by Sara Yoheved Rigler
Sean decided he would call Roger as soon as he finished his prayers. He was not a thief. Keeping a diamond that didn’t belong to him was not even in his realm of choice. Sean proceeded to put on the Tefillin of the hand, wrapping the straps around his arm and fingers. Then he put on the Tefillin of the head and picked up his prayer book.
Sean knew the Biblical story of Abraham and the three nomads. Abraham was in the midst of a prophetic encounter, communing with Hashem, when he noticed three nomads passing. He interrupted his mystical experience in order to bring the nomads into his encampment, refresh them, and feed them. The lesson, explains the Midrash, is that it’s better to be like Hashem than to commune with Hashem.
Sean made his choice. He put down his prayer book, picked up the telephone, and called the diamond merchant. “I can’t talk now!!” Roger yelled crossly into the telephone. “I’ve lost a 5-carrat diamond that didn’t even belong to me. I’ll be paying it off forever!”
“How much does that necklace cost?” the old man asked, pointing.
Trying to suppress her laughter, the salesgirl replied, “That necklace costs $20,000.”
“And how much are those earrings?” the old man queried.
The salesgirl, playing along, replied, “Those earrings cost $10,000.”
“I’ll take them both,” the old man announced.
He entered the shop, and, reaching into a torn leather pouch he was carrying, counted out $30,000 in cash, as Sean and the salesgirl watched in shock.
A couple hours later, a bag lady came into the store. Wearing frumpy, mismatched clothing, she put down her bags and started browsing. She picked out a few pieces, totaling $20,000, bought them, and trudged out.
From these two unlikely customers, Sean sold $50,000 worth of jewelry within a few hours of returning the $50,000 diamond.
The Choice Box
The small choices in our lives are the rungs of the ladder of the high diving board from which big choices make their grand leap. The righteous gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust did not rise to their exalted level on the dark night when they heard a tremulous knock and opened their door to find a frightened Jewish family seeking refuge. The greatness of these heroes was formed gradually over the years — every time they were riding on a bus and got up to give their seat to an elderly or infirm person. By such repeated small choices to relinquish their own comfort for the sake of a needy person, they made themselves into the people who, when faced with the trembling Jewish family at the door, would say, “Come in. Yes, I’ll hide you.”
Every day each of us is faced with seemingly small choices:
- To yell at an errant employee (or child) or to wait until you calm down.
- To put your change in the tzedaka box by the cashier or to pocket it.
- To tell that juicy piece of gossip by the water cooler or to keep silent.
- To call back the person you told, “I’ll call you back,” or to run off because you’re late for the gym.
- Whether or not to say, “thank you” to the driver as you exit the cab or bus.
- Whether or not to let in a car inching in from a side street.
- Whether or not to pick up and dispose of a piece of litter on the street even though you didn’t drop it.
Everyone has an individual Choice Box. Some people would not anguish over whether or not to lend $500 to an out-of-work friend. If you would never consider doing it, it’s above your Choice Box. If you would do it as a matter of course, with no hesitation, it’s below your Choice Box. If you would struggle with, “He really needs the money to pay his rent, but chances are he won’t be able to pay me back, and there goes my pool membership for the next season,” then you are within your Choice Box.
Small choices are significant because if you never put your change in the tzedaka box and you throw out every charity appeal that comes in the mail, then lending your friend $500 for his rent will never even enter your Choice Box.
Sean was not faced with The Big Choice whether to pocket a $50,000 diamond or return it. Keeping the diamond was below his Choice Box. Sean was faced with A Small Choice: whether or not to pray first and delay returning the diamond till afterwards, letting someone who had yelled at him squirm in the meantime.
Whatever we do, Hashem shadows our actions, as the psalmist says, “Hashem is my shadow on my right hand.” By reporting the lost diamond before praying to Hashem, Sean was in effect saying, “Hashem sees me. Hashem doesn’t want my prayers while I have this diamond in my possession.” Therefore, Hashem responded by sending Sean the two unlikely sales totaling the amount of the diamond as Hashem’s way of saying to Sean, “I see you.”
Hashem notices our small choices. Isn’t it time that we notice them too?
Sara Yoheved Rigler is the author of the new G-d Winked: Tales and Lessons from My Spiritual Adventures. She also leads “The Ladder,” a weekly teleconference group for single women who want to grow spiritually. For more information, see her website www.sararigler.com.