web analytics
April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



What Kind of Life Shall We Choose?

Dvar Torah for Nitzavim Vayelech.
choose life

Share Button

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your children.” – Deuteronomy 30:19

As we near the end of the life and times of Moses, his speech to the Israelites picks up steam and power. One of the most profound statements in the Torah is found near the beginning of this week’s parsha. Moses tells the Israelites that heaven and earth bear witness that Moses has given the Israelites a choice. The ultimate choice. They can choose life or they can choose death. Then in dramatic fashion, the people are then instructed to choose life.

Choose life! To life! L’chaim! This is the essence of Judaism. We toast to life. We sing to life. Life is a gift and we choose to use it well. The life we are given is a life of choices. We are instructed to make the choices that are the choices of life. It is so simple, yet so profound. Especially when we consider the religious leanings of the ancients, where death was so integral to their religions, where human sacrifice was normal, the Torah’s charge to choose life bellows loudly with its profundity and its eternal message echoes across the millennia.

This verse is an example of the best of the Bible. Its dramatic overtones staking out the all encompassing issues of the human experience. When our souls feel lost we must always remember to choose life. That is the great compass of Judaism. Find life and go that way. Choose life!

For all its drama in the Bible, the Talmud brings this verse back down to earth with a shocking thud. Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva have a dispute about just what it means to choose life. Rabbi Yishmael says that “life” refers to a trade or a craft – the ability to earn a livelihood. We are being instructed to choose a means to make a living. Rabbi Akiva says that life refers to matters of safety and recreation like swimming and boating. Ti him, choosing life means taking care of one’s physical condition and making certain that one is prepared for a physical world that carries with it inherent danger.

These interpretations, while utilitarian and wise, seem to be so impossible to hear in the context of the verse that we are left to wonder if these great rabbi can actually be serious. Moses is building to a crescendo in his speech and he takes a break from the sublime to discuss career options and water sports? The verse was so powerful in its basic meaning, where is the depth and the beauty now?

The obvious answer is yes. Indeed, it is sublime to live a life engaged in the world. That is the climax. That is the greatest life that can be chosen. We are to be active participants in the economic and social structure of our world and to do so ever mindful and aware of G-D and one’s Judaism – that is life! To choose life is to to live a life. An actual life. A normal, productive, material life. When one lives that life to its fullest and lives one’s Judaism to the fullest we are truly choosing life.

Choosing life does not mean that one should cut their self off from society. Life is to live amongst men and women. But to live this life elevated and infused with spirituality as one lives amongst others – that is to choose life. There is a place for meditation and reflection or even temporary complete immersion into Torah and purely spiritual pursuits. But u’vacharta b’chaim – to choose life – is only when that is firmly welded to material pursuits and responsibility.

Rabbi Yishmael was the same great sage who famously argued with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. In his statement about the topic of working for a living, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that one should do G-D’s will and their work will be performed by others. Rabbi Yishmael argued that one should work the land and earn a livelihood. His views on this matter are clear. Life is to work.

Share Button

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “What Kind of Life Shall We Choose?”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
BDS targets Zabar's; Carole Zabar promotes BDS proponents.
All in the Family: BDS Protests Zabars; Carole Zabar Promotes BDS
Latest Blogs Stories
Community Surveillance.jpg

The Justice Department allows the FBI to use demographic mapping, but the NYPD no longer can.

The Trophy System creates a protective dome which shields tanks from anti-tank missiles.

Check out the IDF’s most innovative weapons (at least the ones they can tell us about.)

Baruch Mizrachi Funeral

When will the State of Israel decide the Palestinian Arabs are a hostile enemy and treat them as such?

Israeli troops guarding the northern border.

Like Hamas, Hezbollah also builds tunnels. Those tunnels pose a serious danger to IDF border patrols.

Visa has ads in an Egyptian magazine in which a story describes Jews as vampires. And worse.

World Council of Churches expresses solidarity with “Palestinians” ‘languishing’ in Israeli prisons.

The Seder: We starve (during the sometimes endless recitations and discussions) and we feast.

The unique skills of people on the autistic spectrum adds great breadth to IDF intelligence work.

Passover is a road that we still travel, a long journey from slavery to freedom.

In Iran, 131 offenses are punishable by death, including blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality.

Women must eat Matzah on Pesach too but that is also a time bound positive commandment.

Pro-Israel leaders on campus are as important as the troops in the IDF and professional hasbaraniks.

The seder reminds us of our freedom now that we are home again in the land of the Nation of Israel

IDF helicopters are ready to act on a moment’s notice to defend the State of Israel.

The Samson Super Hercules aircraft ensures the IDF can safeguard Israel from far beyond her shores.

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
Mozilla Firefox in the eye of a firestorm

It is unfair to judge a 52 year old man with the glasses of a person who lives in a different world.

Debo P. Adegbile

Adegbile was not making a moral statement by representing a man convicted of killing a cop.

Women learning Torah is becoming increasingly permissive, but women wearing tefillin is becoming increasingly stringent.

When the “offensive” statements in our Talmud were stated, no one thought they were offensive.

Both communities value using books to study their texts, and digital devices are a less preferable way for younger people to study.

Boys can play with dolls. Men can embrace their feminine side. Girls can play sports.

Some people are assuming the intentions of these women are less than perfect, but that’s complete conjecture.

Orthodox Jews are free to teach Leviticus and we are free to deny any religious rights and privileges to anyone we so choose.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/what-kind-of-life-shall-we-choose/2013/08/30/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: