Category Archives: Soul

Choose Life, But What Kind? – Netzavim 5772

This Shabbos we read Parshas Netzavim. In it Moses reminds the Children of Israel about the covenant with G-d, to shun idolatry, that they will transgress but then repent and G-d will redeem them, that the Torah will always be near to them, and the famous charge that between life and death they should choose life.

In Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:19, Moses says, “I call to witness against you today the heavens and the earth, the life and the death I have placed before you, the blessing and the curse; and you will choose life in order that you will live, you and your offspring.

Nu (Yiddish for well), who would choose death? While someone in the depth of depression might, in reality the passage is not proposing a choice between physical life and death

A related question: why are the heavens and earth serving as witnesses? Rashi explains. In his commentary to the passage he says: “the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel, “Take a look at the heavens that I created to serve you. Might they have deviated from their character? . . Take a look at the earth that I created to serve you. Might it have deviated from its character?” The sun always does that which G-d created it to do: rises in the east and sets in the west. The earth yields plants according to the seeds that are sown. Steadfast though they are, they receive no reward and if they were to sin they would not receive punishment. How much more fortunate are we that Our Heavenly Parent blesses us for righteous behavior and uses His guiding hand to redirect us when we stray from the correct path.

So when Moses adjures us to choose life, he is urging us to opt to follow in G-d’s way, to do His mitzvahs so that we will lead purposeful and productive lives. In this final week before Rosh Hashanah let us ponder the choice we are making for the coming year, remembering that we will pray that G-d inscribes us for another year in the Book of Life. Physical life, to be sure, but more importantly a life dedicated to Torah and virtuous deeds.

Do you recall a time when you chose life? What were your options and how did you feel after choosing?


Why Your Relationship with G-d Should be Hot & Cold

Shalom Everyone!

This coming Shabbos we read Parshas Ki Seitzei.  It contains more mitzvos (74) than any other parsha.  In it we learn about how to handle a beautiful female POW, the right of primogeniture, how a wayward and rebellious son is handled, our concern for another’s property, men not wearing women’s clothing and vice versa (Ooops for Jack Lemmon,) sending away the mother bird before gathering her eggs, making tzitzis for a four cornered garment, how a libeler of a woman is to be treated, the penalties for adultery and rape, several rules about marriage and divorce, how the Children of Israel were to keep their camp tahor, laws concerning workers’ rights, kidnapping, lending and punishments, the penalty for embarrassing someone, the admonition to have honest weights and measures and finally the strange commandment to not forget to wipe out the memory of Amalek.

At the end of this week’s parsha we are admonished to “wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens – you will not forget.” Now it would seem that we have done this. When was the last time you heard someone talking about the Amalekites? So at least with this mitzvah we have done our duty to G-d.

Or have we?

If we recall why Our Creator condemned the Amalekites to oblivion perhaps we will get a different perspective. The Children of Israel experienced the miracle of the Exodus, the awesomeness of the splitting of the Reed Sea, the final destruction of the Egyptians, and were fed with manna. All of these experiences created a warm closeness with G-d. So the other nations of the world left the Israelites alone, except Amalek who attempted to throw a cold blanket on this party by attacking them. How do we know? The Hebrew word for encountered, karcha, is used to describe the meeting between the Israelites and the Amalekites. This same word can also mean “cooled you.” By striking, the Amalekites hoped to cool the passion the Israelites felt for G-d.

Cool, I get it you say. Do you? Can you see that Amalek is in all of us, attempting to cool our ardor for Our Heavenly Parent? It is this Amalek that we have yet to destroy, a much more insidious enemy.

But it is no problem right. The antidote for cold is heat. We just need to rev up our enthusiasm for serving G-d, doing more mitzvos, prayer, and study. While this may be the solution, inevitably it is subject to swings in our energy. As well, it is too easy to let our own agenda get in the way. I will fervently pray for that which I want. I will study and do mitzvos so I will get a better place in the World to Come.

Perhaps a better way to fight the cold of the Amalek within us is with ice. In Ezekiel 1:22 we read about the “awesome ice, spread out over the heads of the Chayah.” The Chayos are angels who serve G-d with tremendous enthusiasm. But note that there is something higher than their ministrations – the steady, unswerving, totally committed service that has not the hint of ego – the “awesome ice.” But we need not be emotionless automatons. For examples we have Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, all of whom were tremendously kind but rock solid in their connection to the Creator. While heating up our relationship with G-d may work, perhaps an ice cold steel resolve would be even better.


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