Why does the Torah so often tell the tales of siblings? From Cain and Abel and other Genesis stories and on to Moses and Aaron, we are being told something important about human nature.

Ultimately, our lives are shaped by our choices. Yes, there are differences in families and circumstances; some people undoubtedly have a much more difficult road than others. Yet the Torah teaches that even when people grow up in the same family and have similar experiences and opportunities, who they become is who they choose to be.

Everything, says the Talmud, is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven. In other words, your moral character and decisions are not a product of your environment but of your will. This is a message of empowerment. You can overcome the most difficult challenges if you believe in your own ability to forge your destiny.

Every human being is made in the image of God. Whether we honor that image or sully it, however, is not God’s choice. It is ours. We do not choose the blessings we inherit, but we do choose the blessings we become.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).