Choosing Life: The Essence of the Torah
The Torah portion of Netzavim is always read immediately before the high holidays. Before completing the teshuvah of Elul and preparing for the even higher teshuvah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God commands us to choose life. The choice of life is the essence of the Torah, which is all life. The fact that God commands us to choose life also indicates that we do have the power of free choice.
The Three Choices that are One
In the unit beginning with chapter 30:15 in the Torah portion of Netzavim God sets three choices before us. The unit itself begins with the word re'eh ("see") implying that the choices to follow all have to do with sight. We may choose between life and death, good and bad, and blessing and curse. All of these choices are incorporated into the final exhortation of this unit of verses:
…and you shall choose life
Choosing the positive over the negative is always ultimately the choice of life. The negative side of reality defines the positive, puts it in proportion and gives it balance. The ultimate purpose of evil is to be incorporated into the good, which it reinforces. (More on this in Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture on the Torah portion of Re'eh). Nevertheless, we always strive to manifest the positive in reality. When we choose life, God also gives us the power to overcome the evil inclination that urges us to choose death.
The three positive choices are:
First Letter of Hebrew Word
The first letters of these three words spell the Hebrew word betach, which means "sure," "confidence" or "trust." Trust in God is the fullest manifestation of our faith in Him, and is an acronym for these three positive choices. When we trust in God, He gives us confidence in ourselves, empowering us to pursue those positive goals that we define for ourselves.
The Eye of Jacob
Among his last words to Israel in the desert (Deuteronomy 33:28) Moses says:
betach badad ein Yaakov
which means "sure, alone is the eye of Jacob." In Kabbalah and Chassidut we learn that our eyes, the eyes of Jacob, should be focused on betach — on blessing, good and life. When we focus, our eyes become a medium and conduit to receive power from Heaven to choose and actualize the object of our focus. The only focus of the eye of Jacob should be on the positive, the betach in life.
The numerical values of the words we are focusing on reinforce our point.
The numerical value of bracha, "blessing" is 227.
The numerical value of tov, "good" is 17.
The numerical value of chaim, "life" is 68.
Together they equal 312, the exact value of ein Yaakov, "the eye of Jacob."
[312 is 12 times 26 (God's essential Name, Havayah). The four letters of Havayah have 12 permutations, each alluding to a Divine power by which God creates one of the 12 months of the year. It also alludes to the Divine power inherent in each of the 12 souls of the tribes of Israel.]
Breaking the Shell
One of the deepest teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut is that good and evil are not two different sides of reality. Rather, both good and evil coexist at every point of existence. Around every blessing there is a surrounding shell of curse. When we activate the power of our eyesight to its fullest, we can penetrate that shell of death and access the life within. The life within is the betach that exists at every point of choice that we face.
Joseph, the Consummate Tzaddik
As above, the numerical value of the "eye of Jacob" is 12 times 26. When 26 is reduced to small numbers, it equals 17, the numerical value of tov, "good." 17 times 12 equals 204, the numerical value of tzadik, a "righteous person." Joseph is the consummatetzadik of the Torah. He was 17 years old at the crucial time of his life when he was sold to Egypt and when he was faced with the trial of the wife of Potiphar. As displayed by his actions throughout this turbulent period of his life, Joseph the Tzadik had the ability to penetrate the negativity of reality and contact its positive, Divine side.
Life: The Bottom Line
The Torah summarizes our potential choices with the directive to choose life. Our ability to focus on the positive in reality is the ultimate power of our sight, and ultimately brings us life.
The three positive energies of blessing, good and life correspond to the three mental faculties of the soul:
Blessing, associated with prosperity, corresponds to binah, "understanding."
Good, associated with family, corresponds to da'at, "knowledge."
Life, associated with Torah, corresponds to chochmah, "wisdom.
To See Life
The power of wisdom is identified with the power of sight. Of all the three positive energies, when we focus the inner eye of our souls, we see life. On the surface, it would seem that prosperity or goodness are easier to see than life. The classic work of Chassidut, the book of Tanya by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, quotes the Arizal to explain how we can see life. He explains that every elementary particle of creation has a spark of Divinity, and is alive. The ability to see that all of reality is alive with God's Divine spark is the deepest insight of the inner eye of the soul. When we focus on the life in all reality, God gives us the power to actualize it, to choose life and to be creative at every point of our existence.