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The Choice of LIfe

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

As a native of Liverpool, I sometimes like to quote the Beatles. Do you remember their song, "Dear Prudence," from the White Album? I am told that the song came from when the Beatles were in Bangor with the Maharishi. There was a girl there called Prudence who went into a coma and the song was written for her: "Look around ... the sun is up, the sky is blue, it's beautiful and so are you, dear Prudence, won't you come out to play." It's as if they were saying to Prudence, "You know there is a gorgeous, real world out here, so why are you running away from it?"

In this week's portion, God commands us to "Choose life." This is the only time in the entire Torah that we are actually told to "choose" something. So what exactly is the nature of this choice?

People often think that free will is a choice between good and evil. When you think about it, though, no one makes decisions that way. Even the most despicable person does not wake up in the morning and say, "Let me see what evil I can do today." Such people are as much deranged as they are evil. We human beings always choose to do good. The problem is that often we rationalize what "good" really is, and we end up doing bad.

Exactly what are we choosing?

We are choosing between that which we know to make sense, and that which we know to be more comfortable. "I know I should apologize, but it's much easier not to. I know I shouldn't talk badly about someone, but it's so easy to do so. I know that I should spend some time with my wife after a long hard day at work, but I'd much rather put my feet up and watch TV." In each case, the former choice will bring me a more long-term sense of fulfillment. The latter choice is more comfortable, but in the long term, it will leave me feeling empty.

This is the essence of free will. Do I choose life - taking the pain in order to achieve long-term fulfillment? Or do I choose death - taking the easy way out and thus escaping the pains of life?

Running away from life is a death that, while not as terminal as the real thing, is equally soul-destroying.

Prudence was choosing death, and the Beatles wrote her a song: Why choose death, when life is so beautiful?

Choose life, the Torah commands. Death may be more comfortable, but life is much more worth living.

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