Making Decisions

Mushka Reiter, United States
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth

Decision making. What’s so hard about it? It drags and drags and makes your mind go crazy. It makes you have anxiety and affects your physical wellbeing. Why can’t we just know what we want?

There’s a reason why I couldn’t decide whether to write this essay until the day before it was due…

When making a decision, we’re afraid of being stuck in something and then not being able to get out of it later, it’s a risk! We don’t see the future! Humans are afraid of change, it’s much easier to stick with what you are used to.

What makes even tiny decisions like choosing a color bag so hard? Why can’t we just know what we want?

Decisions are hard, and sometimes, if you wait too long to make your decision, you end up regretting on what you missed out on as a result of not deciding in time. For example, my hesitating to decide to write this essay thinking I won’t have enough time, might just be the Yetzer Hara, my Evil Inclination, trying to tell me that I have already a different project under my wings and therefore don’t have time to do this as well..

Decisions are something I sometimes struggle with. But I’ve begun to discover how Chassidus offers insight and practical guidance in this most-important part of our lives.

There are two primary types of decisions in life, smaller, more trivial ones, and larger, more important ones.

Let’s explore some ways to get past our smaller decisions:

An example of smaller decisions can be something as simple as deciding on clothing or shoes. That may seem quite trivial and insignificant, but for someone who is indecisive it can be quite a big deal. There are times when one may order more than one pair of shoes from online, because they cannot make a decision when seeing them online.

For smaller decisions such as these, (and trust me, they can be huge in the moment!) here are three pointers that can help:

A) The only things that are eternal are spiritual things; Torah and good deeds. After 120 years, a person is not going up to heaven with the clothes he decided to buy or the company kitchen mixer he chose to use. A person goes up with the deeds he did.(1)

B) By realizing that physical things are here today, gone tomorrow. This will not make a huge difference in his life and one day the physical things that are in front of him now, will be nothing!

C) The ultimate recognition to come to according to Chassidus is “Ein Od Milvado” – there is nothing besides G-d. One can realize that there is no other reality other than G-d and G-dliness. Everything else in this world is nothing but naught.(2) By thinking with this perspective, one can have an easier time with choosing that color dress.

What happens when we reach bigger decisions? Decisions that pertain to our life and soul’s purpose in this world, such as choosing a spouse, career, where to live, or a serious medical decision.

How can we go about them? The Lubavitcher Rebbe advised numerous pointers on this topic:

1. Luckily, the Rebbe brought to the surface the concept of Asei Lecha Rav(3), literally appointing for ourselves a teacher. The Rebbe wanted every Jew to have a personal mentor for their spiritual life. Just like we have a doctor for the sake of our physical life. Our personal Mashpia, our mentor’s job is to guide us into our decisions that we make(4). We go to them with a question, a dilemma, of something we are not sure whether to do or not , to how to go about a certain aspect. The Mashpia’s purpose is to help you think clearer about the different sides and bring you different perspectives. (No, your Mashpia won’t always tell you what to do, that’s ultimately your choice, we were all blessed with Chochma, Bina, and Daat, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, a mind of our own to think with.)

2. In addition to this, the Rebbe tells us that a way to come to a conclusion on whether or not a certain decision is the right one, is to imagine yourself as if you already did the action. How do you feel? Satisfied and happy, or regret?(5)

We have to look in to the future. How do you see yourself feeling in that situation? How do you see yourself in the other situation? Try to imagine yourself in both outcomes. Which do you see yourself better? And after that, do you think you will have resentment doing it? We cannot do things with resentment, as we must serve G-d with joy.

3. The Rebbe once wrote(6) in response to an individual who wrote about their difficulty in making decisions and doubting whether or not they are doing the right thing. We must believe and remind ourselves of the concept of Hashgocha Pratis, Divine Providence, that G-d is running this world, controlling everything happening at each and every moment. If we believe and trust in this, then we also believe that G-d is in our minds as well, helping us with every step of the way! By relying on our inner feeling of trust towards G-d, instead of creating problematic queries that some do not even pertain to you, this will get rid of the confusion, a give a sense of security and confidence.

The After Fact:

Okay, so we are in the process of making an important decision; we are equipped with the tools. Our minds take us back and forth, side to side. Should I do this, should I not? And then we decide.

We decided. BOOM! Wait! Did I make the right choice? What if I don’t like it? Should I go back and choose the other option? We start becoming anxious, something isn’t settling! We start second-guessing our decisions!

Here are two ideas to consider:

Number One:

There is a concept that often, the first thought that you think of to do, is the right choice. There’s a reason you thought of it. Once a second thought comes, it could very likely be the Yetzer Hara, our evil inclination, trying to convince you and second guess yourself. The trick is to be able to differentiate where these second thoughts are coming from.

Lack of intellectual discernment happens to the best of us and also affects our service in G-d! Reb Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl(7), was a holy disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, and a poor man all his life. Once, a chossid, another disciple, brought him a gift of three hundred rubel in banknotes. Reb Nochum and his household were overjoyed as it would be able to pay back their debts. After the gift had arrived, Chassidim came to visit Reb Nochum in his home. Amongst them, was a Chossid who poured out his heart to him, saying that he has not paid his tuition fees in more than a year, and to top it off, he had the wedding of his eldest daughter to pay for. Reb Nochum thought that G-d had given him this great opportunity to help this Chossid out, and after asking how much he needed, it was exactly the amount that he had just received, 300 banknotes! However, right when he decided to give this man the money, a second thought came to his mind. Was it right to give all this money to just one man? With an amount like this, he could supported 6 families, 5 others and his own! Both views seemed equally good; one was saying one thing and one was saying another! When Reb Nochum told this over he explained, “After considering both sides, I realized that these views came from two different places, the Yetzer Hara- Good Inclination and the Yetzer Tov- our Evil Inclination. The idea to split the money amongst two families did not come from the Good Inclination. How did I know?

Because if it was, as soon as I received the money, it would have told me this thought! However, the thought of dividing the money amongst a few came after I listened to my Good Inclination to give all the money to that one Chossid; only then did it arouse in my mind!” Reb Nochum came to the conclusion that when G-d was guiding him in the right direction, that is when the Yetzer Hara tries to trick us, and he realized where the second thought was coming from and went on with giving all the money to that one Chossid.

When you are trying to make a decision and you obviously want to choose the right thing, so you do. What happens next? You start thinking of all the bad and hard things that will come about from your newly made decision. What did I get myself into? The Yetzer Hara comes exactly then, when you are settled with an idea and then makes you rethink and second guess yourself. The question we must ask ourselves is, what is the origin of this? Where did this come from? If one made a decision from a good place, knowing from the beginning that they wanted to do the right one, and then after, only after, did second guessing and doubts come up, this is the Yetzer Hara. If you were supposed to think of this from the first place, then you would have, and you would have chose this as your first, good choice. How do we know it is the Yetzer Hara? He is trying to make it hard for you, and reminds you about how difficult this thing that you chose, will be. Reb Nochum of Chernobyl’s idea of splitting the money came second, it was after he decided to do good with his gift and give it all to the Chossid. His thought about perhaps dividing the money, came afterwards!

Let’s think practically for a moment. We do all the correct things, speak to our Mashpia, think about the future, and about trust in G-d, all the above protocols, and make a decision. And then wait! Look what I’m getting myself into! Maybe I should go back and make the other choice? We must look at where these thoughts are originating from. We must go a little deeper!

Yes, it could be a very valid argument. Perhaps the choice you made goes against the rules of Torah, perhaps it would be going against your parents wishes, perhaps this choice would make you go hang around the wrong people or places. Then yes! This would be a valid point to rethink about. You can think it over and thank G-d for giving you the realization and understanding that this may be a wrong choice.

However! Let’s say it was a good choice, you spoke to your Mashpia, and made the decision to the best of your ability. What are these thoughts? Are they trying to make you lazy? Making you think it’ll be too hard? Then this is the Yetzer Hara. With this awareness, you can be confident that you will not allow it to make you think second thoughts.

The Second Point to Ponder:

Once you realize that the second-guessing is coming from the Yetzer Hara, how do we deal with his arguments?

Chassidus teaches us that in general, there are two ways to combat our Evil Inclination:(8)

1) “In a way of war- מלחמה בדרך ,“giving the Evil Inclination a place to present it’s claims, hence, in our case, telling you that this decision will be too hard to do! You listen to it and give your own claims as to why your side is better, you allow yourself to Pilpul with it. “Pilpuling” is going back and forth in an argumentative way, this is a more difficult method.

2) “In a way of peace- מנוחה בדרך ,“when you add so much light and goodness, that the Evil Inclination is pretty quiet. In our case, we can be so confident that we followed our protocols, decided in the right way, thought about what G-d would want me to decide, made the decision, and know for a fact that you chose good and that anything else holding you back from doing that good is the Evil Inclination. This confidence and peace of mind is enough of adding light to allow the Evil Inclination and all of its fancy ideas to fall away. Using this method is easier and smoother.

Once you make the decision, if you start thinking about it again, sorry friend, but you are “pilpulling” (having a back and forth, and back and forth argument) with the Yetzer Hara, that evil inclination inside of you.

Tell the Yetzer Hara, your Evil Inlination to be quiet and that you are going to stop arguing with it. Tell yourself you are stronger than it! Don’t even give the Yetzer Hara thought or attention, don’t argue with it, remember, that an argument needs both sides.

Bottom Line

Yes! Decisions can be challenging! Yet, luckily, the Torah, and especially the Torah of Chassidus, gives us the tools for this, and for every aspect of our lives. For smaller, seemingly “childish” decisions, we can think of מלבדו עוד אין ,that in truth, our world does not exist. For bigger decisions, we have a Mashpia to guide us in the right perspectives, we have faith and trust in G-d that he will guide us in making the right decisions, and we have the tactic of knowing when our “second guesses” are valid or not.

Let us take these remarkable tools that we are so lucky to have, apply Chassidus to our day-to-day lives, and let us all have an easier time in making decisions!

פרקי אבות ו:ט 1
2 תניא שער היחוד והאמונה פרק ג’
3 פרקי אבות א:ו
היכל מנחם חלק בי ע’225 4
תורת מנחם פרשת תולדות תשי”ד ע’ 166 הערה 49 5
6 Letter from Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit, Volume 3- dated ה“תשל אלול ה“כ
לקוטי דיבורים חלק ג’ כג:ל 7
מאמר פדה בשלום תשל”ט 8