Words That Prove You're Dead!
“Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,” G-d warns the Israelites. “You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.”
Why did G-d have to command this? Who wouldn’t choose life? Who would say, “Nah,” I think I’ll pick death, but thanks.” And yet, more often than we think, we actually do pick death.
There are two oft-used sentences which, contrary to their intentions, give more proof that the person saying them is dead rather than alive. They are, “I hate my life” and “I love my life.” These statements reveal a lack of faith, a lack of purpose and are inherently comfort-zone cop outs.
In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, we learn about these two deleterious mindsets of the “haters” and the “lovers.”
Oy, I hate my life:
The freed Israelites were extremely distressed by the challenges ahead.They perceived the uphill battles as so impassable that they actually complained that G-d ever took them out of Egypt. They went so far as to say that "because the Lord hates us” he took us out of Egypt. Contrary to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, said give me slavery. Servitude, after all, offers a sense of comfort, just as our own habits and routines are a form of slavery; we feel safe because we know what tomorrow will look like: We went to sleep a slave; we will wake up a slave. The burden of having to challenge ourselves is muted.
If we don’t fight the fear and abandon the comfort zone, we will always be crying to return to Egypt. We will resort to choosing evil because we are really more afraid to live than to die. It’s rather simple: if you hate your life, it’s because you are a prisoner of your own insecurities, a self-shackled slave. If you hate your life, it’s because you do not recognize the G-dly spirit inside you, nor the G-dly hand that guides you. He gave us the exit strategy: He opened the sea before us, and yet we spit at miracles. We become nostalgic for Egypt and say, “I hate my life,” only because we have no faith, no courage and no imagination.
“DO not be afraid,” the Almighty ensures us. “I will go before you and fight your battles.” The simple criteria is to believe He will. If G-d brought you to it, He will get you through it. As Bon Jovi’s hit lyrics advise: “Welcome to wherever you are…you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
Ah, I love my life:
Equally culpable of having no faith and living in the stagnant zone are those who declare, “I love my life.” These are people who try and preserve the status quo—often at any price—and the price is usually their potential, principles and purpose in life. They are living like soulless slabs of meat on ice. But, we are not born to be preservationists--nor are we even capable to seize the moments--but rather we are meant to be activists as the first commandment in the Torah instructs, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not just in seed but in deed. Why settle for driftwood when the Tree of Life--the living, breathing Torah--stands before you?
Don’t love your life, love life. The difference between them is life or death.
Alternative thinkers insist on the path of least resistance; the Jewish path is the path of unyielding persistence.There is no destiny in inertia, only atrophy. And so, twice in this week’s parasha, we read that G-d told the Jews that it’s time to move on: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain,” and then, “You have circled this mountain long enough.” Stop being comfortable. If even hanging around the holy Mount Sinai had an expiration date, just imagine how ruinous it is to hang around lesser plateaus in life. Move on! There are other mountains to climb, lessons to learn and tests to pass. Your soul and body are partners. Neither one is a lovely butterfly meant to be preserved under shiny glass, forever beautiful and forever useless. Stop loving your life and start living it. You think you’re tired? The Israelites set up and broke down 42 encampments before they ever got to the Promised Land, and still their battles have not ended. Why? Because as one University professor used to tell his tired students, “You’ll sleep when you’re dead.” In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do; get busy choosing life.