I’ve just finished reading a book called: ‘I remembered in the night your name’, by Varda Branfman, and I really enjoyed it.
A couple of things in particular caught my attention, one of which had to do with the author’s experience of seeing a true tzaddik, (who happened to be her Rabbi) in action.
Someone the author knew had been struggling with a massive decision, and didn’t know what course of action to take. Everyone was weighing in with their own opinion, just muddying the waters further, and the person was getting more and more confused.
The person with the big decision decided they needed to visit this particular Rabbi, to ask his advice. For 15 minutes, he gave all the angles of the problem, then sat back and waited for the Rav’s pronouncement. Here’s what happened:
“Until that moment, the Rabbi hadn’t said anything, but then he stood up and slapped our friend on the back. ‘Well, take a shot at one of the other.’ And then he left the room….The Rabbi was telling him that the choice between one or the other was not the crux of the matter. His own personal growth depended…on the way he, himself, chose to respond.”
Sometimes, we can feel so overwhelmed by ‘choice’ that we’re desperate to abdicate our ability to make a decision to others. But as I’m learning more and more, G-d sends us decisions, even very hard decisions, because He wants us to flex our free choice muscle, and decide for ourselves.
If we do that, even if we choose ‘wrong’, we still accomplish so much, spiritually – far more than we would by choosing someone else’s ‘right’.
I loved Varda’s ‘Rabbi’ story because it so simply and poignantly demonstrated this principle in action. When someone is really connected to G-d, they know that you actually can’t make a wrong choice (strange as that sounds…) These individuals believe so strongly in G-d’s goodness, and ability to ‘fix’ what’s broken, that they know that even if you take a wrong turn, or a misstep somewhere along the way, it’s not the end of the world, and you’ll still get to where you need to be.
That’s why even when pressed, genuinely holy people will very rarely make a decision for you, and even when they give you advice, it won’t be forced down your throat: they are issuing guidance to help you make the right decision, not barking out orders that must be followed.
Sadly, I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way (maybe, there is no other way of learning it.)
The last few months, I’ve been picking over a lot of decisions I felt compelled to make after following other people’s ideas of how I should be running my life. It’s been very hard spiritual work, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, I realised that abdicating my free choice was not the high spiritual level I believed it to be. It was the shortcut that’s ended up taking me and my husband round a very long way.
Secondly, I’ve also had to work pretty hard on developing the emuna that even when we followed the ‘wrong’ advice, it was still exactly what G-d wanted. Let me tell you, when you’re trying to deal with the fallout from making a series of apparently ‘wrong’ decisions, it can be a very big test to see G-d behind it all, believe it’s good, and not start blaming anyone for the big mess you appear to be in.
But that’s the process of growth and development. And that growth, more than anything, has been the spiritual pay-off of all the apparently wrong ‘choices’ we made.
Now I’m seeing first-hand how bad decisions have hidden benefits, it’s making me much more relaxed over the choices my kids are making. My daughter is currently picking her high-school, or ulpana, and I’ve given her guidance, but left the actual decision of where she goes up to her.
She’s the one who has to live with her choice. She’s the one who will grow and develop from her experiences, however they turn out, even if they’re not apparently ‘perfect’ or ‘correct’.
And that’s OK! That’s G-d’s plan for her, for me, for everyone. We think, and we pray, and we choose, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but ultimately it’s all ‘good’. No one can take away what is meant to be ours. No one can give us what G-d doesn’t want us to have.
That’s the real secret of happiness. And without all the mistakes I’ve made recently, I don’t think I ever would have discovered it.