From the other side of the bench


Affecting fate

By David Seidemann

Exactly how hard should I try? When does human effort end and divine effort begin? If G-d is all-knowing and a leaf doesn’t turn over in the wind without G-d’s will, how is that reconciled with man’s free choice? Can fault be attributed to man when G-d created the evil inclination? Where does behavior begin and instinct end? Nature or nurture? Chicken or the egg?

These are but a few of the philosophical questions that have plagued man throughout the ages. They have been dealt with and addressed by luminaries and intellectual giants on all points of the religious and philosophical spectrum and far be it from me to even attempt to provide a satisfactory answer. I’m still trying to figure out why men leave without saying goodbye and women say goodbye but never leave. Though acknowledging that success in addressing the above is a long shot, let me nevertheless try.

Place some play dough in front of a toddler. Better yet, announce, “Who wants to play with play dough?” Some toddlers will respond. Of those that respond, one might smash the play dough with his fist and the other might mold the dough into his favorite object.

Make the same announcement the next day and you will get the same response. After a while you will know who will come play and who won’t, who will pound the clay into nothingness and who will create. After a while, the child whose instinct led him to behave as the builder will develop his behavior to the point that he will instinctively produce artifacts. No longer will his instinct simply keep him from destroying; no longer will his instinct simply make him a builder; instead he will instinctively produce art.

And so it goes. Each period of practiced behavior leads to a deeper instinct to do the proper thing on a higher and deeper level. Soon the joy and pride emerges not only in producing a finished product but in the actual process of production itself. The exercise becomes as rewarding as the result. Success is measured by effort.

Most importantly, soon the child who desires the option of creating with play dough will place himself in the room where the play dough is being offered as a choice. That, my friends, is life. G-d serves up the menu, but in my experience, it is man who decides upon a course of action that will place him in a particular restaurant with specific menus. The decisions we mortals make dictate the alternatives G-d places before us.

Therefore my options will differ from your options depending upon where I choose to place myself, depending on the effort I make to be where I am. And thus, no amount of human effort can be deemed wasted as it creates unique options which will affect you, your children, your grandchildren and all generations to follow.

So let me share with you a story of which I have personal knowledge, of a family who spared no human effort and who dictated the final options which G-d placed before them.

Long story short, this couple’s toddler was diagnosed by four different doctors with a brain tumor. Surgery was scheduled, and death, or at least permanent blindness, was a possible risk of the surgery. Unfortunately, it was also the risk if surgery was not performed. At the request of the family, I asked a certain rabbi in Brooklyn if a fifth doctor’s opinion should be sought. The words of that rabbi still ring in my ears: “Tell them to keep asking until they [the parents] hear the answer they want to hear”.

The fifth doctor observed the same scans as the first four and provided a completely different diagnosis. There was no brain tumor, no need for surgery, no chance of death, G-d forbid, and no chance of blindness. Rather, what was seen on the scan was a matter that could be treated with a series of injections. Today, this “toddler” is a young lady, 20 years old and about to begin graduate school, having attained a near 4.0 in high school.

This is not to suggest that all medical issues resolve themselves positively. Nor is it to suggest that any rabbi holds a magic wand and can create “happily ever after” endings to all situations. What this incident does reveal however, is that to opt for passivity, to exclaim, “I’ve done my part and now I leave it to G-d”, often cheats oneself and denies oneself other possible outcomes.

The parents of this young girl created new options that G-d would ultimately place before them. Their choice and exercise of free will changed the options from surgery causing blindness or death, to injections. Until they asked for that fifth opinion, injections were not an option. Sight was not an option. Their vision gave their daughter sight.

We can affect our pre-determined fate by changing the final two or three choices G-d places before us. The recipe for that is to be proactive, to be aggressive, to seize every opportunity, to have a plan and to adjust your plan when an apparent stumbling block is placed before you.

One need not look further than Adam and Eve, who had but two choices in front of them as they lived blissfully without worry in the Garden of Eden. Then, through an act of man, they were expelled, and suddenly the choices they once had were no longer available to them. They and every generation to come were affected and were forced to live by an entirely new set of choices and challenges than originally contemplated.

Take control of your life. Think, analyze and act. The choices we make today are our children’s opportunities for tomorrow. The parents of that girl gave her sight and a life to enjoy it. We owe our children no less.

David Seidemann's columns have been noted for excellence by the New York Press Association and by the American Jewish Press Association. He is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at