When It’s Better to Do Nothing

My second-grade son came home from yeshivah last Wednesday with what I’m sure he thought was breaking news to me. “Ta, did you hear?” he asked me. “Cruz dropped out. Donald Trump is the winner!”

My distaste for the candidacy of Trump must have been as clear to him as it is to readers of this space, because he clued me in on the conundrum I was now facing. “But what are you going to do now? You can’t vote for Hillary,” he astutely pointed out. “So you have to vote for Trump!”

I took the opportunity to teach my son what I think is a very important lesson. Life is about making choices, and often we are presented with what we perceive as being two choices, neither of which is palatable. It is easy to get sucked into making the mistake of choosing to align with what is, for lack of a better term, the lesser of two evils. But that kind of thinking forgets that there is another option.

Doing nothing.

And so I explained to my son that I would not be voting for (or supporting in any way) either of the major parties’ candidates for president. My concerns about Secretary Clinton include (but are not limited to) how her policies and Supreme Court appointments will affect religious liberty and degrade even further the moral character of this country.

I have the same concerns about Trump.

The balance of the Supreme Court is a favorite argument made by those who try to convince people like me, who hold in contempt the idea of a Trump presidency, to hold our noses and pull the lever for him. My response to that is simple. If I were the least bit confident that Mr. Trump could be trusted to do any better, perhaps I might consider it. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe that is the case.

On Monday, Trump promised to release a list of 5 to 10 judges from which he would “personally guarantee” he would choose a Supreme Court appointee in the next week. The Monday he said that wasn’t this week— it was March 21, more than eight weeks ago. The list is still nowhere to be found.

So for now, I’ll choose to do nothing, which is an underrated choice.

I was happy that this less-than-optimal circumstance afforded me the opportunity to explain to my son that this often comes up in areas much more important than politics, when misreading our choices can have much more disastrous consequences.

There are times when circumstances arise which we perceive as presenting a binary choice between two things which, as frum Jews, we know are both wrong for us. What are we then to do? Do we choose the necessary evil over the other, far worse alternative?

The Navi tells us (Shmuel 2 6:6–7) that when the Aron was brought back from its being captured by the Pelishtim, Dovid Hamelech had it put in a wagon instead of having Leviim carry it. As often happens, the wagon’s movement caused its contents to be jostled, and a man named Uzzah was worried that the Aron might fall. He grabbed the Aron Hashem to prevent it from being disgraced by falling to the ground.

For doing that, the Navi tells us, he was killed.

The Gemara (Sotah 35a) asks the obvious question: What did Uzzah do wrong? I imagine many people wonder the same thing. What choice did he have? Should he have let the Aron fall to the ground? Even if it is forbidden to grab the Aron, what choice did he have?

The answer, the Gemara tells us, is that the Aron is “Nosei es nosav — it carries its carriers.” Uzzah should have realized that, and if he had, he would have realized that the predicament he thought he was in simply wasn’t a predicament at all.

One of my rebbeim underscored this point and how it applies to all things in Yiddishkeit. If it is unequivocally forbidden to do something, we aren’t allowed to do it. No matter if we see it as being the better option of only two. In those circumstances, where halachah does not allow for an exception, the fact that we only see two bad options is no reason to embrace one of them. Better to do nothing, shev v’al taaseh adif.

Uzzah believed that there were only two choices in front of him: the desecration of the Aron, or doing what he did. His mistake was not realizing that the Aron (which is often used to represent the entirety of the Torah as well) does not need people to do forbidden things to make sure it doesn’t fall. As it turns out, it is able to take care of itself.

Too often, people get caught up in the false “this or that” choice. But, like Uzzah, we fail to see that there are other possibilities we may not have thought of. So whether it is a question pertaining to matters of halachah or hashkafah, deciding whether to do something which is wrong because we don’t like our other options doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

Especially since you can do nothing.

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