By Rabbi Pinchos Hecht | Atlanta Jewish Academy Head of School
I call to heaven and earth today to bear witness. I have placed the choice before you for life or death, blessings or curses; choose life. (Devarim 30:19)
Why does the Torah feel the need to instruct us to choose life over death? Can there be a more obvious choice?
The Torah’s wisdom here has become clear because we live in a time that is experiencing a culture devoted to death. Fundamentalism has corrupted the essence and purpose of religion. At its heart, religion is a gift to mankind from our Creator to support life. Fundamentalism, with its corrupted and distorted reading of texts, worships a culture that celebrates death and despair.
This disease has even infected some in our own home. The idea that failure to conform to one’s religious dictates or beliefs justifies murder has led to the deaths of a 16-year-old girl and the members of an innocent family of Israeli Arabs.
Our holy Torah repeatedly admonishes us never to return to the idolatry and culture of Egypt, with its vast resources devoted to death. Our culture is one of lovingkindness. But this nightmare is real, and it is a fact that we must acknowledge and address now. How did we get here, we who know that the Torah commands us to choose life?
It all starts with confusion and ignorance, accompanied by a lack of leadership. When leaders are ignorant and sheltered, they cannot lead. When politicians choose to obscure the truth and haven’t the courage to denounce evil, it will live and grow.
Possibly the most important of the 13 requests in the Amidah is the first, “Atah Chonen.” We ask G-d to grant us wisdom. Our rabbis teach us, “Without wisdom, where is differentiation?” Without discernment, one cannot differentiate between what is true and what is false, what is G-d’s will and what is not, what is holy and what is profane, what leads to life vs. what leads to death.
Today, our leaders are blind to the obvious. They lack the courage and fortitude to address or act to right what is wrong, leading to denial and distortion of reality. Evil is tolerated, murderers are freedom fighters, rogue regimes are given a pass, the guilty are guiltless, and the hated and despised are blamed. The world’s treatment of Israel is the proof. As Alan Dershowitz wrote for Newsmax, “Any objective person with an open mind, open eyes, and an open heart must see the double standard being applied to the nation-state of the Jewish people. Many doing so are the grandchildren of those who lethally applied a double standard to the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.”
The so-called civilized world is at it again, this time with our own American administration and its apologists leading the way. The murderous Iranian regime is legitimized, while Israel and the Jews are once again the villains.
However, our mission and purpose, given to us by the Holy One, are constant. We must glorify His name and make His presence known to mankind. We were and continue to be charged to “make the one and only invisible G-d visible to all of mankind.”
This can be achieved only by living meaningful, purposeful and loving lives that model our G-d’s attributes. Our rabbis teach us that just as the Creator grants love and goodness, deserved or not, so, too, must we.
Thrice daily, we recite, “He who blesses His chosen people of Israel with peace.” We are a people of peace and thereby able to bring peace to a world that desperately needs it.
We must champion love for all of mankind and bring light to a world of darkness. We must be a people and religion whose every path is full of sweetness and love, whose every road leads to lasting peace.
This High Holiday season, I pray for leaders with discernment and recommit myself to making the invisible, our one and only G-d, visible throughout the world. Join me in committing to live with purpose, meaning, love for all mankind and creation, and the pursuit of true peace for all.