A very wise man once wrote to me: I just want you to know that careers and life are not the same. You can change careers and you can change locations but your life is whatever you are and wherever you are. I am not sure I understood what he was saying when I first read this as I was a senior in College, but now, this year, it suddenly makes sense.
This past Shabbat, we read from Parshat Nitzavim Chapter 30 verse 19-20 states:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse, CHOOSE LIFE- if you and your offspring would live, by loving the Lord your God, heeding his commands and holding fast to him, for thereby you shall have life and shall long endure…. ETC.”
The parshah we read leading up to Rosh Hashannah and this new year implores us to choose life. This implies that our destiny is in our hands, we have the choice- CHOOSE LIFE!
This seems fitting as we enter into Rosh Hashanah and a new year. As we will read shortly, today the world was born, HaYom HARAT OLAM- we have a clean slate, a clean beginning. We have the choice to choose how our world will shape up in the next year.
And yet, The text of the Amidah for Musaf states in the Unetanetokef prayer- on Rosh Hashannah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed- God determines the destiny of living creatures- Camah Ya’avorun v’chamah yibarun, Mi Yikyeh u’mi Yamut, Mi B’kiso u’mi lo bkiso, mi ba’esh u’mi ba’mayim, etc. How many shall leave this world and how many shall be born into it, who shall live and who shall die, who shall live out the limit of his days and who shall not, who shall perish by fire and who by water, etc.
This implies that the choice is not in our hands, but God’s hands- our fate is sealed. Since I moved to Southern California, it seems even more real with the fires, earthquakes, mudslides, maybe I don’t have the choice.
So what do we do with these two seemingly contradictory pieces in our texts. As we enter into this task of spending time with ourselves, taking inventory of the past year, trying to seal ourselves into the book of life, we have this task- choose life, choose to live, work on yourself.
The Slonim Rebbe had some of the same questions that I had- is it in our hands, or God’s hands? How can I choose life if it says in the liturgy, God will decide? He teaches that there is a difference between the spiritual and the physical- the text of the unetanetokef- we will live and who will die? is speaking of the physical, those things which we all realize we have little control over. While the text in Nitzavim teaches us on the spiritual, CHOOSE LIFE- it is we choose to live a Godly life, we have the power to choose how our spiritual life will pan out.
It seems to me that these texts always come hand in hand, we have the choice to live, and when we aren’t strong enough to make that choice, God will help us along. We are living in a partnership, to choose life is to choose our own path, to believe, to pray.
That wise man was reminding me that the choice is mine. As we enter into the Musaf, we stand before God, vulnerable, open, exposed, take a moment to make your own choice, with the silence left by the lack of the shofar, take the time to choose life, which direction will you go? With this gift of time, which will you choose? Life? Change? Blessing? Here we are given a gift, the lines to God are open. We are here in this place with one task at hand. We are to take stock in ourselves, open our minds and hearts, speak to god. What is your choice?