D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
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.
Circumstances do not make us who we are, they reveal to us who we are.
In life attitude is everything. We all go through difficult times or find ourselves in difficult situations in which we are faced with hard choices. How we respond and the decisions we make during those difficult times and situations exposes much about our character.
This week’s Torah portion Ki Teitzei records a long list of laws pertaining to a variety of settings and situations that include family relationships, work, sexuality, and daily living. In one example, the Torah instructs,
כִּי־תִֽהְיֶ֨יןָ לְאִ֜ישׁ שְׁתֵּ֣י נָשִׁ֗ים הָֽאַחַ֤ת אֲהוּבָה֙ וְהָֽאַחַ֣ת שְׂנוּאָ֔ה וְיָֽלְדוּ־ל֣וֹ בָנִ֔ים הָֽאֲהוּבָ֖ה וְהַשְּׂנוּאָ֑ה וְהָיָ֛ה הַבֵּ֥ן הַבְּכֹ֖ר לַשְּׂנִיאָֽה: וְהָיָ֗ה בְּיוֹם הַנְחִיל֣וֹ אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־יִֽהְיֶ֖ה ל֑וֹ לֹ֣א יוּכַ֗ל לְבַכֵּר֙ אֶת־בֶּן־הָ֣אֲהוּבָ֔ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י בֶן־הַשְּׂנוּאָ֖ה הַבְּכֹֽר:
If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved and both have borne him sons, he is not allowed to treat the son of the unloved wife who happens to be the older son, with disdain. He must give him what is rightfully his as the first born son. (Deut. 21:15-16)
If a father favors his younger son over his older son, he is confronted with a difficult decision when it comes to the rights of that older son --give him what is rightfully his or deny him what is rightfully his. Whatever decision the father makes will have nothing to do with the circumstance in which he finds himself but will instead reveal much about the father’s character. Circumstances do not make us who we are they reveal to us who we are.