My teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi taught that the concept of free will can be compared to a river. Life is seldom smooth as Lake Placid, and not usually like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but it is often more like shooting the rapids. We don’t get to choose most of the currents that shape our lives, but we have the freedom to paddle among them with the best skill we can muster as we set out course. I am inspired by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik to think of this as the difference between two Hebrew concepts: goral, fate, i.e. the life circumstances, situations beyond our control (from our birth onward), and yi’ud, ” the destiny that we shape through our choices in response.
The Stream of Life Ebbs and Flows, Constantly Changing
Reb Zalman also loved the story about King Solomon searching for a ring that could make a happy person sad and a sad person happy. The king was pleased when a silversmith made a ring with the words, Gam Zeh Ya’avor גם זה יעבור “This too shall pass.” Reb Zalman had these words printed on a rubber bracelet (it also had the phrase, Gam Zu Le-Tovah גם זו לטובה “This too is for the good”). When we were going through a hard period in our family life, he sent us several, and I wore mine daily for strength, until it was time to pass it along.
Life flows like a stream. Sometimes it’s hard to let go. Sometimes it is healing. Either way, we can no more stop change than stop a river from flowing. Without that flow, the world would stagnate. This too shall flow; this too shall pass.
Featured Image: Rafting on Selway River, via Wikimedia