If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Rabbi Charles Wallach, a chaplain to the NHS, selects: Bacharta Bachayim (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Having sometimes dreamed of being given the opportunity to appear on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (but never thinking it would actually happen), I have often thought about songs or pieces of music I might like to have with me on a mythical island.
In among these would have been If I Were A Rich Man from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, as not only did my wife and I appear in a memorable amateur production of it 30 years ago, but it also reminded me of that Talmudic aphorism: “Who is rich? One who is happy with their lot” – a phrase that I have long seen as something to aspire towards.
However, as my life has also been filled with choices, the passage in the book of Deuteronomy (starting with the choice between blessings and curses or between life and death and which sees its conclusion in the exhortation many chapters later) carries perhaps the greatest message of Judaism for me.
It says bacharta bachayim: Choose life, live life and live it as best one can. And, through that, hopefully make life good for oneself and also for those around one and beyond.
For, as that great teacher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “Bacharta bachayim – choose life (Deuteronomy chapter 30 verse 19) is the great legacy of the Hebrew Bible: It means both living life and being challenged by it.”
Sometimes that can mean facing difficulties. Sometimes we are called to act. But most of all it means to be alive to all the gifts that life has to offer.