The “If” of Chance and the “If” of Choice

Posted on May 31, 2024 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

A few years ago, MetLife ran a clever ad that featured an image of their iconic blimp piloted by Snoopy and the word LIFE that highlighted the middle letters “IF.” Its tag line was, “Metlife, for the IF in LIFE.” Beyond good advertising, the ad offered sage advice. There is wisdom in being prepared for the exigencies of life. We all know this is true. Few if any among us could imagine not insuring our homes, our cars, or our lives. We know that things happen that are beyond our control and we are wise to do our best to mitigate their impact as much as possible.

Sometimes the chance occurrences of life are overwhelming, leaving us feeling powerless. Storms, floods, illnesses and pandemics can wreak havoc that is unavoidable. At such times, it can be very helpful to remember that there are limits to the impact of such events. Unquestionably, they rob us of certain options, but they do not change our fundamental ability to make choices.

We learn this important lesson from the opening words of parshat bechukotai, the Torah portions we read this week. Bechukotai describes the blessings that flow from following God’s laws and the curses that come from breaking them. The key to understanding the parsha is to be found in its very first word, “im,” which means, “if.” “If you follow My laws…” good things will happen. “If not…” disaster lies in store. “If,” here, indicates choice and control. Our fate is in our own hands, says the Torah, depending upon the choices we make.

It is easy to allow ourselves to dwell on the “ifs” of chance. They are so real and so weighty — indeed frightful and shocking. How much better it would be, though, if we were to make a concerted effort to focus our attention and intention on the “ifs’ of choice. “If” we do, we can chart a course that will make us feel empowered to seek goodness and blessing in our lives wherever the winds of chance may take us.

In this spirit I share with you this powerful poem by Rudyard Kipling:

If— BY RUDYARD KIPLING  Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men people doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men people count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a leader Man, my friend son!

Wishing you the peace, joy and beauty of Shabbat!

 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck