If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism, selects Uvacharta Bachayim (‘Choose life’) (Deut. 30: 19)
I imagine sitting alone on a desert island, with no idea of when or if I might be rescued, would make me feel pretty distressed and lonely. As a people person, someone who finds the company of others nourishing and vital to my well-being, I cannot imagine such enforced solitude.
However, in a situation like this, the Torah verse “choose life” might act as tonic to despair. “Choose life”, Uvacharta bachayim, the verse from Sefer Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy, is an imperative to carry on – to challenge moments of sadness, of grief or isolation.
This is often very hard to do. I learnt this from some of my congregants when I was a communal rabbi at Alyth. A few years ago, we commissioned a small Sefer Torah. This smaller, lighter Torah scroll was a powerful statement of inclusion from the community.It has transformed our services.
Younger members, frailer members, women and men who might struggle with a larger scroll were at last included, able to take part in some of the most precious and rewarding mitzvot of synagogue life that involve carrying a Sefer Torah. As part of the fundraising campaign for this new scroll, people sponsored verses of the new scroll.
A couple who had tragically lost an adult child sponsored this verse – I asked them why they specifically chose it. They explained that they force themselves to “choose life” every day despite enormous loss and daily sorrow. They taught me the value, the critical importance of choosing life and carrying on even when you would prefer not to.
We all struggle with those moments when we’d prefer to remain under the duvet rather than facing the challenges of the world in which we live. At those very moments I know it’s an imperative to choose life. And so I do.