From Where I Stand

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman

“I call this day upon heaven and earth as witnesses. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

–Devarim 30:19

Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?

Clearly, the answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To choose life means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all that I inhabited Planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Was my life productive, worthwhile? When Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi wanted to bless his disciple Reb Yekusiel Liepler with wealth, the latter declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When he offered to bless him with longevity, he stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”

Reb Yekusiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life and he chose to live a life that would not simply be long, but would be purposeful and productive and really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.

With pain in my heart I think of those tired, sadly pathetic human beings who walk the corridors of old age homes around the world simply waiting for the next meal. They have exhausted their purpose in living. It is simply a question of existing or vegetating, and the most exciting event to look forward to is lunch or supper.

As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year. v

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at


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