We find ourselves in election season, and we don’t know whether to add the word “again,” or to admit that the last four years have actually been one long extended election season.
But a more literal translation of the Hebrew word for elections, bechirot, might lead us to a more fundamental understanding of what we’ve been going through. What we’re really in is not election seasons, but choices season.
This resonates deeply with this time period in the Jewish calendar. The high holidays season is a time of making choices- who do I want to be, what do I want this year to be like?
And it resonates with the Torah portion we read this Shabbat, in which the Jewish people are told that, essentially, they are being faced with the ultimate choice- the choice between life and death.
“See that I have set before you today, life and good and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)
It doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult choice to make. Who would choose death? But perhaps choosing death is not as unusual as it initially seems. Perhaps to choose death means to live a life primarily motivated by the fear of death, by the specter of one’s mortality. Perhaps it means to live a life whose prime purpose is not to die. Is that all that life is about? Is that all we’re here for?
Could it be that this is the very choice that Israelis have been faced with for the last 4 years?
Israel celebrated its 70th birthday as a successful, prosperous modern miracle, with an unmatched military, and a robust economy. And ever since, Israel has found itself being asked again and again to go to elections. To choose- who are we, and what do we want to be like? Will we choose death, choosing to live in constant existential fear of imminent destruction, a fear that demands strong leadership much more than it demands leadership of high moral stature, a fear that allows for endless compromises on values for the sake of our survival, and that ultimately leads to countless examples of corruption and neglect? Or will we be confident enough to choose to aspire to the good, even when that would seem to demand a sacrifice of prosperity or security?
The most extreme and basic example of this choice between life and death, quite literally, is the question of Israel’s arms sales policy. To choose death is to justify the export of death for others, for fear of our own death. In the end, this is what all the excuses for Israeli arms sales to murderous regimes boil down to- we need to do this for economic reasons, because otherwise people here will be out of a job, for diplomatic reasons, because isolated Israel needs all the friends she can get, for security reasons, because embattled Israel needs to, and is justified in doing anything and everything to fight our enemies and ensure our security.
For the last four years, a very small group of activists has been trying to make the Israeli public, and our political representatives, realize that this is the most basic choice that we face as a people, and we continue to ignore it at our own peril. This past week, 35 rabbinic leaders spanning a broad religious spectrum called on all political parties to commit to ending Israeli arms sales to murderous regimes. Yanshoof, an organization dedicated to this cause, requested from all parties to clarify their position on this critical issue, but has thus far received only a single response.
When will we understand what the real choice is that has been set before us? When will we understand that we are being called to “choose life”?
Second in a series