According to Wikipedia, this paradox is described as:

It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass (donkey) that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the donkey will always go to whichever is closer, it dies of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision between the hay and water.[1] A common variant of the paradox substitutes the hay and water for two identical piles of hay; the ass, unable to choose between the two, dies of hunger.

Obviously in Judaism, when the choice is between evil or good, then we pick good. If there is evil or evil, then (I think this how to say it), we make the voluntary choice not to participate and isn't something we should choose. I think for example with the trolley problem we cannot flip the switch.

But when there are choices between two good things of equal value, like to become a brain surgeon or a heart surgeon, eat or drink kosher food when hungry and thirsty and both offered equally, prove this theorem over this theorem, read this book or that book, how would one wisely choose which one to pick?

  • Not a great paradox because it assumes the only deciding factor is distance. Makes it incomplete and a bad parable for applying to the real world.
    – Dude
    Commented Jun 27 at 22:59
  • 1
    See Chovot Halevavot 3:4 (I think your question "how would one wisely choose" is also a major theme across parts of the entire book, as in e.g. the introduction)
    – b a
    Commented Jun 29 at 21:28
  • @ba My goal is to read it now. I am looking into it. It blatantly is a major theme across it. Thanks.
    – Teg Louis
    Commented Jun 30 at 2:02

1 Answer 1


Given a choice between two mitzvot, which one should you do? There are scattered guidelines. For example:

-Do first the one that recurs more frequently: תָּדִיר וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ תָּדִיר — תָּדִיר קוֹדֵם -- Tadir veshe'eno tadir, tadir kodem. [Berakhot 27a and 51b, Pesachim 114a, Megillah 29b, Sukkah 54b, Horayot 13, and Zevachim Mishna 10:1] The implication is that because it recurs more often, it must be more important. For example, we put on tzitzit (that is, the tallit) before we put on tefillin, because tzitzit recurs every day, but tefillin recurs every day except Shabbat. [Sefer Ta'amei Haminhagim Umkorei Hadinim]

-Rav Naḥman of Breslov taught that a mitzvah that costs money is worth more than one that costs nothing. So do first the one that costs more.

-The study of Torah is as valuable as many other commandments rolled together: V’talmud Torah k’neged kullam [Mishnah, Peah 1:1; Shabbat 127a]. So which mitzvah is more likely to enrich your knowledge of Torah?

If your choices are unrelated to mitzvot, there are no Jewish guidelines. Judaism is not trying to reduce your free choices to zero.

  • I agree with your last two sentences as I understand it. I am just trying to tease it out just because I was curious. It isn't so much about a question of choice than it is about aesthetics, discerning value of life choices. The bullets you gave me are useful. But it leads to many more questions.
    – Teg Louis
    Commented Jun 27 at 21:55

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