Choosing life every day
: Nitzavim (Standing) D’Varim (Deut.) 29:9-30:20, Vayelekh (He Went) D’Varim (Deut.) 31:1-30
Haftorah Readings: Isaiah (Yesh’yahu) 61:10-63:9; Hosea 14:1-10, Micah 7:18-20, Joel 2:15-27
This week we read a double portion of scripture. Remember, this was Moshe’s last day alive, yet he was still speaking G-d’s word to the people. This will be covered a bit more later. However, it does raise the question, how do we spend our days especially when we are near the end of life? I read a quote this week from a book about Sherlock Holmes. It was, “I draw your attention, Watson, to the curious incident of the dog at night.” “But the dog did nothing at night,” said Watson. “That is the curious incident,” said Holmes. Sometimes to truly understand a book’s point you need to pay attention to not only what it says, but also to what it does not say.
This is important for us as we read these two portions today. We read almost nothing about death. We know nothing about the burial place of Moshe. (Deut 34:6) It would have been common for a person of his standing to have an elaborate tomb where people could come each year to visit.
Think of some of the other ancient cultures of that time. The Egyptians built pyramids to honor their pharaoh. The Book of the Dead is one of the most famous books or scrolls from that time. It was as if life was only a preparation time for death. We read nothing like this in Torah. In fact, at the point when we would expect such things, nothing is said. “The dog did nothing” that is the curious incident. Until Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem the only religious meeting place for the people was a portable tent. In Torah death, rather than glorified, is portrayed as a defiler and required the ashes of the red heifer to cleanse someone who had been in contact with death. So death was never seen as something to be glorified. As our reading tells us in Deut. 30:19, “This day I set before you, life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live.” So how do we choose life?
One thing Moshe did here in our portion was to command the people to come together every seven years in a covenant renewal process. We read of this in Deut. 31:10-13. Everyone was to attend, including women, children, strangers, everyone. Why was this important? It was a way to let every person hear, with their own ears, what G-d expected from them as individuals and also as a nation. It was a way to renew their connection to G-d and also to each other as G-d’s people.
So how do we renew or pass on our faith to our friends and children. How do we choose life and not death each day? Jean has been reading a book by Natan Sharansky. He is a famous refusenik who immigrated from Russia to Israel after many years in a Russian prison. His only crime was being Jewish and wanting to live in Israel. He spent many years in prison but he saw this as choosing life each day.
In this book he mentioned the first choice Israel was called on to make as a people and as individuals. It happened when the tenth plague was about to occur. Each Israelite had to make the choice to put blood on their door post so that the death angel would pass over them. They had to choose to be free and leave slavery behind. This was an individual choice to choose life. Later at the sea, they also had to make a choice as a people to cross over or not, to choose life and not death. Only by defying the Egyptians could they truly be free. Our first choice as individuals is to choose salvation.
Each of us have choices to make each day. Those choices may seem small or unimportant at the time. However they are truly a choice of life or death, spiritual death. We have G-d’s word as our guide. We have the Spirit of G-d as our companion to guide us through our choices. These choices are what our children will see and remember. They will remember not so much how we died but more importantly how we lived.
Here are a few sentences from one answer I received to my questions I sent you this week. Murder has a moral penalty AND a very stiff secular penalty and so with all this we deem murder to be far worse than, say. gossip. Gossip has a high moral penalty but virtually no secular penalty. G-d says it is essentially murdering somebody, kind of like speaking evil: once it is out there, you cannot un-say it… Of course in politics we love gossip even more. We hear a politician called a racist or a Marxist and WE LOVE IT and can’t wait to share it or pick a side and share that. We condemn murder of a life, but enjoy murder of a character, as long as it is not our own.
Whether it is a choice to gossip or not, or a choice of how we spend our day, these are not small choices. I urge you to choose life not death. I urge you to choose G-d’s blessings and not curses.