Disclaimer: I apologize for any deliriousness that found its way into this post– the bulk of it was written while fasting.
It was 1pm on Yom Kippur and my stomach was growling and grumbling–the sounds were reminiscent of the scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex races after Gennaro, while Grant and the children run away to safety. In an effort to stunt my urge to return to the Bayit (the AVODAH house) and heat up leftovers from last night’s dinner (and to save Grant and the children from the scary tyrannosaurus), I rode my bike up to the river-bend near Audubon Park.
While watching little ripples form in the Mississippi, I thought about Rabbi Berk’s Haftorah breakdown from the morning’s service. Rabbi Berk leads Touro Synagogue, one of the local reform congregations; we met during orientation week when she led Avodahniks in a question and answer session about Judaism and New Orleans (she strongly recommended that we all try a cherry limeade snowball from Hansen’s).
During her homily on Yom Kippur, she spoke about the concept of choice—and how everyday, from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, we are faced with choices. Do I wake up and get dressed right away or do I repeatedly hit the snooze button? Do I eat breakfast or not? Do I drink coffee or tea? Caffeinated or non-caffeinated? And that’s just the morning!
Then there are those choices that have longer-term implications: do I enroll in classes? Do I start this job? Do I move to a new city or stay where I am? Do I date this person? Do I break up with this person? Every option lends itself to more options, snowballing into what seems like an endless tangle of choice-webs.
Some of us are undaunted by the prospect of decision-making, trusting in our gut-feelings and not worrying so much about outcome. Others of us—let’s be honest–most of us, make long pro and con lists, some carefully, some haphazardly, weighing our options and imagining the blessings and/or catastrophes that could result and everything we’d be “missing out on.” Maybe I’m making us all out to sound like we have little Woody Allens looming over our shoulders, but how can we not?
The wide accessibility of the Internet makes the world of possibilities seem infinite; it’s difficult not to think about what we’re missing out on. We see all the cool things that Jane and Joe are doing on Facebook and wonder, “What am I doing with my life? What did I do wrong in my myriad of life choices?”
Of course it’s grounding to recognize and be grateful for all that we have, as well as the true beauty and privilege of choices and the human decision-making capacity in the first place. But what if focusing on all of these choices and options is tiring ourselves out unnecessarily?
The crux of Rabbi Berk’s sermon was that, according to the Torah, human beings are only given one choice—to live or to die; everything else is commanded (mitzvot).
At first “choosing life” may sound banal and overly simplistic, but that’s because the word life has so many meanings and insinuations. I think choosing life means deciding to be present and engaged. If we are to choose life in all that we do and everywhere that we are–at work, at home, place of worship, out on the street—then we are choosing to be present. If we are present, it seems that all other choices retreat to the background.
Sarah Porzucki is from Torrance, CA and attended the University of California, Davis. As a New Orleans Corps member, she is the Art Speaks Coordinator at YA/YA, which teaches art skills and entrepreneurship to creative young people, with the broader goal of empowering them to become successful adults.