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July 11, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Small Choices

By Rabbi Yosi Eber Chabad of West Pasco

A husband was once asked for the secret behind his happy marriage.

“It’s simple,” he replied. “We divide responsibilities. We decided long ago that my wife makes all the small, routine decisions, and I make the major decisions.

“She decides what house we buy, where we go on vacation, whether the kids go to private schools, if I should change my job, and so on.”

“And what are the big decisions?”

“Oh, I make the big, fundamental decisions. I decide if the United States should declare war on China, if Congress should appropriate money for a manned expedition to Mars, and so on.”

Life is a series of choices and decisions. The decisions, however, are relatively simple in comparison to their implementation. The majority of us “choose” to live healthy lifestyles; improve our parenting, spousal and interpersonal skills; increase our knowledge; advance our careers, etc. Carrying through with these choices is the challenge. The trick is to concentrate on one, two, or three of these choices. But that just leads to another choice. Which of these choices should we focus on?

Let us look to the Torah, and specifically the description of the methods by which the Land of Israel was to be divided amongst the tribes, for insight on this matter.

“To the large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance.” The division of the land was logical, each tribe was allotted land according to its size. Furthermore, the land wasn’t divided merely based on acreage. Rather, the land was evaluated for quality and potential crop yield, ensuring that each tribe received a fair portion.

Nevertheless, the final say belonged to the lottery. After the land was divided into twelve portions, each portion earmarked for a particular tribe with the population which corresponded to its size, a lottery was made to determine which tribe would receive which portion. Miraculously, the lottery confirmed the division which was previously agreed upon.

Why the need for this two-track process? If the division was meant to be logical, then why the need for a lottery? And if it was to be left in G-d’s hands – the lottery – why the need for the investment of time and energy in gathering numbers, logistics, and evaluations?

Perhaps the lesson G-d was teaching the Israelites before they entered the land, before they became involved in the art of making a living and the many decisions which this entails, was that even those decisions which seem to be in our hands, are also ultimately determined by lottery, orchestrated by G-d’s hand.

The Talmud tells us that 40 days before a child is conceived, an angel approaches G-d and inquires whether the child will be wise or dim, muscular or frail, wealthy or poor, and whom he/she will marry. He does not, however, inquire whether the child will be righteous or wicked – because “all is in the hands of Heaven besides for [an individual’s] fear of Heaven.”

We may think that we determine our spouse, our field of work, our city of residence, etc. In fact, though, these questions have all been answered before we were even conceived. Yes, G-d expects us to make wise decisions, but ultimately these wise decisions are manipulated and guided by G-d, who orchestrates the circumstances to ensure that we follow the path which He planned for us.

Yet we rightfully pride ourselves in being creatures that possess freedom of choice. But this choice is relegated to the arena of right and wrong, ethics and morals. We do have the ability to choose whether to pray with concentration, give charity, be kind to our fellows, or keep kosher. And ultimately, our choices in these areas will be our lasting legacy – because in reality they are our only real and un-influenced choices.

So, on which choices will we focus: The “big” ones, over which we have no control, or the “small” ones, which are entirely in our hands?

As is it turns out, it is the small choices which impact the world.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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