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 Nitzavim, which means "standing," from Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9.
Ezra Frech is an amazing 10-year-old who is inspiring both young and old around the world. Ezra was born with a rare condition that left him with a twisted left leg and only one finger on his left hand. At the age of three, doctors decided to amputate his lower leg so that he could wear a prosthetic and placed his big toe on his left hand.
Yet, in spite of these disabilities, Ezra has grown to become an expert athlete in just about all sports, competing with and beating kids born without any disabilities at all. What really makes Ezra special, though, is his positive attitude. He says, "I can focus on what I don't have or I can focus on what I do have. I choose to focus on what I have."
This week's Torah portion is always read within one to two weeks of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The portion begins, "All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God . . ." (Deuteronomy 29:10). This is seen as a foreshadowing of the holiday to come when all Jews will stand before God in the synagogue. The entire reading is seen as intricately connected to the meaning of the High Holy Days.
Later on in the portion we read, "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life . . ." The rabbis relate this message to the New Year as well.
On Rosh Hashanah, the custom is to blow the shofar, a ritual ram's horn, 100 times. There are two reasons for the number of blasts given in the Talmud. The first is connected to the cries of Sisera's mother (Judges 5) who, according to tradition, cried out 100 times upon hearing her son, the enemy of Israel, had been killed in battle. The other opinion states that a woman giving birth cries out 100 times. The shofar is intended to recall crying. However, it can either represent cries of death or cries that lead to birth.
Similarly, as we begin the New Year, we get to decide what message we will take with us. Will we cry for all that "died" this past year? Will we bemoan what we don't have and what didn't happen? Or will we cry out in anticipation of the new things life may bring in the new year? We can choose to live in the shadow of death or live in the light of life. As the verse implores us, let's choose life.
It's time to let go of what's holding us back and of the things that we cannot change. Instead, let's choose to embrace our blessings and new possibilities that the new year will bring.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President