“It’s late at night and you start browsing Netflix, looking for something to watch. You scroll through different titles, you even read a few reviews, but you just can’t commit to watching any given movie. Suddenly it’s been 30 minutes, and you’re still stuck on infinite browsing mode, so you just give up. You’re too tired to watch anything now, so you cut your losses and fall asleep…I’ve come to believe that this is the defining characteristic of our generation.” [Audience laughs.] “Let’s call it ‘leaving our options open.'”
This is the introduction to Harvard Law Student, Pete Davis’s, graduation speech, which Goalcast featured last week. I was immediately struck by the truth of these words. We’re living in a generation where people are getting married later than ever. Or not at all. Many guys can’t even commit to taking a girl out on a date! Millennials are infamous for job-hopping, more than any other generation. And nowadays, instead of starting a family, many couples are only ready to start owning a dog. This is definitely a commitment-phobic generation.
Davis continues to explain the phenomenon of “leaving our options open.” He says that life is like a hallway, with infinite doors, and behind every door is another possibility. But nobody wants to be stuck behind a door. So people are afraid to enter any doorways. This fear of what’s behind the door leads to another problem, though. There is no pleasure in living life in a hallway.
I got to thinking about how we don’t have infinite options as observant Jews. We have a limited amount of food available (kosher), a limited number of days to do things (considering shabbos and yomtov). We can’t wear every hair or clothes style. We can’t be in every profession. We don’t have endless options.
But if observance is forced – it certainly feels like being trapped behind a locked door. I can tell you that the people at Makom lived lives where they were trapped doing things they never wanted to do. It is torture. This feeling of have no choices, no control is barely a life worth living. For what did God create us other than to exercise our free will?
Then again, as Davis notes, committing to nothing, presents its own array of challenges. Everything is available, anything is possible. But in a sea of infinite choices, meaning is hard to come by. Deep relationships have no way to develop. If having no choices is like a noose, having endless choices is like a bottomless pit, terrifying in its own right.
So what is the solution? What is the middle ground? Davis’s advice is to stop the infinite browsing mode and live a life of commitment. Actively choose to commit to people, to values, to ways of life. What’s the Jewish version of that? Ever since we were freed from Egypt, we have had the responsibility to accept upon ourselves the ol malchus shamayim – “the yoke of Heaven.”
For commitment-phobes, or even just regular people, this is not very attractive imagery. What are we – nothing more than beasts of burden, trapped in a yoke, bound to go where we are led? Who can get behind that idea? Is it not the locked door that we are so terrified of? That we said is barely even living?
Considering what we just learned, perhaps there is another way to view this. What if the yoke can be taken off, but we choose to keep it on? And what if the yoke is more like a link, which we choose to hold onto as it connects us to something deep and meaningful, that spans across both the past and the future, to every other Jew and ultimately to our Maker.
Perhaps that is the commitment Davis speaks of jumping into. Perhaps that is a yoke we can accept upon ourselves.