Nitzavim/Vayelech Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30
“See I have placed before you life and good, and death and evil … I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life so that you and your offspring will live.”
This key verse in the Torah reading for the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana emphasizes God’s gift to us of free choice; the ability to choose between life and good or death and evil. Free choice is the fundamental human trait that enables us to serve God effectively.
The choice between good and evil is familiar to us all. Though morality has suffered decline in many contemporary societies, nevertheless, good and evil are fairly well recognized and our choice to do good and avoid evil is evident.
However,in the verse cited above, we are also given the ability to choose between life and death. At first glance that seems a bit strange. Other than those embroiled in terrorist philosophies, who would choose death? Why did God feel it necessary to command us to “choose life…”
When the Torah speaks of ‘death’ we need to understand that it is not referring solely to the state of no longer being alive on this earth. God is warning us against what death represents. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp this concept is to take a closer look at ‘life’.
Life in the Torah is much more than breathing; life is a journey, a process of growing into a spiritually mature person, developing moral character and becoming a viable ‘ambassador’ of God’s presence in the world. He created us in His image and His likeness; life is about growing into that very image and likeness so that people would learn what God is like by knowing you.
Being spiritually alive is about taking responsibility; facing challenges and problems and through them becoming better rather than bitter. That being the case, we can deduce that ‘choosing death’ is related to irresponsibility, laziness in dealing with issues, rejecting discipline and hard work and failing to mature. To live ‘spiritually dead’ is to choose comfort over effort, an easy life over a life full of challenge and growth.
We must also realize that choosing ‘death’ also impacts the way we serve God. Obeying His commandments and statutes mechanically or routinely without seeking an ever more intimate relationship with Him quickly degenerates into ‘dead’ religion. The greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources.” Every action, every good deed, every choice to obey God’s Word becomes powerless if not flowing from a heart of devoted love for the God of heaven.
This message is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah in the coming week. On these Holy days we are not only judged on our words, deeds and choices during the past year, we also face an evaluation on who we are as individuals.
It is possible to live an essentially lazy, comfortable life in a ‘religious’ way; following rules, traditions and customs on the outside without a flow of love pouring out of the heart. As we approach Rosh Hashana, the call to our souls is for an authentic spiritual connection that teaches us how to live from a position of overflowing grateful love towards God day by day.
In Tune with Torah this week = on this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, it behooves us all to seriously examine ourselves, not with endless questions and lists but with one simple thought: am I closer to God now than I was last year at this time? Am I following Him more nearly than I was last year?
Shabbat Shalom to all of you.
If you’re looking for a Rosh Hashana gift for a friend or family member, allow me to recommend the volume entitled IN TUNE WITH TORAH, a collection of past year’s commentaries on the Torah.