Can you really choose life? Isn’t being alive or not out of your hands?
The fact that the Torah tells you to choose life means that you can look and see that Hashem put before your life and death, blessing and curse, and then tells you:
The Torah would never tell you to do something that you can’t’ do no matter how you try. It’s the Torah of life! Not a collection of dry principles that are inapplicable to ordinary people and apply exclusively to the Very Righteous.
What actually is involved in choosing life? Before going further, it’s important that you and I are on the same page when we talk about what the word life actually means. The dictionary begins its definition of life by offering two options. One is “The quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body. The principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings …The second it “the Sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual.” On the surface of things neither definition lends itself to being available to you as a choice. The qualities that make you at least “not dead”, are not qualities that your efforts or money can acquire. You also can’t choose your experiences.
That’s only when you decide to stay on the surface. There is more out there than surface experience. Where does the “principle or force” actually originate? Did it make itself? Sfas Emmes would say that Hashem vivifies everything you will ever see or experience. There is what he calls “an internal point” of connection between any dimension of reality and Hashem Himself. It is He who generates innumerable forces to “make up the physical and mental experiences” that make up your existence. He is both the source of life, and the orchestra leader who composes its unending symphony. You can choose to uncover the concealed source of life as you live ordinary life, working, eating, interacting with others and making the daily choices that face you, or you can choose to live on the surface. One problem in choosing to live on the surface is that the physical world is death bound. Did you ever look around at all of your Stuff-you know the Stuff you buy, store, use, enjoy? Did you notice that it is headed towards oblivion? I don’t think in those terms very often, but every so often I let myself take it in. There is a choice I can make that changes the picture. If I choose to find the spark of eternity in all that Stuff, by letting it take me (and it!) to its root, then it never really dies.
My kids are good kids, Baruch Hashem (for sure it is His grace, not my somewhat shall we say, ‘A’ for effort parenting). Two of them decided (without being asked!) that it would be nice to offer my husband and I an escape from the covid generated isolation we have been in long enough to contract a bit of cabin fever. Sky, earth and variation becomes precious when you don’t have enough of it for a while. Child number 1 decided that he could figure out a tiyul that have the magic word, OUTSIDE and at the same time bring us to places where we could maintain isolation. He took us on a trip to Maarat Hamachpeila late morning when there were no organized prayers going on, and from there to the tomb of Ruth and Yishai, and onwards to mountain spring in Bat Ayin, off again to a fenced off beach in Ashkelon and finally to the tomb of the prophet Samuel. Yes. All in one day. By the time we got home we were totaled, and didn’t want to go anywhere else for the next century or so. However, three days later we were once more Ready to Go, and another child did the organizing. This time we were off to Shiloh, the site of the ancient mishkan (sanctuary). We saw the place where it once was. I looked around me, and realized that the stones and the earth are still alive with the same force that was there when the Jews first laid eyes on its thousands of years ago. The same is true of all of the places we saw and all of the land that we tread upon, the spring at Bat Ayin and the waves hitting the sand on Ashkelon’s lonely shore. And here in Yerushalaim, and back where you are. In the States or anywhere on the globe. There is life force to discover. Always. You can reframe your life to learn to feel it.
“There she goes. Who says I want to reframe my life?” Listen to the reframes, and take in that they may be what you need to choose life. There are seven in Orchot Tzadikim, but we will just look at two of them this time around.’
1 - Realize that Hashem has compassion for every human being. He has more compassion for you, than you will ever have for yourself Compassion isn’t’ pity - it’s closer to love than to patronizing solicitousness (how’s that for a big word no one ever uses? Isn’t playing scrabble worth-while?) You may think at times, that you are the only one who knows your feelings and what your heart tells you. You aren’t. Hashem sees what you and I see, the surface of reality. He also sees far more than that. He sees your inner life more clearly than you do, knows your fears and pain without the defenses that you put up. You may at this point say, “Where I am today has nothing to do with Hashem. I killed so many relationships dead, I let my ego trap me so many times. This may be true.
That doesn’t mean that Hashem won’t re-open doors that you closed. As long as you are physically alive (which you usual can tell…) the message is that Hashem believes that you have a reason to be here, that your inner capacity for living a genuine, meaningful, contributive, joyous life are all still in the picture.
2 - All of the benefit that you have ever reaped from any other human comes through them (for which they deserve acknowledgment validation and thanks) but from Hashem. No one can give you what they don’t have; whatever you received from your parents, mentors, friends, spouses are real. They made the choice to care. Nonetheless, all they can give is what they have, and everything they have comes from Hashem, whose love for you is ultimately the source of their love. Knowing this and living this is what choosing life is about.
So much for now!
Well, stay alive till next time…