D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
12-Step Torah–Parashat Nitzavim
Live life on life’s terms
To live life on life’s terms means to acknowledge that life is bigger and more complicated than each of us. It means accepting the reality of our lives. It means recognizing that we cannot control every aspect of our life and our environment.
In this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim Moses describes the covenant between God and Israel. Choosing to abide by that covenant is one the Israelites can make freely but in one of the more famous verses in the Torah Moses encourages the Israelites to choose wisely:
הַֽעִדתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַֽחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ בַּֽחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּֽחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day; I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you and your offspring would live. (Deut. 30:19)
The Italian commentator Sforno understood the phrase if you and your offspring would live, to mean not so much keeping the laws for the sake of the reward you will receive, but rather for the sake of living a true life, a life of meaning.
Life can be challenging especially when it comes to managing the many trials and tribulations put in front of us. When we choose life we accept responsibility for taking on those challenges. When we choose life we make a decision to live life on life’s terms.
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