Originally Published: March 18, 2018 5:58 a.m.
A Talmudic legend tells us that at a child’s conception, Leila, the angel of the night, brings the fetus before God. The angel asks, “Will this child be tall or short?” and God decrees its height.
“Will this child be smart?” and God decrees its intellectual capacity.
Then the angel asks, “Will this child be good or bad?” and God is silent—because moral volition is not a matter of divine decree nor a matter of predestination, but of individual choice.
Ah, choices! Here’s another story.
The medieval philosopher Buridan had a donkey whom, like its master, was a philosopher. One day, rather than offering the donkey his morning bale of hay, Buridan offered the donkey two equal bales of hay. The donkey spent his entire day trying to decide which bale of hay to eat. Unfortunately the donkey could not decide which bale of hay was the better one. This went on day after day until the donkey, unable to make a decision, starved to death.
As you know, among other things, each of us is the sum of choices we make over a lifetime. Over the years, we’ve reached many points when we needed to choose and act. Sometimes the choice is right and appropriate, and other times we haven’t made the best decision. But we understand that
not making choices can lead to anxiety or feelings of helplessness.
We’ve also learned that choosing carries a risk. Each of us makes a leap of faith or commitment which is better than starving to death agonizing over the options before us.
The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre characterized life in our times as being “condemned to freedom.” Choices constantly bombard us. At any time we face a huge number of choices and an escalating number of options to weigh and evaluate.
Fortunately, we have help with moral and ethical choices. We rarely make our choices in a void. They are shaped by our experiences, convictions, relationships and moral values that have been affirmed through the years.
Perhaps as we near the completion of our years on earth, we will understand that one of the things that matters most is to end life with a soul more beautiful than when we were younger. If our choices through the years have led us to this conclusion, we probably can look back and say, “I have lived a good life.”