Decisiveness

Most people have had the experience of going to a restaurant with other people and having to wait on one person who can’t make up their mind over what to order. The person ordering agonizes over what to get, and meanwhile, everyone else is hungry and waiting, because their order won’t be placed until the indecisive individual comes to a decision. You just want them to order anything just to get the ball rolling

There is an old Yiddish expression, “Tuchas Aufen Tish,” which literally means, “Your Butt is on the Table.” The implication is… that your tuchas doesn’t belong there, so “move it.” We spend an awful lot of time not making decisions. Either we are afraid of making the wrong choice, or we put things aside and forget about them. The problem is, making no decision is always the worst decision. It has been my experience that I agonize over what action to take, and to be honest, I don’t always make the wisest choices, but when I make no choice at all, I am left to whatever happens, and I am less prepared than if I made even a wrong decision. At least if I make a wrong selection, I can be prepared for the results.

When you procrastinate and make no decision, people don’t respect you as much as if you are decisive. It gives the sense that you are either wasting everyone’s time, or even worse, that you don’t know what you are doing. Also wasting everyone else’s time, is at best, rude.

By nature, I’m a procrastinator. I enjoy putting things off and creating a less pressurized time and space for myself. It has been my experience that procrastinating is not a good thing. It frustrates people who love me, and I find it creates stress and agony for myself that is unnecessary. When it comes to things like home repairs, it can be costly. If you have a small leak in your plumbing, it’s not going to heal itself. It’s only going to get worse, so you are better off taking care of it immediately. If you have a project or assignment, getting it done on time or early is always appreciated. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and make some decision, just to get it out-of-the-way. You can always apologize if you made the wrong decision, and hopefully fix it later, but at least you get it done.

For someone who follows Torah, being decisive should be easier than for other people, because Torah is a guide for life and teaches right from wrong. God says to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today … that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;” Blessing and Curse, Life and Death are there for us. We need only to choose it. We don’t have to wonder what is the right thing to do. It has been shown to us. Our decisiveness is to choose what is good.

Our problem is that we look at all the options life offers us, and we sometimes choose what is convenient, or what will upset the least amount of people, or what is more pleasurable to us. Or what will cost the least. It’s not always easy to choose a life of Torah. A life of Torah is not cheap. Kosher meat costs more than local supermarket meat. Celebrating Jewish holidays costs time and money. It can mean taking off work, making the effort to be at services. Buying religious articles can be expensive if you buy the good stuff. They are decisions we make. Those choices reflect our values.

We make choices because we care. People who don’t really care, don’t take the choices seriously. I wonder sometimes if people put as much energy into their faith and life choices as they put into their menu choices. Whatever choices you make, Choose well.

also posted in Riverton Mussar: A Wellspring For Ethical Change

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7 thoughts on “Decisiveness

  1. Sorry, but I can’t resist this. “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

    Seriously, though, some decisions can be handled by considering cost/benefit, such as clothing, certain food, cars, furniture, etc., and some cannot.

    Religious items, not at all so easy. How much should I spend to show that I love G-d enough to spend it? I have a friend who says if you don’t spend a minimum of $1,500 for your tefillin, you don’t really care. My tefillin cost $185, and I admit they are pretty cheesy, but how much more do I need to spend to get out from under the guilt? There are some religious things you either have or you don’t, such as kosher mezuzah parchments. That is definable, and we do have kosher parchments. Do I need a more expensive kiddush cup? How much more expensive will impress G-d, or get rid of the guilt? What about my havdalah set? They start at about $25.00, which we have, and I don’t know how much I could spend. $1,500? $3,000? Shabbat candlesticks? And on and on. There’s really no limit.

    How would you suggest I make correct decisions about these matters? In making these decisions, should I consider what my family and I need to do without to free up the money?

    My point is that these are decisions that surely can be made, but will never be right. No matter what the decision, it will automatically be wrong, so the obvious solution is not to make the decision right now.

    Rabbi, what do you think?.

    • Good question Dave, and probably I should have anticipated the possible responses,(and maybe I did 😉

      I will answer this question with an anecdote: My grandmother’s mother was an immigrant from Eastern Europe and lived her life in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She was very poor, and when visitors came to her home, she could only afford to serve them tea. I was told that even though it was only tea, she served it with such an attitude of hospitality, that you felt better than if someone gave you a full dinner elsewhere. It was all about her attitude. She was, needless to say, a very poor woman, yet a woman of great faith. She lived a Torah observant life. She didn’t have any fancy kiddish cups or other expensive religious items, but I know for certain she did the best she could. (She did have silver candlesticks she brought from Russia, which she prized until the day she died).

      The point is, its not so much how much money a person spends on any item, but whether or not we are doing the best we can. I can make Kiddish just as well from a paper cup as from a Sterling Silver goblet, but if I can afford a silver goblet, but stick with the paper cup because I don’t want to spend the money, it says something about my values. Yeshua said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I think it has bearing here. For me, its not about the price tags, or guilt, but the heart intent.

  2. OK, what you say makes sense, BUT just what is the “best I can?”

    I could dip into the nest egg and spend many thousands of dollars on these things. I don’t think that is good stewardship, because what if we needed a new roof on the house, or a new car, etc.? Oh, just spend the money, and let God worry about the roof? He even clothes the lillies…. No. He doesn’t give me money, he gives me the strength and brains to go and get it by my own efforts. Somewhere here, there’s got to be a definable understanding of what is the best one can afford and what is not. Isn’t there a tradeoff somewhere between what I CAN afford and what I SHOULD afford? The tithe is clearly enumerated in scripture, and we pay it as a minimum, right off the top. This one is not so easy.

    I’m definitely not trying to be a smartass here. This has bothered me for a long time, and your exhortation to make decisions has just brought it to the forefront again. You could tell me to spend until I feel comfortable about it, but as long as I still have a penny left, there is still doubt, guilt, uncertainty.

    I guess I still haven’t fully learned to think like a Jew, but I most certainly am working on it.

    • This is where a person has to use common sense. You have bills and expenses just to live. You need to make sure you have those expenses covered, because first and foremost, you need to be able to pay your bills and put food on the table, pay for your roof, etc. Judaism is very practical that way. It really doesn’t ask you to starve yourself so you can pay for a silver Kiddish cup. Doing what you need to do to maintain life is not a negotiable, at least not in Judaism. Going out for ice cream, or McDonald’s, spending $40.00 at the movies, etc, are different matters. Those things are not necessities and could be sacrificed for a time so we can do a mitzvah in a nicer way. Stop imposing guilt on yourself. If you screw up, you are supposed to acknowledge it, fix it if you can, and move on. We dwell too much on our past shortcomings when we should be looking forward to future opportunities to do good and right.

  3. So, maybe I ought to look at better tefillin, havdalah set, etc., more the way I would a vacation. A vacation is a treat, but a new havdalah set would also be a treat, and it would last longer. Does that make more sense?

    I know also from experience, that new and better religious items sometimes come up to you and say, “Buy me.” That recently happened to my wife, with a nice pair of sterling candlesticks, and I got a new tallit that way once, too. Now that I think of it, we got our kiddush cup that way, too. Am I on to something?

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