For the last Shabbat in 5779, our Torah comes with one of the readings I love most in the entire year. In parashat Nitzavim we find the following directive: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life.”
But, what does it mean to choose life? It’s not as if we need to be told to live. Rather, God is telling us that by choosing to follow God’s ways, we are choosing a good life. A blessed life. But this brings us to the age-old question “Why do the wicked prosper?” Why do we see evil people enjoying success in this world while good people struggle?
One of the classic answers is that while evil people may seem to be living it up in this world, they will suffer in the next, while the righteous will receive their reward in the world to come. Earthly pleasures are finite, but spiritual pleasures are infinite. The problem with this answer is that many of us haven’t got the patience to wait for the world to come and see if this is really true. Our struggles are now, and we want relief now.
But maybe the answer isn’t some logical discourse, but a shift in perspective. A wonderful teaching by our sages says: “Good life is defined not by what you get, but by what you give.” When you look at life this way, the question disappears. It becomes almost irrelevant. No matter how little I have, there is always something I can do—some way I can reach out. By the same token, a life defined by how much you get can never satisfy. No matter how much you have, you always want more and more.
In order to be able to “choose life,” we need to be able to see it—to recognise it as life. This is what the Torah’s command gives us. It’s not really a directive. The point isn’t to tell us what to do, but to show us—to help us hold on to the perspective, to help us see how much more there is to life than we often see at the first moment.
For this Shabbat and these High Holy Days, it is my hope that we will find ways to see so that we can choose the right path for us, our families and society.
Shabbat Shalom and a good start into the New Year
Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Shuchat)