This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live . . . — Deuteronomy 30:19
The Torah reading for this week is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, from Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20. Nitzavim means “standing” and Vayelech means “and he went.” The Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10–63:9.
According to Jewish tradition, not a single word, or even letter, written in the Bible is extraneous. Every word, letter, and phrase is sacred, instructive, and completely necessary. So one must wonder when reading Deuteronomy 30:19: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Assuming that a person is of reasonably sound mind, why on earth would he or she need to be told to “choose life?” Is there anyone among us who would knowingly choose the opposite?
The answer is yes. However, to understand what that means, we must first understand what it means to “choose life.”
I am reminded of a dear friend who was diagnosed with a rare disease and has since passed away. During the time between her diagnosis and her death, she shared with me some advice that she had received from a friend who was also living with a fatal disease. The friend recommended starting a garden and spending time gardening every day. “It helps tremendously,” the woman assured her. “Why do you find gardening so uplifting and therapeutic?” my friend asked. The woman answered, “Because it’s life! And I want to be around life.”
Life is growth. It is about hard work and change, yet the end result is beautiful. That is what the woman found so inspiring about her little garden.
Growth and change, however, are not easy. This is what so many people resist. This is what so many of us fail to choose every minute of every day. We have a choice to make – we can work on ourselves, correct our faults, improve our virtues, adapt, change, develop, and grow. That is choosing life. Or we can choose the easier mode of stagnation, the comfort of staying inside our comfort zone, or not doing the hard work to make our dreams a reality. This is what we call death. No movement, no growth, and no change.
Sadly, so many people get to the end of their lives and realize that they never really lived. They never took any risks or rocked the boat too much. They never followed their dreams or spent enough time with their loved ones. This is why Scripture needs to come along and encourage us to choose life. It’s so much easier to pass up that choice and to simply maintain the status quo. However, easier is not better. The only life worth living is the one that is truly lived.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President