Torah teaches us to choose the meaningful life

Rabbi Josef A. Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona.

By Rabbi Josef Davidson

Nitzavim/Veyelech is a very special Torah portion for me, as Shabbat Nitzavim was the day on which I was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. In many ways, it was one of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life, and my becoming a rabbi may be, in part, an attempt to re-create the holiness of that moment. This double Torah portion, however, has its own distinction quite apart from my life and teaches a valuable lesson to all of us, particularly as we approach the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In Chapter 30:15 ff, one of the basic tenets of the High Holy Days is affirmed loudly and clearly:

“See, I have set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity… Choose life.” 

There is a choice that only we can make. In tractate Berachot 33b, Rabbi Chanina teaches, “Everything is in God’s hands — except for the fear of Heaven [one’s holding God in awe].” 

Two pathways are placed before every person. One is the path towards a fulfilling, meaningful life; the other is a path toward an unfulfilled and meaningless life. One is a path towards a life of service to that which is greater than oneself; the other is a path that is in service only of one’s own needs and desires. It is up to each person to make the choice. No one, not even God, can make it for him/her.

That choice is an informed one, of course. The Torah is a work that is dedicated to enabling people to make the better choice. It is the instruction manual that comes with life, at least with Jewish life. Ideally, one studies it, one follows it and one teaches it to those who follow. By following its instruction, the Jewish people can aid in creating a more perfect world.

These words are even more poignant in the times in which we live. In the modern age, we live in a voluntary society, especially those, such as ourselves, who live in a free country. Even in ages past, it was possible to opt out, to turn one’s back on the Torah, on Jewish tradition and on the Jewish people. That choice has always been available and remains available to every Jew. This week’s Torah portion confirms that more than being a chosen people, Jews are a choosing people.

What happens if we make the wrong choices? The High Holy Days and the days preceding them provide us with the opportunity to make amends. We can choose to recognize those actions that would lead us toward the wrong path, to seek forgiveness from those whom we offended by those actions and to choose to follow the better path, the path that makes for meaningful relationships and for purposeful life. As we approach the High Holy Days, our Torah portion implores us to “choose life,” to make the best choices for ourselves, for those whom we love and for the Jewish people.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good, sweet year!