Here in Israel, everyone is obsessed with the question of whether Israel will strike Iran in the next few months. True, this is an existential question for those of us living here. We will live or die on the basis of how Israel’s leaders respond to this question.
But this week’s parsha (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) presents an existential choice each of us must make daily: “ראה אנוכי נותן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה – Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” We have the ability to choose our life’s path for good or for bad. Hopefully, as the Torah says, we will choose life: ובחרת בחיים.
This Shabbat (Sabbath) is also Rosh Chodesh Elul (beginning of the new month), when we usher in the New Year, pray for forgiveness and long life on Yom Kippur, and rejoice on Sukkot (Tabernacles) as we thank God for our many blessings.
In Kabbalah (mystical Jewish literature) the word Elul (אלול) is an acronym for the words of the Bible, אני לדודי ודודי לי – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). Today, countless women have this verse engraved on their wedding band as a sign of their love for their spouse, but also of their love and devotion to God.
I am 61 years old and have come to the realization that the essence of life is indeed, as the Torah describes (and as Jesus reaffirmed when asked what the most important commandments are), to love God and to love our fellow man, “ואהבת את ה’ אלוקך – You shall love the Lord your God” and “ואהבת לרעך כמוך – To love your neighbor as yourself.”
If only we were to hear the message of this week’s parsha to “choose life — ובחרת בחיים” in the midst of a world filled with violence and evil. How does one choose life? By loving God and our fellow human being. It’s as simple (or as difficult) as that.
Shabbat shalom, my friends!
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein