The importance of our actions


[Rabbi Akiva taught:] Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted. And the world is judged favorably, yet all depends on the preponderance of good deeds (Pirkei Avot 3:19).

Rabbi Akiva addresses a basic problem of human action in a world with a God who is, as the ancient rabbis taught, both omniscient and loving. If God already knows what we are going to do, then why does it matter if we do good? And if the world is judged favorably – if, as we hope, God focuses on our good intentions rather than our often lacking deeds – then why does it matter if we do bad? Akiva answers both questions by embracing paradox. Yes, all of our actions are foreseeable by God, but still the choices we make matter deeply. And yes, God judges the world favorably, but still the good deeds that we do are the foundation of the world’s continued existence.

Today, our questions may be phrased somewhat differently. When such large forces are at play in the world, how could our choices possibly matter? And when we seem so small, how could our good deeds make a difference? To answer both, we, too, need to embrace Akiva’s paradox. Yes, the world is large and we are small, and yes, our choices and our deeds still matter. The ancients push us to see cosmic significance in the smallest of our actions. Our next choice, our next deed, could tip the balance and fate of the world. May we make the right one!