“The Choosing People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

It surely cannot be mere coincidence that parashiot Nitzavim and Vayeilech are always read in the weeks that immediately precede or follow Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year.

Both these parashiot, delivered by Moses on the last day of his life, contain themes that are most appropriate in preparation for the coming new year. In parashat Nitzavim, Moses proclaims the renewal of the Jewish people’s covenant with G-d. He prepares the people to enter the land of Canaan, warning them of the challenges of idolatry that await them there. He predicts the eventual repentance and redemption of the Jewish people, tells them how accessible the Torah is to them, and beseeches the people to choose life.

In parashat Vayeilech, Moses takes leave of the people and appoints Joshua as his successor. He reminds them how a leader must be dedicated to the Torah and that, although his end is near, the Torah will always be there to serve as testimony for and against the Jewish people.

Particularly resonant is the verse that appears at the end of parashat Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30:15, which states: “R’ay nah’tah’tee l’fah’neh’chah ha’yom, et ha’chah’yeem v’et ha’tov, v’et ha’mah’vet v’et ha’rah,” Behold, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil. Moses adjures the people to love G-d, to walk in His ways, and to observe His commandments. He again promises them reward for their faithful behavior.

Then, in dramatic conclusion, Moses tells the people (Deuteronomy 30:19): “Ha’ee’doh’tee va’chem ha’yom et ha’shah’mayim v’et ha’ah’retz, ha’cha’yeem v’ha’mah’vet nah’tah’tee l’fah’neh’chah, ha’bra’chah v’ha’k’lah’lah, oo’vah’char’tah bah’chah’yeem l’mah’ahn tich’yeh ah’tah v’zar’eh’chah,” I call heaven and earth today to bear witness upon you. I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring!

In a brilliant and moving essay found in his exceptionally penetrating book on the weekly parashiot, Hegyonot Mikrah, Dr. Yisrael Eldad (1910-1996, noted Israeli freedom fighter and Revisionist Zionist philosopher) writes about life and the ability to choose. Dr. Eldad states boldly that the highest of all life’s blessings is the ability to choose. It is the greatest of miracles. Offering a truly unique interpretation of the idea of chosenness, Eldad suggests that being chosen means that G-d has given us the ability to choose. After all, for those who have no ability to choose there can be no commandments. Those without the ability to choose operate as automatons, driven by nature or instinct. The reason that human beings are regarded as the epitome of creation is only because they are blessed with the ability to choose.

The choices that human beings make have bold implications for life and death–not only for those who make the choices, but also for the chooser’s progeny. Because of that, each person bears a critical responsibility for the fate of many future generations.

Jewish tradition declares (Shabbat 156a), “Ayn mazal L’Yisrael,” Israel is immune to planetary influences. The destiny of the Jewish people is not subject to lotteries or chance.

The Torah teaches, and experience confirms, that the life of our nation is determined by the moral and ethical choices made by the people and the nation.

The essential purpose of Judaism is to sanctify human life. The function of faith, knowledge of G-d and the performance of Mitzvot are for nothing less than the sake of sanctifying the world and perpetuating life.

The dictum, “oo’vah’char’tah va’chayim,” choose life, is not intended as a decree. It is rather a call to action–-in essence, a call to life. The fulfillment of this choice is expressed in a double way. The gift of life is given to each individual by G-d. But love of life is also a gift that each person may choose for himself. It is for this enriched life that a person struggles, labors and for which we pray.

How fortunate are we to be both the Chosen People and the Choosing People.

May you be blessed.