Weekly Torah Commentary – Nitzavim September 30, 2016

Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20

“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.”


God has given each of us a clear choice: the ability to choose life and good, or death and evil, and it is this choice that is the very foundation of our spiritual life.   Life and good vs. death and evil. Interesting parallels, don’t you think?

It would appear that the Torah is saying we have two pairs of choices, not just one. We have the right to choose good or evil; we also have the right to choose life or death.

To choose between good and evil is a straightforward commandment. While we face situations and temptations in life that would seek to seduce us away from faithfulness to God because the ‘evil’ seems to hold a greater promise of happiness than the ‘good, we know the right thing is to choose ‘good’. Whether we do or not is our responsibility.

But what about a choice between ‘life’ and ‘death’?  Apart from suicide, none of us chooses death over life.  In fact we have an innate drive for preservation of life.  So what are we to derive from this verse?

The ‘death’ referenced here is not simply a matter of ceasing to breathe.   And, the ‘life’ referenced here is not simply a matter of continuing to breathe!  The Torah is giving us spiritual principles.

Biblically speaking, the true meaning of life is that our time on this earth is a journey towards holiness.  Learning from His Word what He desires of us, developing our character, growing in spirituality is all part of what the Bible means by ‘choose life’. Being alive means directly facing the challenges that life presents and using them to become a better person.

Choosing ‘death’, on the other hand, is that attitude that avoids dealing with challenges, opts to escape difficulties and trials, and leaves spirituality off its radar. Death is the choice of comfort over effort, of a laze life over a life full of challenge and growth.

It is important to note that choosing death is not limited to failure to keep the commandments. Someone can appear to be doing all the right things externally and sitll be ‘dead’ inside. What is frightening is that such a person lives his life on ‘cruise control’ all the while believing he’s just fine. If he never really pushes himself to further develop his personal relationship with God, to make time for prayer, to work at improving his character, it could be said that he’s choosing a living death; the comfortable or lazy option.

Actually what we are discussing could be explained this way as well. Life is a constant struggle between two contradictory forces that pull us in opposite directions. The body wants its pleasurable comforts; the spirit of man hungers for a relationship with God, expressed by a desire to expand and grow. Thus, each person is constantly faced with these conflicting forces pulling him in opposite directions. In this week’s Torah Portion we are told that to succeed in life, must choose life.

This lesson is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah. On these Holy days we are urged to examine ourselves, to take a spiritual inventory of where we are as a person – what is important to us, what are our priorities?

The choice between living an essentially comfortable life (even if it is done in a ‘religious’ way) and striving to fulfill one’s potential in service to our God is an essential element of Rosh Hashanah.

In Tune with Torah this week = this weekend is the perfect time on God’s calendar to set aside some time to evaluate our spiritual life.  Are we consistent in seeking a closer relationship with the LORD, week by week, month by month? What do we struggle with and what steps will we take to overcome those struggles? In what ways is God calling us to deepen our relationship with Him?

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