One of the bitter things God gave us to sweeten a bitter world is the capacity to choose. In modern Hebrew, they don’t refer to ‘making a decision’ but to ‘receiving a decision’ (lekabel hachlata)– decision-making is a gift. But in our reality of infinitely expanding choices, whether it’s how we want to look, or what device we want to purchase, or who we want to marry, or countless other decisions large and small, we’ve come to realize that choice is a double-edged sword. It can bring a person to paralysis and dissatisfaction as much as it can bring bliss and fulfillment. It’s called the “paradox of choice“, and the Jewish people first experience it in chapter 16.
They remember fondly the rations their Egyptian taskmasters would grant them, but in response God refuses to take the place of those masters. He insists that the people go out and collect the Manna themselves, and that they assess their family needs and collect accordingly. The text testifies that, whether miraculously or by calculation, everyone gets home with exactly the right amount. If that amount had been forced upon them, it might have been easier to make peace with it. But when it’s your own decision, then the torments of your choices, and especially of the alternatives not taken can begin to haunt you. You second guess yourself. Did I take enough or too much? Maybe this is more than I need? Will there be more tomorrow? You look over your shoulder at your neighbor, and look for some way to roll back your decision, perhaps by saving some of what is really the perfect amount for tomorrow. Moshe can get upset, but ultimately the choice has been granted by God.
And that’s another troubling element of choice- why allow the people a choice when they might choose wrong? Why open the door to failure? And fail they do, though it doesn’t do them much good. Perhaps God is testing us. Perhaps we’re testing him. But why do we need all this testing? That’s a question for chapter 17.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. Chapter 16 was Sunday. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il