Friday, August 19, 2011

Too much choice...

They say that the two most common complaints that modern women have is "nothing to wear" and "not enough cupboard space". Life in the 21st Century is an endless smorgasbord of choice (or Multichoice, as the TV people like to call it), yet our society is significantly dissatisfied. While our grandparents may have grappled with the ravages of poverty, we are statistically more prone to depression. In the shtetl they had few lifestyle choices and, in a sense, lived a simpler life. We flick channels and surf the Web, finding "have to have" retail items that grow out-dated as soon as we purchase them. The Talmud's teaching that "one who has a hundred wants two hundred" could well be the slogan of modern living.

G-d always pre-empts problems with the potential for their resolution. He long ago introduced a perspective to help us through the poor-rich reality that we live today- where the more you have, the less you feel you have. He encoded that lesson in the manna, which He delivered daily for forty years to the Jews in the desert.

When Moses recapped his time with the Jewish people in the desert, he also described the manna. "And G-d afflicted you and let you go hungry and fed you the manna..." On the face of it, Moses is praising G-d for feeding the people at a time when they were starving. However, the commentaries point out that Moses was also expressing how the manna "afflicted" those who ate it. What made the manna unique was that it could taste like anything you could imagined. Sounds amazing, surely, but it was actually frustrating. Firstly, you never saw what you were eating. If you imagined eating a succulent steak, the manna would still look like white crystal (its default appearance). Part of the joy of eating is seeing your food. Secondly, considering that the manna could taste like anything at all, you could be eating and wondering what other option you should be imagining (not all that different an experience from getting your meal at a restaurant and then realising that you actually wanted what the next person got).

Those who ate manna felt wealthy on one hand because they had so much choice, but poor on the other because they realised they could never explore all the available options. That does sound remarkably similar to life in our hi-tech, mass-production age.

There was nothing wrong with the manna; the person eating it simply needed to appreciate his or her own limitations. G-d was offering unlimited opportunity, as He does because He is infinitely good. People, however, can only handle bite-size experiences and can never access the full spectrum of his blessings. So, the trick to enjoying the manna was to appreciate that whatever G-d gave you at that moment was exactly what you needed. On the next day, He would give you the next bit of what you needed. G-d always retains a highly accurate sense of what is right for each person at each moment.

Choice is wonderful, but it can overwhelm you. Learn to trust that G-d sends you what you need as you need it and you become the wealthiest person around.

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