Power of choice (Ha’azinu: Deuteronomy 32: 19-28)
After having escaped from Egypt, we Jews faced a number of critical points at which our collective decisionmaking skills were challenged. Perhaps the most dramatic example was at Mount Sinai when the persistence of our slave mentality affected our ability to weigh alternatives and make a choice based upon the basic tenets of Judaism.
When Moses left us and went up the Mount to get the Torah, we found ourselves suddenly lacking the containment provided by his physical presence. Not yet free in our own inner worlds, we floundered and quickly lost faith in the intangible One God, preferring a concrete representation of the only kind of god that our human minds and hearts could grasp at that point.
Angry, God considered destroying us, as he had destroyed before – the flood in Noah’s time, the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah. Having chosen the Israelites as His People, then, in the desert, our spirituality apparently as dry and barren as the landscape around us, God decided to send us into oblivion as that is the fate of the unredeemable.
In the end, He decided not to destroy us, not for our sake, but because of what that would do to humankind’s primitive spiritual development. Nahama Leibovitz, in her book Studies in Dvarim Deuteronomy (p. 231), suggests that:
The Divine judgement on Israel is therefore annulled for fear of desecrating the name of God.
Unable to understand all that had happened for and to the Jews before and including their (intended) destruction at God’s hand, others would laugh at our monotheistic belief and say: “See the Jewish God is a fallacy!” This would have set back the movement toward monotheism, and monotheism was something God, Himself, wanted for all of humankind.
This leads me in two directions. I will discuss one here and the second in my next post.
Choices: God chose us, decided to get rid of us and changed His mind. Sorry if that sounds a bit flippant – I don’t mean it to be so. The reason for not getting rid of us had nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. As I wrote above, it suited His interests to keep us around and even bring us into the Promised Land.
Our choices: We also make choices based on our own interests. Sometimes the choices we make are because of our desire for material gain, for personal power, to maintain our own sense of agency or other reasons. Sometimes we make choices that seem altruistic, but ultimately are also selfish, in the sense that altruistic choices can be ones that allow us to sleep well at night, to keep our consciences clear, or that correspond with our personal set of values.
If I decide to let someone else decide something for me, I am making a decision to hand over my personal power and that is my responsibility and not the other person’s. It is not a cataclysmic decision if it involves what movie to see that night, but it can be cataclysmic if it involves committing a crime or getting married, for example.
I, alone, am responsible for the choices that I make. While I keep myself open to the opinions of other people, I ultimately decide what is right for me and my life and the values that I want my decisions to reflect. At the same time, hopefully, I never forget to include in the equation of my choices respect for the rights of others to their own autonomous choices. And if it appears that I erred, I reconsider the decision and modify what can be modified.