When I was a little boy I used to sleep over at my grandmother’s house, something I really enjoyed. One night she came out with white cream all over her face. I asked her what it was. She said it was wrinkle cream. I said to her, I thought you already have enough wrinkles. She said, patiently, that it was to get rid of them.
This cream was later sold as something to reduce the signs of aging. It is now sold as something that will end the aging process, and is of course much more expensive.
What people are looking for is a way to live forever, and to look great forever, too.
On the surface, it sounds like this is what the Torah is offering.
In the Book of Deuteronomy God says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou may live, you and your descendants.”
If you look carefully, the choice is not life and blessing or death and curse. Everyone is going to have blessings and curses. There is no avoiding that. There are people who choose life even during the difficult moments. There are people who are so numb to the blessings in their life that they are like the living dead.
The Torah continues with a discussion of all those who are part of the covenant. The only people with specific jobs mentioned by name are the wood choppers and water carriers. They were not really great careers even then. No possibility of upward mobility. The job did not get any more interesting. It is important to notice, though, that what they did was still considered to beas valuable as what anyone else was doing, and just as deserving of honor, including honoring yourself. Everyone has something of value to contribute. Every moment in which you focus on doing the right thing and doing it well is a moment that is full and meaningful.
Choosing life does not mean you are not going to die, but that every moment can be filled with life and with good. When you truly live, you realize how much good there is. When you do not, it feels lifeless and meaningless.
It also means choosing life for future generations. It is a little scary knowing that their world may not be safe or easy. It means that it will be worth it. Holocaust survivors who started families, or started again with new families. They knew more than anyone how terrible the world could be, but they chose to create more life. Without their courage Judaism would have ended. Because of their courage, we have the strength to continue.
The Torah says the covenant is with “everyone who is standing together today.” Why did it have to say that? What does it matter whether they were standing or sitting? The idea is that we sometimes do not realize how many people really are standing with us if we let them, people who can help us truly live during the difficult parts of our journey. That is why the covenant was made with everyone. We can all help each other somehow to embrace life, to find meaning in times that are hard, and to not take for granted the moments of joy.
We have to stand together during the difficult parts of the journey. The ones who may not be standing with us at one point might stand with us when we really need them at another time. We might be the one they need someday when they feel they are standing alone.
This is why we come together on Rosh HaShana. You can pray anywhere. But we come to the synagogue to feel like we are not standing alone, that we are alive to every moment.
In these next few days, let’s think about how we can help those we treasure to live that journey with happiness and courage.