Weekly Torah Commentary — Re-eh August 14, 2015

Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Choice is the unique gift of God to mankind; the Bible speaks of choice in terms such as blessings and curses, or life and death. Doesn’t it seem curious that we have consistently needed to be urged to choose life? What should be a ‘no brainer’ isn’t! Why would any sane person choose a path that leads to death over the blessed path of life? Yet since the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit has seemed the more attractive choice.

The alternative tree in the Garden should probably be called the Tree of Death though we have used the more acceptable description, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is thought of as an ‘option’ to the Tree of Life while in fact it is its utter opposite. It is the tree that represented a confusion of good and evil, a tree whose fruit distanced us from the source of Life itself while pretending to be the source of deep spirituality. This tree and its fruit forever represents the choices that lead to death: of experience without understanding and knowledge without godly wisdom.

This choice has not changed much since the days of Adam and Eve. In our generation, computer technology and the internet give us access to a staggering amount of information but good and evil are often blurred and confused.

How much of the information at our fingertips is reliable? How do we protect our children from randomly accepting as truth whatever they read on the internet? As intelligent adults, how are we doing at discerning good from evil in the midst of the barrage of words and images we are constantly fed?

And interestingly, isn’t it curious that one of the most successful computer companies in the world has as its logo a piece of fruit with a bite missing? Did its founder intend that as a message, a warning? Or is it just a coincidence?

Technology is not evil in itself; in fact, modern technology has brought many benefits to mankind in various fields such as medicine. However, it is the confusion of good and evil, the distortion of Truth and Godliness that must be recognized and avoided. Yet the fruit of the tree of death continues to entice and attract our imagination. Why? Are we hard-wired to self-destruct? Is the urge to experience the fruit of the ‘tree of death’ a stubborn desire for what we cannot have?

The prophet Daniel told us that in the end of days knowledge would increase. No generation before the present one has had such a tsunami of information overwhelm it. And it is precisely because of that, that we need all the more to be a discerning people, able to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsehood, particularly within the realm of biblical and moral thought and values. All of our modern sophistication has not made us immune to confusion; in fact, the opposite is true.

Now more than ever, we need a healthy dose of the fruit of the Tree of Life – of clear morals and righteous values that accurately interpret the enormity of information that defines modern life. Moral choices seem less cut-and-dried than those faced by previous generations. ‘Shades of grey’ seem to have obliterated the black-and-white of yesterday.

The message of this week’s Torah portion is that in every generation complex issues come down to one basic question: Which choice will lead me closer to the Source of true spiritual life?

The Word of God, symbolized by the Tree of Life, is THE source of unchangeable spiritual and moral guidelines. Evil clothes itself in deception, luring the soul with empty promises. The Word of God offers life, and that more abundantly. The promises contained therein are trustworthy; the principles clear and free of confusion.

The choice that confronted the Children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land is the same choice that confronts us, individually and collectively, to this very day. Two paths lie before us, life and death. Moses reminded Israel – and reminds us today – to rise to the occasion, to raise our heads above the swirling clouds of confusion and fix our gaze on the Tree of Life.

Above all, Moses reminds us in this week’s Torah reading that we are capable of making the right choice – but it is a choice.

God, His angels and the heroes of faith throughout the generations, urge us: “Choose life.”

In Tune with Torah this week = we are about to enter the Hebrew month of Elul, the annual month of Repentance. While we search our hearts in preparation for Rosh Hashana, the Feast of Trumpets, it is an opportune time to review our own pattern of choices over the past year and to set a course for improvement in the days ahead.

Shabbat Shalom

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