Choosing Life, Part 2

The shofar calls, but…

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

The second half of September sees the global Jewish community assembled to welcome the New Year of 5770. It is a time of introspection and contemplation. It is also a time for renewal and re-visioning.

One of the most powerful symbols of the New Year period is the ram’s horn, or shofar. A series of powerful blasts highlight the New Year celebration of Rosh Hoshonnah, and a long, slow sound brings the 10-day period to a close as the sun sets on Yom Kippur. This is a season when we are called upon to literally assess who we are, to put our spiritual lives in order, and to reflect on what we wish for the coming year. The prayers of the services are powerful, and the music is stirring. The readings from the Torah are designed to raise significant questions about life and our relationships to God and our fellow human beings. All in all, it is a season that calls on us to again, choose life!

But do we listen?

Here is a little prayer-wish for all of us on this season. I include myself, for this season finds me at my own spiritual crossroads. As the New Year begins, I, along with many of my generation, am quite aware that things are changing. We are gradually accepting, or at least acknowledging, our aging. We are at a stage when we are trying to figure out, really, what these next years will be, what they will mean, and how we will make sense of them and our place in them. This year, the shofar will call us to awaken our souls, and we wonder, to what?

One of my favorite readings during the season is from the book of Deuteronomy. This is the last of the five books that make up the Torah. The reading comes from the 29th and 30th chapter of the book and contains the phrase that is the basis of much of Jewish theology and civilization: “Choose life.”

This often-quoted phrase is the message for us. The shofar will call us to worship and remind us of the infinite possibilities for life that rests within each of us. This is a key message for us this year, and indeed every year. Choose to celebrate and enjoy the life we have been given. There is no more precious gift. Do not wait. Do not put off what you wish to do. Seize life, celebrate it, embrace it, wrestle with it. It is there for our living.

The reality check for this is also within the liturgy. One of the themes that runs through the prayers on these holidays is that, despite our wishes, we do not control much of life. The randomness of our own existence is always present, and its impact grows on us as we age. Thus, says the Torah reading, in the face of the randomness of so much of life, choose to live it. There is an old Yiddish expression that translates as “Man plans and God laughs.” You can make the argument that this expression correctly sums up one of the major themes of the holidays. It is as if the tradition is reminding us that plan as we might, so much happens that we do not and cannot control, we must remember to celebrate and enjoy the life we have.

A new year is now dawning. May it be a year of peace and joy, happiness and health for you and all who you care for and who care for and about you. And most of all, my prayer for you and me, is that we have the courage to choose life.