Man is confronted with decisions every day of his life. There are major decisions, such as whom to marry, what profession to enter, which neighborhood to live in, and there are minor decisions that confound some people.
A friend shared with me that his daughter wrote him that when she returns from her year of seminary, she wishes to commence dating. “She can’t even decide what she wants for dessert,” my friend moaned, “How in the world will she be able to decide whom she wishes to marry?”
Indeed, one issue that definitely plagues couples from getting engaged is one party’s inability to make a decision. Tragically, a person suffering from this handicap does not realize that not making a decision, or saying no because of an inability to make a decision, is also a decision – sometimes of equal weight.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski had a poster in his office of a dog standing between two fire hydrants and the caption read, “Decisions, decisions…”
Wise Rabbi Twersky would also recount how a chassid once turned to his rebbe and inquired as to how he could best make decisions. The rebbe responded by advising that he watch a tightrope walker. If the high-wire artist leans too far to one side, he will immediately lean to the other side to compensate, so that he can balance himself out.
Expanding upon this image, Rabbi Twerski explained that most of our desires come from our animalistic traits; therefore, the first thing that one should do is think why one should not do what they desire in order to achieve an even balance.
This connects with an issue that we raised in our previous column: Every decision that a person makes, Rav Dessler taught, no matter how small, will impact upon one’s future decisions and that of their offspring and indeed the entire world.
I was seriously contemplating this idea as I was walking to an appointment this week. Along the way I saw an enormous cockroach stuck on its back, its six legs doing a crazy dance – which was totally ineffective – to get back on its feet. Normally such a sight would not merit a single synapse of my thought. But as Rav Dessler’s words were very much on my mind, I stopped and reflected. Never being a great admirer of cockroaches, it was already commendable that I did not crush it and put it out of its misery. But more significantly, I did not continue on my way, as I pondered how this decision would make a difference to the world.
This was going to take motivation, so I called upon my best friend – my imagination. Presto! We had it.
Oscar – that was the name we awarded the insect – was on his way to his wedding when he got backsided. Oscar’s parents were fretting with despair, praying that no one would inform the bride that her groom was a no-show. Fortunately, most of Oscar’s friends and family were heavily engaged in the smorgasbord, indulging in wasp larvae, aphids’ excrement, organisms and filth. But sooner or later someone was going to realize that Oscar wasn’t there; the photographer was already repeatedly asking for him.
Most of the guests were contentedly munching on earthworm droppings, but some of the rowdy ones had had a little too much fermented bug juice and they might soon find themselves in a predicament similar to Oscar’s.
Once the scene crystalized in my head, I had no problem understanding what was incumbent upon me to do. The problem was that flipping over Oscar was no facile endeavor if you were too grossed out to use your fingers. I subsequently learned that shoes were never designed for delicately overturning a cockroach. One non-gentle flick and Oscar would be limping down to his chuppah. It must have taken at least 15 gingerly and delicate attempts. But ultimately, Oscar trudged off for his big day and setting up his home under a leaky pipe.
Admittedly, my imagination had got the better of me, but at least Oscar was the beneficiary. And perhaps this kindness to the insect was good for my character, but how, oh how, Rav Dessler, had sending Oscar off to his wedding made the world a better place?
I am not aware of any benefits of cockroaches (or mosquitoes, for that matter), but then again, I have zero entomology qualifications. It was worth, at least, a search engine investigation.
Who’d have thunk? Turns out that by sending Oscar to his nuptials I had helped save the eco-system of the world, significantly bolstered the life cycle of plants, distributed pollen throughout the Middle East, radically increased the amount of nitrogen in the soil, and helped scientists studying how to make the perfect prosthetic limb.
Thank you, Rav Dessler. (Also inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s magisterial On Looking.)