In this week’s portion Moses speaks a message that stands at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be a Jew and a human being.
“See, I set before you this day life and good, and death and evil…..I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you the blessing and the curse; therefore choose Life, that you may Live.”
What we have expressed in those words is the doctrine of free-will: the notion that we do choose our way in life, and the choices we make go far in shaping the quality and purpose of our lives.
For Judaism, there is no pre-ordained scheme of things; there is no one pulling our strings and thereby leaving us as mere puppets. No, all of Jewish tradition and Jewish wisdom affirms that regardless of the environmental and genetic limitations that impact upon us, we nevertheless possess the capacity to choose our way.
According to the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul begins tomorrow; the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. And there is a practice in traditional synagogues that each morning of the month of Elul the Shofar is blown.
And what is the significance of these harsh and shrill blasts? Our tradition teaches that they are intended to convey to us: “Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn…in repentance.” The idea that we recognize the urgency of making the most of the precious days and years that we are granted by making certain that the things that we are pursuing, and the things about which we worry, really are the most important and worthy things in life.
In speaking to the Israelites, Moses stresses that always present for us is the choice between the way of blessing and the way of curse. God grant us the strength and the will to choose the way of blessing this day and every day.
Rabbi David Greenberg