Carpe Diem: Nitzavim 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you define “living life to the fullest”? When have you made decisions not necessarily based on logic, but rather for the sake of getting the most out of our time on Earth? Why are we compelled by this idea, yet often resist actually doing so?

As we mourn the recent death of the great Israeli statesman Shimon Peres – a man who certainly embraced the opportunities that his many years provided him – we are drawn to our Torah portion’s insistence that we “choose life”:

The Pitch: “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 – by loving your God Adonai, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to [God]. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that Adonai swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Swing #1: “One minute God’s ushering in abounding prosperity, the next he’s wielding a tire iron like Tony Soprano – I can’t always figure it out myself. And if we gave away prizes and cutesy slogans, maybe we’d be the biggest religion on the planet. But you know what? That’s not the TRUTH. That’s not his WORD, his COMMAND. And the TRUTH happens to be beautiful and ugly and confounding and uplifting AT THE SAME TIME, because IT is THAT WAY, because ALL OF life IS THAT WAY. It’s a riddle. And undertaking. There are CONSEQUENCES. It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. The prizes go to those who SWEAT for ‘em.” – Eli Attie, from Unscrolled, Roger Bennett, editor

Swing #2: “Within this covenantal understanding, the key metaphor is ‘our Father, our King’ – the fair Father, the just King. He can say, ‘It has been told you, oh humanity, what is good and what God requires of you’ and we can say, ‘Shall not the Judge of the whole universe do justice?’ He can command, ‘Choose life’ and we can pray, ‘Grant us justice according to the law’. The final judgment, as C. S. Lewis has remarked, is to be a moment of joy and triumph, for then, our devotion to Him and His love for us will be justified.” – David R. Blumenthal, God at the Center: Meditations on Jewish Spirituality

Swing #3: “What special imperative might the rejoinder to the charge ‘choose life’ mean for those of us who take the task of generativity seriously? What kind of life-giving choices should we as men make ‘if we and our offspring would live’? What life-affirming legacies might we model and then pass on that our children might wish to carry them forward? … My friend went on to tell me that the best gift one can give one’s children is to engage life and, despite its grinds, to be unafraid to model a loving relationship. Such modeling conveys a message louder than words that passion and love can be available to them as well within the bonds of sanctified commitment.” – Rabbi Howard Avruhm Addison, “A Few Choice Gifts”, from The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Late-Inning Questions: How do our different commentaries explain the idea of “choosing life”? Do they idealize such a choice, or are they realistic about the risks involved?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It is always a privilege to see both familiar and new faces on Rosh Hashanah. I hope that, among your resolutions for the new year, you will take advantage of the richness of Jewish tradition as we celebrate it here. Please join us for our services and programs throughout the fall holidays.

The Big Inning at the End: At the risk of making direct comparisons to two people who lived very different lives, I would be remiss if I didn’t note the death of Jose Fernandez, the young and brilliant Miami Marlins pitcher who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning. Like Shimon Peres, Fernandez was known among those he knew him as an enthusiastic person who grasped for opportunity even at great personal risk. As we embark on a new year, may we be inspired by these two individuals who embodied “carpe diem” – and may we strive to do so as well.

Shabbat Shalom! And, soon, L’shanah Tovah U’Metukah!