See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil (Deuteronomy 30:15)
…therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed (ibid., verse 19)
At some point, there was a trend of people wearing large, white t-shirts with the words “CHOOSE LIFE” in big, black letters. I never knew if the sentiment implied, “live it up”, or was some sort of vague, Christian missionary message. But people bought these t-shirts in droves. Similar phrases have made their way into the pop- and motivational lexicons, such as the Latin carpe diem. There is something attractive about the invitation to surmount your misgivings and either do what you would do if you knew you could not fail, or savor every moment of life.
The verse states, “See, I have placed before you this day good and life, evil and death” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Rashi (loc. cit. notes that the juxtaposition of concepts suggests linkage: “if you engage in that which is good, you experience life, and if you engage in evil, you experience death”. It’s not a classic “if-then” statement; in each pair, the two things happen simultaneously. There is a way of being that, because it is good, it is life, and another way, which is dead because it is not good. Further down, Moses says, “and you shall choose life.” (verse 19). Now of course, it isn’t just any life, it is the life: a life infused with Torah, saturated with a deep connection to G-d.
Furthermore, following the actual text, this is not a commandment; the worth of this life which we are to live is directly proportionate to the extent to which we choose it. This is something which we can understand from our own lives. If you did not enjoy elementary school as a child, but you do take pleasure in learning as an adult, the missing link is probably choice. We are invested in that which we choose.
Thus, “you shall choose life” a mitzvah. Rashi (loc. cit.) brings an analogy of a father who takes his son out along his land and tells him to select for himself a choice portion. The father, endowed with more wisdom than his son, doesn’t just let him take any portion, but brings him to the finest part and says, “take this one”. The father, in effect, is instructing his son on how to discern the good, and how to make wise choices.
The rest of the verse states, “(choose life), so that you and your descendants shall live” (ibid.) Make the choice to come closer to G-d and allow your lives to be transformed by His Torah, so that the life you lead can truly be called living: upright, wholesome, compassionate, merciful, and kind. And live that life in a way that allows you to experience the zest of life.
May we all be blessed to make this choice, and be inscribed immediately for life, for good and for peace this Rosh Hashanah.
Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!
By Rabbi Tani Burton
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