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Escape the Trap

11/30/2020 09:29:42 AM


Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum


We are all familiar with the story of a group of construction workers who ate lunch together every day. As they took out their lunches, one of the workers would groan, “peanut butter and jelly- again!”.  This went on day after day, until one of his friends turned to him and said, “if you don't like peanut butter and jelly, why don't you just tell your wife you don't like peanut butter and jelly?!!”  His reply: “My wife doesn't make my lunch. I make my lunch!”

We laugh at this joke, but it is probably because we actually recognize ourselves in that poor guy. When we do what we do because that is the way we always did it, are lives are on auto pilot. After a while, we become bored with life, merely repeating the life we had yesterday, complaining about it as if someone else is at the root of the problem, when, in actuality, we are at the source of the problem.

Last week I had occasion to see a friend whom I had not been with in a while. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up on each other’s lives. He told me things were going well, his family was fine, his job was good. He then announced, “last week I stopped paying attention to the elections. I’m feeling much better”. When I pointed out that there is no obligation to pay attention to the elections-- or any of the news for that matter--- if it adversely affects you, he responded, “Exactly! When I realized that, I stopped!” 

” Life is a series of decisions we make every day. When we go on autopilot, repeating whatever we did yesterday, we forfeit our power of choice.  It does not have to be this way. My friend made a choice, and immediately realized the fruits of choice: freedom. Freedom from burdensome behaviors, or fruitless habits that don’t produce the results we want.
We do not have to allow choices we last made long ago to define us today—or tomorrow. Rather than have our lives defined by old choices and habits, we can choose a future based on new initiatives, and experience life as a creation, with ourselves as the source.

Rav Dessler makes this point very powerfully in his famous Kuntres Habichira. Even though our upbringing, education, and past decisions shape who we are, they in no way define where we are going. They should not dictate the choices that one makes today. What makes us human is the ability to choose. If there is an activity that one often does that brings one down, it does not have to be done. My friend, as many of us do, enjoys the news. Even though he enjoys it, he saw it wasn’t positive for him, so he stopped. That is a choice. It is one example of many choices that we make throughout the day. 
We all have our struggles; we don’t have to “keep making the same pb&j every day”. We all have those areas we would like to change and grow. It is hard, we get caught up in our past decisions and our autopilot. You don’t have to; Hashem gives us more strength than we realize. May He help us realize our strength of choice to truly be happy.

Sun, July 21 2024 15 Tammuz 5784