Second Thoughts and the Pitfalls of Confusion

February 17, 2019

4 min read


Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

Hickory, Indiana. 1951. In a classic scene from the legendary sports film "Hoosiers," the members of the Hickory Huskers basketball team enter the sprawling Butler Field House where they will compete for the State Championships against the highly-favored South Bend Central Bears. The quintessential underdog, Hickory is on the verge of becoming the smallest high school ever to win the state championship. Notwithstanding their story-book season to date, the odds are still heavily stacked against them as their opponent is a significantly taller and more athletic squad.

As they enter the stadium, the players' faces say it all - they are indeed a far cry from their tiny gym back in rural backwoods of Indiana. "We're in over our head." "We're out-classed." "David and Goliath." These are the sentiments that the faces seem to project.

In an effort to dispel such notions, Coach Dale asks Buddy (one of the Hickory players) to measure the distance from the foul-line to the basket. "Fifteen feet." The players look quizzical. He then asks Ollie (atop another player's shoulders) to measure the height of the hoop. "Ten feet."

Coach Dale then remarked, "I think you'll find those are the exact measurements as our gym back in Hickory." A sense of relief comes over the players. Tension is relieved. A much-needed and beneficial reality check. In an instant, the swirl of emotional self-doubt was grounded in the light of undeniable objectivity. "OK let's get dressed for practice."

* * *

"The people saw that Moshe delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, 'Rise up, make us gods who will go before us, for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt - we do now know what became of him!" (Exodus 32:1)

Rashi: " … Satan came and confused the world, and displayed an image of darkness, gloom and confusion, to imply, 'Moshe must certainly have died that is why confusion has come to the word.'"

Rashi (here and elsewhere in Chumash) identifies our Nation's pre-golden calf state of mind as one of irbuviya - literally, confusion. Taking it one step further, the Alter from Kelm postulates that this very confusion is the common-denominator (or culprit as it may be) shared by many of our Nation's most regrettable episodes - i.e., the golden calf, our response to the spies reconnaissance mission, etc.). The message is clear - action emerging from confusion and a lack of clarity is rarely a recipe for success. To the contrary, those are usually the decisions we wish we could have back

A student once called to discuss the prospects of his re-kindling a relationship with his former spouse. Obviously a question of this magnitude was "beyond my pay scale" -as they say - and truly sound counsel required broader emotional shoulders and more psychological know-how than I possess. Nevertheless, I ran the circumstances past a world-class, experienced relationships counselor who advised as follows: "Ask him if his current situation is conducive to clear thinking and solid, stable decision-making." My hunch is, he told me, that this is just a rash, ungrounded emotional response to a general lack of stability in other areas of his life.

In my follow-up conversations with this student it became very clear, very quickly, that that was indeed the case and a confluence of factors -- and the collateral uncertainty generated thereby -- was fueling this irrational thought-process.

Life is essentially a career of decision-making. Some are macro, grandiose "life-decisions" and others are picayune and not worth churning over. We fret over many of them. We hem-and-haw. We drag our feet. We deliberate. We contemplate. We seek advice of objective, sage counsel. The ones we regret the most are usually those that were the least-grounded and the by-product of circumstances not conducive to rational, deliberate analyses.

Years ago, I approached my Rabbi about a certain employment opportunity. "Do you think I should take this job?"

"You have to take this job," he responded.

"Can I sleep on it?" I responded sheepishly.

"Always sleep on it."

Priceless words from one who has stood in the trenches with many a decision-maker.

May we merit the self-knowledge to discern whether or not our decision-making processes are sound and may Hashem provide the wisdom and guidance to illuminate our lives with choices free and clear from the deleterious effects of irbuviya, confusion.

Good Shabbos.

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