The two choices – today and in history

Rav Baruch Plaskow, Rosh Kollel, Montreal Kollel, 2005

‘See! I give you today (a choice of) a blessing and a curse. The blessing, when you listen to the commandments of God your Lord, which I command you today. The curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of God your Lord, and you deviate from the path which I command you today, in order to follow other gods which you did not know.’ (Deut. 11:26-28)

In this week’s Parasha, the Torah offers us a very obvious choice of either life or death. Man has to make the correct choice at all times of his life. However, upon reflection this passage seems a little strange. Which person would act in such a destructive way? Why does the Torah have to warn us about such illogical behaviour?

The answer perhaps lies in humanity’s first choice in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told to eat from the Tree of Life and to avoid the Tree of Knowledge. Only the intervention of the serpent led them to believe that the latter could be beneficial to their destinies.

There is a lesson for all of us to derive from this. We are all placed in our Garden of Eden with an opportunity to find G-d. At all times the malicious serpent stands at our side instructing us to self-destruct and make poor and improper choices. The question now arises – how does one learn to make correct decisions?

There is only one answer – through devotion to Torah and being totally committed to it. G-d’s will embedded in the Torah is objective, man’s is subjective. The more we connect to the former, the more confident we can be that we are making the right choice. This is true not only for obvious Halachic issues but also for the major life questions that we are all confronted with.

It is however G-d’s will that we shall never know whether we have made mistakes or not. The Gemara in Brachot tells us that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zachai lamented until the day of his death, the decision he had to make at the time of the temple’s destruction. He had asked for Yavne and its Sages having felt that the leadership would never agree to giving him any part of Yerushalyim. Rabbi Akiva felt that Rabbi Yochanan had made a terrible mistake. Rabbi Yochanan had to live the rest of his life not knowing weather he had been the saviour of Jewry or the one responsible for the destruction of Yerushalyim. It is clear that only those who are united with Torah and G-d’s will are able to even make such monumental decisions. However, only time and hindsight allows us to properly evaluate whether they were correct ones or not.

This summer has been a very difficult one for all of us. We saw scenes on our televisions that we did not think possible. The government of Israel has made a monumental decision that will have long-term ramifications on the State of Israel and the Jewish world. Let us hope and pray that our leadership will not need to feel the burden that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zachai felt three thousand years ago during those terrible times.