This past weekend I drove to Pittsburgh to do a wedding for congregants. I could have deferred. And referred. I could have pushed them aside. But here was a couple that chose to enter this place, knowing no one. A couple that sought out Jewish community, a relationship with others, and with a rabbi. Who were willing to meet with me every month for two years as we prepared for this day. Who shared themselves fully and unequivocally. I had a choice as to how to respond to them, and I chose to engage, to reach out to them as they reached out toward me. And I was thinking about that as I pulled into a rest area outside Harrisburg, and watched people—tired and cranky from the long drive—treat each other with neglect. And I would have as well, but something stopped me. Perhaps it was just good manners. Perhaps I was just too tired to be rude. Mostly, I remembered why I was driving out to Pittsburgh: I was serving a sacred purpose, serving the needs of two congregants. How could I sully that by then being crass to the woman in line ahead of me at the Steak and Shake?
We read this week: “See this day I set before you blessing and curse.”
We have a very ambivalent relationship with choices. We agonize over the right thing to do, while we lament others’ actions. We are angry at God—for allowing others to choose evil, for giving us a choice in our lives when those choices are hard, and we grow angry at others when our choices are narrowed. Sometimes it seems like we don’t know what to do with our autonomy, and we resent it. It would be so much easier if someone else made the decisions for us: an omnipotent God, a parent, a boss.
Likewise, our vision isn’t always so clear. We see people not for who they are but who we want them to be. How often we see others as either in our way or as tools to gratify our own needs?
But at the end of the day, our choices are ours. We have full ownership over our lives. It is up to us to find meaning in our relationships, to seek comfort or challenge, how we respond to difficulty, and how we engage in each other. And we can only make those choices if we heed the words at the beginning of our portion: re’eh, SEE. See each other clearly. See yourself clearly. Then the choices fall into place. They may still be wrong, but they will be made with integrity of intention, with meaning. They will be sacred choices.
The poet Ruth Brin writes:
Are we free as the birds?
Yes, and more free,
For birds fly by the charts of instinct
And make no choice in the pattern of their existence.
Are we free as the angels?
Yes and more free,
For angels, if they exist, live beyond evil,
And face no agonizing choices.
Sometimes we seem like little children,
Round-eyed before a holiday table, permitted
For once to reach for the sweetest cake.
But we are neither children nor winged creatures;
We are human beings. Freedom to choose is our definition,
And ability to choose well is our portion of divinity.
on this week’s portion.
Gratefully we thank You
Who are the source of our freedom.
Earnestly we pray to You
When we pace the dark corridors of decision.
Let us make each choice with wisdom.
Let us choose blessing and peace.
And I add, let us see each other clearly, so that our choices will be sacred. Amen.