I have learned many of life’s lessons seated in the same chair in my dad’s study at home. Countless times, I have walked through the door into that room, which is really more of a closet, and perched myself on that same chair collecting my thoughts. What I have to say is never a confession, but rather a moral dilemma I have discovered in some aspect of my life. I will state the reason I seek his guidance, and then it is my turn to wait as my father takes a moment to think about the situation. After both parties are adequately prepared, my father will launch himself into a long speech, with rambling reminiscences and analogies which are as much for his benefit as mine. However, when he begins to get the idea I’ve heard enough, he will repeat back to me the same question I asked him. This used to catch me off balance, but I eventually realized that he was teaching me one of the most important lessons: Life is full of moral decisions which shape the kind of person you are. These are the hardest choices, and at the end of the day, no one can make them for you, it is up to you and what you believe.
For a long time, I had been planning a trip to Rhode Island with friends to see a concert featuring one of my favorite rap groups, Atmosphere. We had researched Amtrak trains, gotten all the directions we could need on mapquest, and anticipated every possible problem. We expected our parents to be so impressed they would have to let us go. We printed out our research along with prices for everything, and presented them to our parents. I approached my parents that night, gave them the information on the concert, and sat back expecting a definitive “yes.” Instead, I got a slight chuckle, and my mom said, “That’s awesome that you guys planned all this, Dan, but the 20th is Kol Nidre, maybe another time though.”
Now, I am a Reformed Jew, which is not to say that I’m not observant, but that certain customs in the Jewish faith seem impractical to modern life, and so we practice Judaism in a slightly different way than an Orthodox or Conservative Jew might. However, Reformed or not, Kol Nidre, or “all vows” was one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, and suddenly, my culture was in the way of a concert I desperately wanted to see.
My parents listened doubtfully as I made my case. I argued that this plan had been in the workings for a very long time, and would probably only happen once in my life, whereas Kol Nidre is celebrated every year. I explained that music is as much a part of my life as religion, and it would mean a lot to me to go to this concert. My father, in his infinite wisdom, consented, and said, “Dan, this choice is your’s. Mom and I are fine with you going to the concert, but I want you to think about how you feel about your religion, and remember that these kinds of decisions will be omnipresent in your life.” After thinking it over for a little while, I decided that I would go to the concert, and so I gave my friends the go ahead.
I had a blast at the concert, but I still don’t feel completely right about my decision. My father was correct: I now have to live with the fact that I chose a rap concert over my religion, my up-bringing and my culture. I didn’t let down my parents or anyone else, but I did let down myself. The paradox in the situation is that if I had chosen to observe Kol Nidre, I would have felt that I had disappointed my friends and missed a concert I had been anticipating for weeks. No matter what my decision had been, I would have had misgivings, and I would have had to live with that choice. I went to synagogue on Yom Kippur morning with the intention of asking God to forgive me for missing Kol Nidre services. However, as I was listening to the torah being read, I realized that it was the perfect insight into my moral dilemma. In this portion, God says to the Israelites, “I have set before you life and death good and evil, choose good that you may live.” God has given us the ability to choose, because the decisions we make shape the kind of people we are. This is what I believe.
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