A friend used to have a sign that his mother hung on their fridge, which read: “You have two choices for supper: Take it or leave it.”
Our lives are composed, colored, and in many ways determined by the choices we make. Rav Shimshon Pincus noted that the Gemara (Sotah 2a) relates that a person’s home, job, and spouse are predetermined. If so, where is our free will?
Contrary to what people might like to believe, the sky isn’t the limit, and we generally can’t accomplish anything we want to, even if we really want it badly and are willing to work hard to attain it. The real choice of life is what we do with “the cards we are dealt with.”
Dr. Edith Eva Eger has a very active clinical practice in California. She also serves as a consultant for the US Army and the US Navy in resiliency treatment and the treatment of PTSD. What’s most remarkable is that Dr. Eger is well over 90 years old. In 2017, she published her memoir entitled “The Choice: Embrace the possible,” which has become a New York Times Bestseller.
In her powerful book, she relates her experiences during the Holocaust, her suffering, survival, building a family, and moving on – all the while, still haunted by her traumatic experiences.
Dr. Eger describes how she was introduced to the work of Viktor Frankl, a fellow survivor and the founder of logotherapy, and the profound impact his work had upon her. Frankl’s main premise is that although everything else could be taken from a person, his thoughts and inner world are eternally his. The Nazis could never take away from him his ability to picture himself in a different time and place, utilizing his talents and abilities to be of service to others, and to find meaning in his suffering. Frankl writes that this realization was the key to his survival.
Dr. Eger relates that, as a teenager, she and her sister arrived in Auschwitz, where their parents were immediately sent to the gas chambers. They were sent to the showers, after which their hair was shaved off. Her sister Magda was holding her shorn hair in her hand, when she looked at her and said, “How do I look?” In Eger’s words: “The truth? She looks like a mangy dog... I can’t tell her this, of course; but any lie would hurt too much and so I must find an impossible answer, a truth that doesn’t wound... She is asking me to help her find and face herself. And so I tell her the one true thing that’s mine to say:
“‘Your eyes,’ I tell my sister, ‘they’re so beautiful. I never noticed them when they were covered up by all that hair.’ It’s the first time I see that we have a choice: to pay attention to what we’ve lost or to pay attention to what we still have.”
The pasuk in Shir HaShirim (4:1) states: “Behold you are beautiful, my beloved, behold you are beautiful; your eyes are like doves.”
Rashi writes that doves always remain loyal to their mates. The eyes of klal Yisrael are always on their nests.
Even when a Jew strays and wanders spiritually from where he should be, his soul yearns to return and reconnect. The holy spark within is never tainted and remains pure and holy. That greatness is reflected in the pure eyes of every Jew. His eyes are always beautiful – like doves yearning to return. Do we see the beauty in the eyes, or do we see the glaring baldness?
The question is always what we focus on.
The multi-billion-dollar advertising industry focuses all its energy on reminding us and focusing us on the things we lack. It seeks to make us feel that our lives are incomplete without those commodities. The Torah, however, wants us to focus on what we do have, the blessings and beauty we have been gifted with, and to recognize that we can attain happiness in the now.
There is a fascinating midrash (Tana d’vei Eliyahu Rabbah 1) that states that Hashem is happy with His lot, referring to klal Yisrael.
The Jewish people are far from perfect. Yet, with all our flaws, Hashem rejoices that we are His chosen people. We would be wise to view ourselves with the positive perspective of the Divine.
There will always be baldness in our lives and there will always be beauty. It’s up to us to decide what we choose to focus on.