With the new year waiting around the corner, the Torah teaches us this week to train our focus on the important things in life.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Nitzavim” (Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20). The reading concludes with the following verse “I have placed before you the choice of life and death…choose life!”
It is no less than awe-inspiring that the reading concludes with such a statement just 24 hours before Rosh Hashana – the day of judgement. This is because on Rosh Hashana, God evaluates every single human being and decides, based on their merits, what kind of year they are going to have.
And indeed, there is much discussion about being judged for “life” or “death.” It goes without saying that we all want life! It seems that the Torah portion is one last reminder to prepare for Rosh Hashana – the day we all pray for life!
Here is a story that helps illustrate what it means to “choose life,” assisting us to be more prepared for Rosh Hashana.
There was once a king who had three sons. He wanted to give them all prestigious jobs. The law, however, was that before a person could be given such a job he had to prove his wisdom. Therefore, the king told his three sons to go travel the world to gain wisdom and life experience.
The brothers set off in a boat. As they were approaching an island they saw in the distance a beautiful orchard. As soon as they docked they went to explore the orchard. When they got there, they saw three men at the entrance of the orchard. One was very old. One had terrible bodily afflictions. One was a very wise man.
Each of these men spoke to the three brothers and offered them advice. The first one told them: “Remember: you cannot remain in the orchard forever.” The second one warned them: “You can eat whatever you want but do not take anything with you.” The third one said: “When you eat from the fruits, stay away from the bad fruits — only choose the good ones.”
They then entered the orchard. They were blown away by its beauty, sights, and smells. They saw fountains and springs. It was clearly a well-planned out orchard built wisely. There were even gold and silver mines in the orchard.
The brothers explored the orchard together, enjoying its fruits and beauty. After a few days in the orchard, the brothers split up and went out on their own.
One brother spent his time eating and drinking as much as he could, one brother spent his time at the mines gathering gold and silver, and one brother simply spent his time contemplating the orchard. This third brother was mesmerized by the orchard.
He wanted to meet the wise man who designed it. He searched and search for some information on who made the orchard. He even came across some texts written by the designer which further testified that the designer was a genius.
Eventually, a message reached the brothers that their father, the king, wanted them to return home. And so they did, or at least, tried.
The first brother had become so accustomed to the sweet pleasures of the orchard that he was unable to live without them. He never went back. The second brother tried to carry out all the gold and silver he amassed but was prevented from doing so and went back a broken man. The third brother was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to get back to his father and tell him all that he had learned while in the orchard.
When the two remaining brothers reached the palace, the guards recognized the ‘third’ brother and welcomed him back royally. The ‘second’ brother, however, was unrecognizable and was therefore not permitted to enter the palace. The king, therefore, sat with the only one of his sons that made it back to the palace, heard about his experiences, and gave him one of the most prestigious positions in the kingdom.
My dear friends, the three sons represent us and our mission in this world. Moses tells us: “choose life” on Rosh Hashana, which we can do by focusing and committing ourselves to what’s important in life. We take nothing with us into the next world (“fruits”, “gold”, “silver”) – only our good deeds (“wisdom”). It doesn’t matter what kind of person you have been till now, it matters what type of person you want to be. The orchard is this world, the designer is God Almighty.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a meaningful Rosh Hashana, and a sweet new year.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portions, click on the links below: