral and ethical life.
Autonomy under G-D is a spiritual experience unto itself, it is noble to willfully strive to be a better human being through the commandments. In using our autonomy for good, for others, for being a better human and a better steward of the Earth, you are enacting genuine holiness (by choice) in your life. This is how we are tested in our covenant, in that we can choose to live upright, righteous, and in love for our neighbors… or not!