Tag Archives: choices

Choose Hope Today

At each moment of every day, you choose your thoughts, words, and actions. You even choose your feelings by choosing your thoughts, words, and actions. So say, “Just choose wisely now.”

The more frequently you choose wisely, the more this choice will become second nature. You probably know what happens to a person who keeps making wise choices of thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. They live their life much more wisely.

“But what if I don’t always recognize the wisest choice?” Just saying, “Just choose wisely now,” won’t guarantee that you will always choose the wisest choices. But it will still be much better than saying, “Choose the stupidest choice!”

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.139) [Artscroll.com])

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #185: Just Choose Wisely Now

As I’ve mentioned before, the path of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption is not a straight line where one walks along each day making steady progress. I’ve used metaphors to describe this process such as birds and ladders but it can also be a lot like one step forward and two steps back, or maybe like running on a string of spaghetti all curled and twisted in a bowl…in the dark. Sometimes you can’t even make heads or tails of where you are or how you’re doing. You just know you’re running (and sometimes, running scared).

But every step you take whether straight and narrow or to the left or right requires a choice, even if it doesn’t seem that way. As Rabbi Pliskin writes in the above quoted set of paragraphs, you may have made bad choices in the past but you can make a wise choice now. That doesn’t erase the past, but nothing can do that. You can’t change what has happened but you can change the future by acting in the present.

But it’s not easy. It is said (supposedly by Samuel L.Clemens [Mark Twain]) that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” This is true up to a point but it doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of change. It’s easy to tell yourself that your future will be what your past has been. But if that’s the case, is there hope?

“In whatever way a person chooses, therein is he led” (Makkos 10b).

We tend to disown those thoughts, feelings, and actions that we dislike. Something we saw, read, or heard upset us, we like to think, and caused us to think, feel, or act in a certain way. We forget that we have considerable say in what we choose to see or hear.

Psychiatry and psychology have contributed to this abdication of responsibility. Their emphasis on the impact of early-life events on our emotions has been taken to mean that these factors determine our psyche, and that we are but helpless victims of our past.

We forget that if someone puts trash on our doorstep, we do not have to take it in; even if it was put into the house and filled it with an odor, we have the option to throw it out and clean up. Similarly, even if early-life experiences have an impact, the effects are not cast in stone; we can take steps to overcome them.

A man once complained to his rabbi that alien thoughts were interfering with his prayer and meditation. The rabbi shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know why you refer to them as alien,” he said. “They are your own.”

If we stop disowning feelings and actions, we may be able to do something about them.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid exposing myself to those influences that are likely to stimulate feelings and behavior that I think are wrong.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
Growing Each Day for Kislev 13

I guess that means the first step in the journey is to own up to the thoughts, feelings, and actions that resulted in our current situation and need for repentance. We can’t very well take out the trash if we don’t admit that we created it in the first place. Well, I guess we could, but we’d always by “mystified” by the fact that no matter how often we take out “someone else’s” garbage, more shows up in our trash can.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

So connecting what Rabbi Twersky said to the statement made by Rabbi Pliskin, we need to make different choices, first by admitting that our prior choices are our own, and then changing the choices we make now, eliminating “those influences that are likely to stimulate feelings and behavior that” we think are wrong.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

…try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
Growing Each Day for Kislev 14

You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no time like the present,” attributed to Georgia Byng and that seems to be what both of these esteemed Ravs are telling us. Once you’ve recognized that you are the one making decisions in your life, that they are bad decisions, and that they are causing harm, the next step is to determine what good decisions are and start making them right now.

Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist’s prayer. He looked at the stones and said:

“God, I don’t believe in You. As far as I know, You don’t exist. But I do feel something. So if I’m making a mistake, I want You to know, God, I have no quarrel against You. It’s just that I don’t know that You exist. But God, just in case You’re really there and I’m making a mistake, get me an introduction.”

Jeff finished his prayer, and one of the yeshiva students who happened to be at the Wall, saw Jeff and thought, “Perhaps he’d be interested in learning some Torah.”

He tapped Jeff on the shoulder, startling him so much that he jumped three feet in the air. Jeff whirled around and shouted,

“What in the blankety-blank-dash-bang do you want?!”

“I’m sorry. I just want to know if you’d like to learn about God.”

That question hit Jeff like a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. He had just finished asking God for an introduction, and immediately someone was offering to introduce him to God.

“Prayer of an Atheist”
from the Ask the Rabbi column

I encourage you to click the link above to get the full context of the article, but I included this quote to illustrate just how powerful prayer, even one uttered by an atheist, can be to remediate a person’s life.

The young Jewish fellow in question studied Torah in Jerusalem for the next six weeks following his encounter at the Kotel, continued his studies and coming to faith after returning to his home in the United States, and eventually married a devout Jewish woman.

But up until he prayed that one prayer at the Kotel, his life was heading in a very different direction.

Of course Jeff’s decision to pray at that moment wasn’t random:

Jeff had been in Norway, visiting his Norwegian fiancée. And he decided it was now or never: either he is going to come to Israel or he’ll never make it.

So he headed for Jerusalem and the Western Wall. He figured he would stop by the Wall to see some old stones. Yet upon his arrival he was amazed. He felt something heavy. He was moved.

Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist’s prayer. He looked at the stones and said…

white-pigeon-kotelSomething about being a Jew in Jerusalem and at the Kotel got through to Jeff. More accurately put, God got through to Jeff using the holiness of Jerusalem as a catalyst.

God uses all manner of events and circumstances to motivate human beings, Jews and everyone else. Although I’ve been quoting from Jewish sources throughout this blog post, the advice is just as applicable to the rest of us. If the Jewish people are supposed to be a light to the nations, then this is one way they are accomplishing their mission.

Jesus (Yeshua) said that he was the light of the world (John 8:12), which I take to mean that he is the living embodiment of Israel’s mission to the nations, the best personal example of Israel shining a light on the path allowing the people of the nations to find God. But he also said to his disciples that they were the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) indicating that they were to assume his mission and continue to shine the light for the rest of us to follow. Eventually, we Gentiles become that light as well, but only once we have achieved a level of spiritual achievement and discipline to live a life worthy of that light.

It all comes down to the choices we make. It also means that even if we make bad choices, they don’t have to determine the course of the rest of our lives. We have free will. We can make different choices. We can choose differently now, today, this morning.

I always like the “I’ll be back” line because it is a great philosophy for life. Life isn’t all successes, it is also defeats. But you can always be back. No matter what, just like the Terminator. You’re not a loser when you fall. You’re only a loser if you don’t get up. Winners get up and come back.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Get this straight: The secret behind success is knowing how to fail. Failures are people who fail once. Successes are people who fail thousands of times—and pick themselves back up each time. Like little kids learning to walk. Like Babe Ruth, who held the world record for home runs—and also held the record for strike-outs.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

For more on this topic, please read On Choosing God.

18 Days: The Christian in the Middle of the Room

elephant-in-the-living-roomThis week, we learned of 23,000 people in England and Wales classified as having “Mixed Religion.” This news comes from the United Kingdom’s Office on National Statistics, which just released new numbers on religious identity from the 2011 government census.

-Susan Katz Miller
“‘Mixed Religion’ as Identity: Who Are These People?”
Blog posted 12/13/2012 1:25 pm

OK, let’s stop right there. I “get” being part of an interfaith family since I’m a Christian and my wife is Jewish. However, I have one religious identity and my wife has a different religious (and cultural) identity. Our children don’t have two religious identities. Of course, our family’s religious identity “split” came rather late in the game. We all started out as atheists, all came to faith as Christians at one point (even though my wife and children are halachically Jewish), and then through a long, drawn out process, I self-identified as Christian while my wife and kids proceeded to move away from Christianity and identified as more traditionally Jewish (to varying degrees of religiosity all the way down to zero).

My wife and daughter seem to have the clearest Jewish identities, one son is halachically Jewish but otherwise secular, and the other self-identifies as Jewish but will at least discuss his views on Christianity with me.

But I don’t think, based on my personal experience, that you can be both Christian and Jewish in a religious sense. Oh sure, you can worship in both a church and a synagogue, but you are very unlikely to feel completely at home in both. You are more likely to primarily identify with one religious identity and form of worship and be “OK” with the other, usually for the sake of your spouse and possibly the kids.

To me “interfaith marriage” means two people who are married, each one with a different religious identity, and those identities co-exist side-by-side with each other. There could be some overlap and usually is (I tend to be more “OK” with the overlap than my wife is), but it’s not like you can have a person who is equal parts Christian and Jewish (or any one religion and the other…and no, I’ve not yet read the book or watched the film Life of Pi).

I know what you’re thinking.

Sid: You’re never gonna impress Ellie like that.
Manfred: I don’t want to impress her.
Sid: Then why are you trying so hard to convince her she’s a mammoth?
Manfred: Because that’s what she is! I don’t care if she thinks she’s a possum. You can’t be two things.
Sid: Au contraire, mon “fered”. Tell that to the bullfrog, the chickenhawk, and the turtledove.

-dialog from the film
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)

Well, maybe that’s not what you were thinking. You may be thinking more along the lines of Susan Katz Miller:

The discovery of a cohort of “Mixed Religion” adherents in the U.K. serves as a reminder that the demographic reality of religious double-belonging among adults can no longer be ignored. Most religious institutions continue to urge interfaith couples to pick one religion for children, to beware of confusion, to stop blurring boundaries. The reaction to dual-faith adherence is too often panic and disapproval, and the attempt to close borders. But for the individual, especially an individual like me who was born into a family with more than one religious heritage, crossing borders can be exhilarating and bring great joy. Our celebration of both faiths goes beyond Hanukkah and Christmas, beyond all the history of tragic conflict and religious violence, to a place where love prevails over dogma. In this spirit, and in the season of light in darkness, I send greetings across the Atlantic to those who celebrate Christmas and Yule, Hanukkah and Diwali, all of the above, or none of the above.

All of that sounds wonderful, but I still agree with Manny. You can’t be two things. You can be one thing and participate in other things, but that participation does not necessarily work its way into your permanent, defining identity as a spiritual, religious, and ethnic human being. My wife and daughter have been kindling the Chanukah lights every night this week but while I’ve been present (and after all, it is my home), that doesn’t make me co-Christian/Jewish.

Judaism very strongly discourages intermarriage and does not believe that a person can have dual religious identities the way some individuals have dual national citizenship.

Honestly, I don’t think this can work. On many levels, you cannot have both a christening and a Bris. Because as nice as it would be for intermarried parents to be able to “cover both bases,” not have to make any big decisions just yet, and provide something for all of the grandparents, having a child brought into the Church of Jesus as well made part of the covenant of the Jewish people is not being honest to either tradition.

As “exclusionary” as this sounds, this position is based on common sense, respect for the integrity of both Judaism and Christianity as religions with particular and distinct messages as well as what has been found through years of experience as being in the ultimate best interest of the child.

Religiously speaking, children need to know who they are. They need to have a solid, unambiguous faith identity which gives them a place in the world, a spiritual tradition through which to experience the important times of life and a community of meaning, not just to know about, but to be a part of and to feel at home in. This means that, when it comes to religion, one is better than none and better than two.

“Intermarriage and Dual Religion”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series

elephant_in_the_room_talkIn any intermarriage that produces children, sooner or later those children are going to have to make a decision as to who they are. In my family’s case, the choices are Christian, Jewish, or non-religious (or other religious). Halachically of course, my children will always be Jewish, regardless of their religious choices. I should say, in their case, they also have the option of self-identifying as Messianic Jewish (and as far as I know, none of them have made this choice) which, from my perspective, would be a completely halachically Jewish religious lifestyle that accepts Jesus (Yeshua) as the Moshiach and which is not the same thing as being a “Jewish Christian” or a Christian of any type (see Rabbi Dr Michael Schiffman’s blog post Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah for details).

For the sake of clarity, I must say that my wife would be the first to disagree that Messianic Judaism is a true Judaism, as would most secular and religious Jews in the world. A recent article written by Jewish Journalist Sarah Posner called Kosher Jesus: Messianic Jews in the Holy Land very thoroughly describes the Jewish perspective on the Messianic Jewish movement.

While I certainly respect Susan Katz Miller as a writer and an interfaith parent, her perspective and mine are different. My family doesn’t choose to celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. I’m perfectly happy not celebrating Christmas and feel a great sense of freedom in not having to feel bound to the stress, pressure, and expense of either a commercial or religious demonstration of the holiday (Chanukah is much more low-key and even for a goy like me, more spiritually meaningful).

I may be a Christian but I don’t do Easter and I don’t do Lent, and I don’t even think of Shavuot as Pentecost. There is no “mixing” of religious expressions in our home. There are mezuzot on virtually every entry way in my home and the bookshelves in the living room are lined with siddurim, Talmudic commentary, copies of the Chumash, Tanakh, and even The Jewish Book of Why (the “Christian” books including Christian Bibles are either on the bookshelves in the study or in my “book closet”).

Even our “interfaith home” isn’t equally interfaith as you can see. As far as reading material, wall art, decorations, and halachah are concerned, it is primarily Jewish (although the kitchen isn’t kashered in the slightest) with the Christian aspects tucked away here and there. I suppose that’s fair since I’m the only Christian in evidence around the place.

You can’t be two things. Two things can co-exist in an environment but as you see, even the environment isn’t equally supportive of those two things. It’s like on the starship Enterprise in the TV show Star Trek, the Original Series (1966-1969). The ship’s life support settings favored the majority population on board, which were human beings, and the minority species on the ship (Vulcans, for instance) just had to put up with it and could tailor the environmental settings in their personal quarters to more closely fit their requirements.

I hadn’t really given it much thought before this, but I think the “duality” of religious/ethnic/cultural expression in my home is part of why I started the “Days” series. Although no one in my family opposes my pursuing a Christian identity in the slightest, the fact that I am a minority in my own home is abundantly evident. There are conversations we have when I suddenly become very aware that I’m a Christian (alone) and they are Jewish (together). There are times when I realize that I cannot have a detailed conversation about my faith with anyone I live with or any of those people I love the most without potentially crossing some very serious barriers.

If I were a religious none, I’d still be “different” in my home, but I wouldn’t be so “religiously” different from my family (culturally and halachically I would always be different). Given the less-than-comfortable history between Christianity and Judaism, I might even have a somewhat less “problematic” relationship in the home. If I were “nothing in particular,” while I wouldn’t be able to relate to my family on a “Jewish” plane, I at least wouldn’t clash with them religiously and spiritually.

Could I give up my faith for my family? I’ve considered that question carefully and believe me, there’ve been days… But no, I couldn’t do that, even for them. The “best” I could do would be to go “underground,” so to speak, not reading the Bible at home (or at all), not going to church, not calling myself a “Christian” in their presence or in the presence of others (particularly “Jewish” others). My faith would necessarily have to become isolated from the world, locked in a container that holds only God and me.

Running out of timeRight now, my “Days” countdown is focused on whether or not I continue to go to church beyond December 31st but it could easily expand to include ceasing any personal religious expression. But then, that would put me right back at the point of pulling the plug on this blog and I’ve already decided not to do that.

My recent “Days” blog posts have been on topics such as relationship (or lack thereof) and self-identity. An identity that includes faith and spirituality is composed of a life of decisions between options. Those decisions, and I write about them in abundance, are not easy, but they are decisions. There’s no way to fuse “left” and “right” or “up” and “down.” You can’t go in two opposite directions simultaneously.

Like Manny said, you can’t be two things. Ellie had to choose between being a possum and a mammoth. There wasn’t really a contest of course. She was unmistakably designed to be a mammoth and so physically, she made a lousy possum. She just needed another mammoth to show her who she was and how to live like a mammoth, even if they decided not to go with the herd…even if they decided just to be mammoths together.

Would that the choices were so obvious for me.