The Torah’s injunction to Choose Life may be one of its best known and quoted commandments. But is it completely understood? Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains its depth and its relevance to every act a person makes.
“The life and the death I have given before you…in order that you should live, you and your seed.… And you shall choose life” (30:19). “Choosing life” is one of the highest accomplishments (Shaare Teshuvah III:17). This means that not only does Hashem allow us the free will to choose (a principle that materialist psychologists deny), He also gives us the information that we possess free will.
Further, Hashem in His great kindliness also urges us to choose life. This means that when we keep His Torah we not only are choosing life, we are pleasing Hashem who “desires life” (Yecheskel 18:23) for us. Thus, whenever a good deed is done, we can beforehand add the intention of fulfilling this mitzvah of “choosing life” in order to bring pleasure to Hashem Who is interested in the life of every one of His beloved (10:14-15, 14:1, 23:6, 33:26 and elsewhere) people.
To add this intention to our Mitzvos and good deeds, and to keep this intention in mind as much as possible, is one of the highest accomplishments. Thus instead of eating and sleeping by mere force of habit, or instead of being polite to our fellowmen because of custom alone, and instead of Tefillin and Mezuzos and Shabbos-observance and Kashrus without any additional thought, if we add the intention of causing pleasure to Hashem Who wishes that we choose Life, then we are attaining a very high degree of perfection.
But “choose life” is a mitzvah and therefore not optional. We are hereby sternly admonished to have compassion upon ourselves so that we gain the supreme gift called Life. What is this gift of Life? It is the priceless opportunity to live longer, in order to achieve more and more perfection and merit, and it includes the infinite happiness of the endless Afterlife. Thus Hashem in this verse commands “You shall choose life” for your own benefit; to neglect or waste this opportunity to gain Life is one of the greatest catastrophes that could ever happen.
To lack compassion on one’s self by failing to seek life is the crime of crimes. Hashem pleads with us to have pity on ourselves: “Choose life!” By doing that which is our duty, we are thereby gaining life in this world as well as eternal life in the Afterworld, for we have fulfilled the specific mitzvah in addition to fulfilling the general mitzvah of “choosing Life.”
A further insight: Except in certain instances (see Rambam, Teshuvah 6:3), Hashem does not interfere to cause men to choose evil. We see also that a man’s choice affects not only him but also his seed. This, though apparently a contradiction of the principle of free will, is understandable – for when a man dies, he cannot have any more children, and in this sense his deeds affect his (unborn) seed. Similarly, when one sheds his fellowman’s blood, he is held guilty for the blood of the victim and the blood of his (unborn) seed and the seed of his seed, forever (Bereishis Rabbah 22-21).
Meritorious deeds confer benefits not only on one’s unborn seed but also on the children that have already been born. Sons under the age of 13 (daughters under 12) are sometimes included in the punishment of the parent. Thus, the ” choice of life” is not only for the person alone; each man is urged to choose Life for his posterity, and for all those who may be influenced or affected by his choice.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
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