Many difficult choices face us daily. Some are seemingly insignificant, and some are critical. Those choices require deep and careful analysis and we hope against hope that we make the correct decision. There is one choice, however, that any fool can make. It is the choice of life. Yet the Torah commands us this week that when faced with the choice of life or death it is incumbent upon us to choose life. “See — I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil… and you shall choose life, so that you will live — you and your offspring.” Deuteronomy 30:15-19
The Torah is filled with 613 Mitzvos. Each and every one of them is imparted to us with a sense of urgency. We are commanded to observe the minor laws with the same fervor as the major ones. Yet the Torah is not content with its charge to keep individual commandments. It culls all the laws under the title of “life” and then commissions us with an additional Mitzvah — “choose life.” Isn’t the objective of this command another angle in which we are again prodded to observe all that has already been commanded? Why does the Torah repeat its original charges as one sumary command? Why aren’t the original 613 sufficient?
It is fascinating to note that in the entire Torah there is no overt reference to Olam Haboh — the world to come. To scoffers, it holds another opportunity to dismiss one of the greatest tenets of Jewish Faith. There are only veiled allusions to our raison d’être the world of eternity. Why?
The entire Oral Law, Mishnoh, Talmud, etc., is replete with the concept of the world to come. The Sages in Pirkei Avos, explain that, “this world is just a corridor for the world to come. One must prepare himself in the hallway before entering the palace.” If this great world was offered orally, why is it not openly discussed in the text of the Torah? I once heard that the Torah, unlike other religious documents, is telling us, “I am not only promising to deliver a reward in a place you can’t understand. If you fulfill my commandments, I promise reward in this very world!” Hashem guarantees reward in this world. The world to come will be beyond our comprehension but this world will hold more than enough gratification when we act in accordance with his will.
Reb Ahron Kotler of blessed memory, epitomized a life steeped in Torah study. After escaping the ravages of World War II, he established the Kollel (fellowship program) of Beth Medrash Govoah, at Lakewood, New Jersey. It is there that married scholars studied Torah day and night and received a small stipend. After two years of Kollel study one aspiring prodigy had a lucrative business opportunity in which he was guaranteed a very substantial living. He approached Reb Ahron. “Rebbe, is it true that if a businessman supports a Torah scholar in a contractual arrangement, then he shares the reward of the world to come with his partner? Reb Ahron answered in the affirmative, explaining the concept of Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. (Zevulun was a merchant and his brother, Yissachar, was a sage. They entered a business arrangement to share equally both financial and spiritual rewards.) “If that is the case,” the student continued “I’d like to enter into an arrangement with a Kollel member. You see, Rebbe, I have a wonderful opportunity to make quite a bit of money and this way I’ll still be guaranteed the world to come.” Reb Ahron was stunned. “How can you leave learning?” The student responded meekly. “But won’t I still enjoy the world to come?”
“Of course!” exclaimed the Rosh Yeshiva, “but if you leave learning, how will you enjoy this world?”
Reb Ahron understood this week’s Torah’s message to its fullest extent. Observance of Mitzvos is not just a life of extended ritual observance. It is life itself. The Torah has laid a path that if followed precisely will guarantee years of happiness. It will guarantee the ability to overcome perceived suffering. It will guarantee a certain sense of fulfillment way beyond any material gain. The Torah declares, “if you choose a life of Torah, you are not only selecting a set of rituals. You are choosing much more than Tefillin, Mezuzah and Shofar. You are choosing a sum total greater than all of its parts. You are choosing life!”
Mordechai Kamenetzky – Yeshiva of South Shore
Reb Ahron Kotler (1892-1962) was the Rosh Yeshiva of Kletzk, Poland. After his escape from Europe during World War II he established Beth Medrash Govoah in Lakewood New Jersey. Reb Ahron was a prime force in the establishment of the day school movement in America as well as a Torah Educational system in Israel.
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.