This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live; (Devarim 30:19)
“Choosing life” is not counted amongst the 613 Mitzvos! According to Rashi it’s like a loving father giving wise counsel to his child. HASHEM implores us to choose life. Free will is a risky but necessary business. One of the greatest challenges for parents is to watch their children as young adults make obvious mistakes without rushing in to rescue them or manage the outcome. Everyone must learn on their own to fail their way to success.
According to the Zohar, however, the only Mitzvah is ‘Choose Life” and what we refer to as the 613 Mitzvos are really 613 pieces of advice. It’s just the opposite! How can this be so?
The 613 Mitzvos are addressing the physicality of man. Torah is a training ground to cure our negative tendencies. The assumption is that a man left up to his own devices would do great harm to himself and others, and fall way short of his potential. The body of man needs a constant guide and ready coach to coax him into alignment with his sublime assignment. Such is the nature of a man. Things that are left to chance go to chaos.
While the code of Jewish Law is training the physical part of the man from the outside in, the Zohar is speaking to the inner life of man, the knowing heart. Everything is ultimately and really one clear option; “choose life”. When the choices are clear like between truthfulness or falsehood or life and death then choosing is easy. It’s only because the waters of our mind are so muddied with materialism that we naturally can’t see so clearly.
When the Torah tells us that life and death, blessing and curse are placed before us then choosing life should be easy. The task is to come to the point of recognizing the binary nature of the choosing. Imagine now that all the deeds of your life are spread out before you. There they are for you to view like a feature length movie in living color.
You are told this movie will play before a large audience of your relatives past and present, sages and wise men from all ages and the Almighty Himself. Every act, word, and thought will be available for endless viewing and reviewing. It’s your life!
Is that a glorious notion or a frightening proposition? The good news is that everything we do is forever and the bad news is that everything we do is forever. I think for most of us a sense of panic will have set in already. Now we have some better news! You have been gifted with a sophisticated editing tool -TESHUVAH – that allows you to delete the unwanted scenes, foolish conversations, and unwanted thoughts that are on display in this movie.
This is actually our situation as we enter the 10 days of Teshuva between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. All parts of our life are now open and available for editing. “Life” are those moments we would feel so good to be seen acting out in front of such an audience of HASHEM and everyone else. The experience of NACHAS those scenes deliver will be our Gan Eden. “Death” is those wasteful and destructive deeds that we would wish not to be discovered and witnessed. The experience of embarrassment those scenes would deliver will be our Gehinom.
Now we can realize that the choice is clear. While editing or living – filming forward, the Torah is advising us how to live life in such a way that very little will need dramatic and drastic editing. Be careful how you speak to people and about people! Place HASHEM before you always.
Everything the Torah tells us begins to make sense in this light as advice on the best way to behave. The fleshy body that lives in a world of distractions and temptations requires a system of guidance. We need to be saved mostly from ourselves.
The knowing heart senses well that what happens in this world has limitless consequences and will be played before the audience of eternity. Deep down inside, each and every one of us knows that life and death, blessing and curse is before us and our job is to choose life.