Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

>Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayelekh 5771

Several weeks ago, in Parshat Re-eh, the Torah lays out a clear choice: a blessing or a curse (Deuteronomy 11:26). Coming full circle, after hearing last week all of the blessed and cursed details on the mountains of Gerizim and Eival, the choice is summarized concisely in this week’s Torah reading: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life” (30:19). It doesn’t seem to be such a difficult choice, does it?

Maybe that which seems obvious isn’t always so. This midrash illustrates why the dimensions of human free will need to be presented in these terms:

A parable[: to what is the matter comparable?] To an old man seated on a highway from which there branched two roads, [one full of thorns but level at the end], and the other level at the beginning but full of thorns at the end. So he sat at the fork of the road and cautioned passersby, saying, “Even though the beginning of this road is full of thorns, follow it, for it will turn level in the end.” Whoever sensibly heeded the old man and followed that road did get a bit weary at first, to be sure, but went on in peace and arrived in peace. Those who did not heed the old man set out on the other road and stumbled in the end. So it was with Moses, who explicitly said to Israel, “Behold the way of life and the way of death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life!” (Tanhuma Re-eh 3)

Can you think of a time when the words of this midrash came true in your life? How can we apply this teaching to Jewish living and priorities for the coming year? Let’s discuss this more on Shabbat morning, we’ll give you a safe space to share.

Shabbat Shalom!