Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Rosh Hashanah: Choose Life

The Torah portion of Netzavim is always read immediately before the high holidays. Before completing the teshuvah of Elul and preparing for the even higher teshuvah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God commands us to choose life. The choice of life is the essence of the Torah, which is all life. The fact that God commands us to choose life also indicates that we do have the power of free choice.

In the Torah portion of Netzavim God sets three choices before us. The verses begin with the word re’eh (“see”) implying that the choices to follow all have to do with sight. We may choose between life and death, good and bad, and blessing and curse. All of these choices are incorporated into the final exhortation of this unit of verses:

…and you shall choose life

Choosing the positive over the negative is always ultimately the choice of life. The negative side of reality defines the positive, puts it in proportion and gives it balance. The ultimate purpose of evil is to be incorporated into the good, which it reinforces. Nevertheless, we always strive to manifest the positive in reality. When we choose life, God also gives us the power to overcome the evil inclination that urges us to choose death.

The first letters of the three positive choices – blessing/bracha, good/tov, and life/chaim spell the Hebrew word betach, which means “sure,” “confidence” or “trust.” Trust in God is the fullest manifestation of our faith in Him, and is an acronym for these three positive choices.  When we trust in God, He gives us confidence in ourselves, empowering us to pursue those positive goals that we define for ourselves.

One of the deepest teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut is that good and evil are not two different sides of reality. Rather, both good and evil coexist at every point of existence. Around every blessing there is a surrounding shell of curse. When we activate the power of our eyesight to its fullest, we can penetrate that shell of death and access the life within. The life within is the betach – the blessing, good and life that exists at every point of choice that we face.

The Torah summarizes our potential choices with the directive to choose life. Our ability to focus on the positive in reality is the ultimate power of our sight, and ultimately brings us life.

The power of wisdom is identified with the power of sight. Of all the three positive energies, when we focus the inner eye of our souls, we see life. On the surface, it would seem that prosperity or goodness are easier to see than life. The classic work of Chassidut, the book of Tanya by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, quotes the Arizal to explain how we can see life. He explains that every elementary particle of creation has a spark of Divinity, and is alive. The ability to see that all of reality is alive with God’s Divine spark is the deepest insight of the inner eye of the soul. When we focus on the life in all reality, God gives us the power to actualize it, to choose life and to be creative at every point of our existence.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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