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Do We Have A Choice?

Friday, 14 August, 2020 - 7:39 am

Never before has our generation faced such universal challenge. Our country, in particular, is enduring a deadly virus and a divisive debate at the same time.

The scientists, politicians and community leaders are all trying desperately to come up with solutions that will drastically improve our country’s situation.

Certainly, there are debates to be had and choices to be made.

***

In the opening words of this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we are told, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know.”

Maimonides, citing this verse, states that free choice is one of the fundamentals of Judaism. We are free to choose and are therefore held accountable, receiving reward – or punishment – for our actions.

But what does it mean to choose? If someone would ask American society and leadership whether we want our current pandemic, we would finally all agree! The resounding response would be “No!” That choice we seem incapable of making, but we are still faced with many choices in how to deal with it.

To many of us, making good choices is something we try to do when we have dilemmas. “How should I respond to this ethical challenge?” we often wonder. Or, “Should I go out with my friends if I have yet to finish my homework?”

Sometimes, however, we are faced with a dilemma without the luxury of choosing. In such instances, it is often the choices we have already made, the patterns we have already adopted and the habits we have already absorbed, that determine our ability to cope.

***

I’ve often wondered why G-d needs to state the obvious. If the verses tell us explicitly which activities are blessings and which are a curse, does G-d need to tell us that “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse?”

Perhaps the Torah is telling us what types of choices we need to make. “Behold, I set before you today” refers to – not only responding to dilemmas in the moment – but setting and charting the moral and spiritual course of our lives. Every day we have opportunities. Each opportunity is a choice. Instead of simply reacting, the Torah is teaching us to be proactive. To seek out the correct and sacred choices.

We may not have all the answers on how to stop the spread of covid-19. However, it is actually the choices we make before a problem arises that gives us the footing upon which we will face the challenge. Sometimes, these choices – choices that at the time did not even seem like choices – may prove the most critical in persevering.

*

That’s it for now – I’ve got to go find some good choices to make.

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