Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Paths

With Rosh Hashana quickly approaching this Monday, the week’s Torah very appropriately discusses beginnings and endings. As the Torah concludes in the next few weeks, Moses says his last words before the Israelites enter the Holy Land without him. Finally, the Jews received their covenant with God, and Moses reminds them of the obligations acquitted to them. In order to live in the land of Israel with this holy benediction, God requires the Israelites to uphold the commandments of the Torah. Moses discusses a choice between two paths offered to every member of his caravan. According to his deal, the Jews either uphold the Torah’s law while receiving the highest blessings of abundance in crops, land, family, wealth, and joy. Moses warns of the awful curses destined to befall those who decide to disregard the Torah. Many parashot in Deuteronomy discuss blessings and curses for believers and the rest, and the decision makes itself very clear to a fundamentalist. According to a literal reader, the parashat, Nitzavim, says follow God without question or skepticism, or face unimaginable horror and toil. Jews, who interpret the Torah a bit looser, see the distinct choice by Moses in a different light. Nitzavim discusses destiny, an idea that offers that the actions of the past dictate the future and that some source predetermined all of these events to happen. The Torah portion teaches that every individual controls his or her own destiny. It relates a bit to karma, when the portion discusses receiving blessings for performing kind acts. However, Nitzavim reiterates a key point in the Torah. In one sense, God distinguishes Jews as the people destined to repair the world. From Adam and Eve all the way through Moses, the Torah contradictorily shows that God grants people free will. As the Jews stand before their Promised Land, Moses discusses how each Jew chooses their fate. He remarks the answers lie neither within the heavens nor under the seas. Personal journey relies on the choices of the heart and mind. Obstacles and blessings meander their ways in to life. Using values to approach them, actions of one’s own decision create an outcome. When reading about the week’s Torah portion, I thought of entering the Promised Land as taking an AP course. Sure, the amount of knowledge responsible in course like AP Biology is more than I ever needed to know in school in prior grades. I either study that information until I know the study of life better than my own personal accounts, or I decide to watch the Giants game instead. Even in grades and promotions, we select our path of life. As the shofar ushers in Rosh Hashana, choose wisely. Moses goes into detail about two diverged lifestyles. Moses says, “I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:11). In his case, life and prosperity derives from adhering to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Following these commandments leads to the first path. In reality, Judaism is about very little. A famous Jewish prayer says the world relies on the three things: Torah (study) , avodah (worship and work) , and gemulit chasidim (acts of love and kindness). I read Torah in a mindful, critical setting. Using my “God-given” free will, I select which laws to deem important and follow every day of my life. Some say the Torah is out of date, but how many of us really condone murder? Or do not support the leaving a part of our earnings for those who are stuck at the bottom of society? Or calling mom and dad to see how their lives are? The Torah is much more than God dictating the hate of gays or the abhorrence of premarital sex. Selecting laws based on the morality is not akin to Judaism by convenience. On the other hand, selecting laws because of how difficult they are to follow is not a critical lens to Judaism. The Torah serves as a guide book on “How To Be A Decent Human Being”. As far as I am concerned, looking at the holy laws in this conscientious way truly leads to life and prosperity.