Rabbi Akiva attached himself to Bar Kochba. He was not satisfied living under the rule of a despotic and anti-Semitic Roman government. He dreamed of autonomy and safety. The idea was to rise up and rebel militarily. With weapons and men at arms. Rabbi Akiva did not rely on his piety or Torah study to protect him or the people. Nor did he assume that his Torah study would be sufficient to restore the land into Jewish hands. Rabbi Akiva supported a physical army in addition to the merits of Torah and Mitzvos.
Choose life means choose to live a life engaged in the world all the while meticulously adhering to G-D’s word and living a life of Torah, Mitzvos and Kiddush Hashem. Indeed, this is a profound statement worthy of placement in the climactic peak of this speech of Moses. It is not just life, it is our way of life.
Speaking to his congregation following the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Rabbi Lamm talked about Hippie culture as compared to Judaism. Hippies believed that life was an opportunity to “live it up.” Love, music, and drugs were pathways to nirvana in their worldview.
To this, Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva respond and say we choose life with work. To live means to earn a livelihood. To live means to be prepared for life’s difficult moments. The truly virtuous life is not the life of shortcuts and temporarily highs. When we choose life we are choosing to live a life of challenges. We meet those challenges with Torah principles along with secular training. When we are able to navigate the difficult moments in our lives, when we can grow from trying times, when we use our gifts and talents to transcend the material world, then we are truly choosing life.
Hippies are passé. Woodstock a distant memory. But contemporary society has adopted so much of that worldview into modern thinking. Freedom and love are enough to give meaning to life and they are enough to truly live. Our response is that to truly find freedom and love we must work to get there. That is how we choose life. – Good Shabbos.
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