The Jewish Sliding Doors

This is a guest column by Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal, from Aish Minnesota.  Read Rabbi Da-vid’s Divrei Torah on his blog.
There’s a movie I’m told about where the entire premise is based on whether the main character makes it onto her train ride or not. From that point on, two totally different outcomes evolve. The beauty of this concept is the accent given to the seemingly insignificant event of getting on the train.
In this past week’s parsha, G-d tells the people He’s placed before us a “blessing” and a “curse” – the choice is ours. What most of us don’t realise is the absolutely innumerable times during the day we are actually faced with this two forked decision.
When we think about free will decisions, we usually think about do we go visit the old age home or not, do we help our neighbour move his boxes from the attic etc – you know, big decisions.
What we don’t realise is that every second of the day we’re making decisions, and it’s these insignificant decisions that have the ability to change our lives.
Think of the man on the bus, looking out the window, watching the trees go by. If you were to stop and ask this man which is more valuable, his time or his money, he would probably answer his time – most people would pay all the money they had to extend their lives, even for a minimal amount of time. Yet here he is, looking out the window, “killing time”. If this same many were to be seen throwing 10 dollar bills out the window, people would look at him as though he were mad. Yet in reality, he’s doing much worse that that every second he wastes.
This example used is a little extreme (even though it has a certain amount of truth to it). The point being made however is this difference between passive decisions and active decisions. Most of us think of free will entailing those areas that involve an active participation in something. Doing a kind deed when needed, responding to someone in a positive manner. The truth is, most of our lives we are making passive decisions without even realizing; going with the flow and allowing ourselves to be swept up in the humdrum of life.
We need to open our eyes and become conscious of all the small subconscious decisions we make every moment of the day. When someone cuts us off while driving and we yell at them in response – that’s a decision. When we get upset when our friends don’t call us back – that’s a decision. Did I have to make that wise-crack just now, or could I have held myself back? We have more control of our lives than we imagine, and the opportunities for “blessing” are all around us.
While the decision to miss the train or not may not be in our control (that’s up to the Chief upstairs), how we react to such circumstances certainly is in our domain. By being aware of the passive decisions we make, we can start to take control of our lives in a big way. Start noticing the opportunities for choice in your life, you’ll be amazed at how many there are. And the ending will be very different, depending on how we use them!
Da-vid Rosenthal