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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 17: The Creativity of Choice – Part Two

It’s Your Choice


The teenager finished high school and is home, bored out of his mind. He has nothing to do. He spent a day or two pounding the pavements of the city looking for a job.

Unfortunately, he failed to find one. So, he spends his day sitting in his room and doing something on his computer. (His parents don’t want to ask.)


My perspective is that he is choosing not to work. He feels that it is not his choice because he cannot find a job. “I want to work,” he claims. “If you wanted to work, you would be out there everyday, looking for work,” I respond. “OK, maybe I don’t really want to work, but I want to make money.” To which I respond, “You would look for work if you wanted to make money. I believe that you want to have money without working for it. Your parents are giving you spending money so you have money. You are choosing to spend your day hiding from life in your room, rather than face the frustration of looking for work and then actually working.”

His parents are also making a choice: They are choosing to provide him with all his basic needs despite the fact that serves as a disincentive for him to go out and look for work. His parents are choosing to not ask him what he does on his computer all day.

We all constantly make choices. We don not necessarily articulate them as choices because we are not aware that we are making choices. Please note: I am not referring to Bechira Chofshit – Free Choice, which is an entirely different level of choice. We choose what to eat. We choose whether we want the immediate pleasure of a piece of cake rather than watch our waistlines and health. We choose to speak in anger. We choose to say destructive things. We choose to waste time. We constantly make choices. We won’t necessarily acknowledge them as choices, but we are always choosing.

The Shabbat laws insist that we understand that we are constantly making choices and that choosing is creative, or, in the context of Halacha, choosing is self-defining.

When I have a bowl of mixed peanuts and raisins before me and I prefer the peanuts and reach for one, Halacha says that I am choosing. The Shabbat laws teach that if someone puts a bowl of good old-fashioned chicken soup in front of me, and I see a large piece of chicken and want to select it from the soup, I am choosing. Halacha warns me that if I allow all my paperwork and books to pile up during the week waiting for Shabbat to organize everything, that not only am I choosing to use my Shabbat in a certain way, I am making a choice with each piece of paper I pick up and decide where to place it in my file cabinet. Halacha treats the decision where to place one piece of paper from a pile of papers as a choice, a creative act, that may be prohibited on Shabbat.

The Shabbat laws want us to understand and appreciate that we are constantly choosing. It wants that teenage boy and his parents to understand everything that they are doing as choices. When people understand that they are making choices, and that those choices are self-defining, they will rethink their actions and words.


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