When we speak about the species called mankind, we understand right away that the outstanding feature that makes him superior to all of creation is his mind, his ability to reason. Left unfettered, without any incentive, without any initial input, a man’s mind is able to develop the greatest theses, the greatest arguments, the greatest results; from logic. In all of the animal kingdom there’s nothing as impressive as man’s ability to think and reason and to make decisions.
Now, by no means am I saying that we are superior in all areas. Animals can do some things instinctively in a way superior to mankind. Did you ever encounter a roach, let’s say, in the bathroom? You give him a whack with a newspaper and he falls down. It’s all over you think. But as soon as you turn around, he darts swiftly away and he hides. So not only does he bolt like an arrow but he’s cunning; he plays dead to save his life.
Spider Versus Wasp
Or the spider; a spider builds webs that are feats of architecture, complicated edifices that engineers marvel at. I was watching at minchah here how a spider web in this window had caught a wasp. During chazaras hashatz I was distracted; I was watching the wasp. It was a very big insect and it was struggling like it never struggled before, rapidly beating its wings trying to escape. And the strings, the threads of the web, were so thin that from where I was standing I couldn’t see a thing; it looked like the wasp was suspended in midair, on nothing. But the web was so built that it stood its ground.
It was remarkable to see the principles of engineering that the spider had employed so that these weak threads should not be pulled off from their bases or should not snap. They are spaced with such chochmah, with such design and structural wisdom that they are able to withstand an invasion by a very big insect and even the extremely strong force the insect exerts when he struggles to get free. And I saw the little spider sitting a little way off and watching how the wasp was struggling and then when he saw the wasp was becoming too active and the spider was afraid that the web might snap, he climbed down from his hiding place and injected a little poison to quieten down the wasp. Then he went back and he waited.
The Orphaned Spider
“What skills!” you’ll say, “What chochmah! What wisdom!”
But actually it’s not; it has nothing to do with the spider – he’s been pre-programmed. Let’s say he was an orphan. His father and mother were eaten up by a sparrow on the day he was born and he has nobody to train him. No parents, no trade schools, no employment training. No matter! That little spider has stored up in his tiny brain all the wisdom he needs to make a web. And he makes it just like his great-great grandfather did without even knowing that he had one.
So where did the spider get in his tiny brain the chochmah of making such an architectural accomplishment that engineers today study? Where did the roach learn to play dead and then to dart away exactly at the right time? It’s instinct. It’s niflaosha’Borei, chochmas Hashem, and nothing more.
Man on the other hand wasn’t given these gifts; it takes many years of studying and training for a human being to learn the wisdom of architecture and engineering. And yet even though the spider has a leg up on us when it comes to that, Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave mankind something that’s infinitely superior to those innate instincts. What is it? It’s the gift of free will.
The difference between animals and mankind is most markedly noticeable in the fact that we are not pre-programmed robots. We were given that great gift of the ability to reason, the ability to use the mind in order to make choices. A spider can make the most ingenious spider webs but it can’t choose to do anything else. It’s on automatic pilot.
Man however can choose! Man, by means of his own reasoning, can choose to do or not to do, to think or not to think. Man can choose to become great or not to become great. And that’s what Hakadosh Baruch Hu says in this week’s sedrah: הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ – “I put before you life and death …, וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים – and I want you to choose life” (Netzavim 30:19). Man can choose to live or not to live!
Now, to choose life doesn’t mean not to commit suicide. Life and death in the words of the Torah mean more than just saving your life or preserving you from death. הַחַיִּים means to live forever. You have the choice of becoming worthy of living forever. And וְהַמָּוֶת – you have the other choice too. Death means not only to die in this world, but it means death forever and ever in the Next World.
The Mitzvah to Choose
And Hashem tells us what He wants: וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים – You should choose life. Rabbeinu Yonah in his Shaarei Teshuvah (3:17) says that some of the most fundamental principles of successful living are given to us in the forms of mitzvas asei. And he gives as an example, a prime example, this mitzvah of וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים. It’s a command that is unceasing, never-ending. To be alert; to keep your thoughts focused on choosing life. It’s a mitzvah that includes the whole life of a person because that’s what living means. Not that we should live like the spider, like a pre-programmed creature, waking and doing and eating and sleeping. No, no; וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים means to live with alertness, with awareness that every minute is an opportunity to choose to live successfully.
Now, once a person understands this, life becomes the most precious commodity. That’s why when Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe Rabbeinu, הֵן קָרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת – Your days are close to die, so Moshe put up the biggest fight. He didn’t want to die. וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל ה’ – I entreated Hashem! ‘Please, let me live longer and go into Eretz Yisroel. Even if I can’t lead the people, don’t take me out of this world yet.’
And when Hashem said, “No, your time is finished,” Moshe was devastated; not just because he wanted to see Eretz Yisroel – because to live means the opportunity to choose, to choose life.
The Living Dead
That’s why רְשָׁעִים בְּחַיֵּיהֶם קְרוּיִם מֵתִים – the wicked, even while they’re alive, they’re called ‘dead’ (Brachos 18). A rasha who is always responding to his base desires, his instincts, so he’s not living with choice. He’s living like a spider.
Even worse, it could be he’s already so ingrained in wrong habits that many times he’s not able to change anymore because Hakadosh Baruch Hu takes away his bechirah; like He did to Pharaoh. He made Pharaoh’s heart heavy, so Pharaoh could not change anymore – he couldn’t choose; the Rambam says that. He says that sometimes Hashem punishes a wicked person by taking away their free will and they remain reshoim forever. That’s a terrible onesh; it’s the same as death. רְשָׁעִים בְּחַיֵּיהֶם קְרוּיִם מֵתִים – they’re dead while they’re still alive because life is intended for choosing.
Litter on the Road
Now, this is a subject we should think about often because the awareness of what bechirah means opens up for us a whole boxful of opportunities. Once a person understands this great gift of bechirah, every moment of life is an opportunity to achieve diamonds! There’s no end of choosing life for the one who is alert to this mitzvah. There are diamonds everywhere!
It’s not a form of speech. We actually are traversing a road littered with rubies, emeralds, sapphires. And every one of them is more precious than a block of apartment houses because you’re choosing eternity – you’re choosing to live forever.
Now, if you’ll ask me for examples of these precious stones so I’ll tell you that you have to keep coming here. That’s what we talk about here in this place, about how to choose life. One of the stones is, as you’re walking down the road you’re thinking for one moment, “I remember from our great history that Hakadosh Baruch Hu took our forefathers out of Egypt and gave us freedom from bondage.” In middle of the day – its not Pesach – it’s an ordinary Wednesday. You’re doing a mitzvah of the Torah, לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. A real commandment of the Torah! In that one second it took to say these words or to think these words, you gained a most precious gift. You chose life!
Love and Diamonds
Another diamond: Let’s say tomorrow you’re sitting down to eat. Between bites you remind yourself of what you heard tonight and you’ll think, “Why should I waste this one half minute?” And so you’ll say as follows, “I love my people.”
You know what you did now? You did what Hashem wanted to hear from you because He loves them too. אֵין הקב”ה אוֹהֵב אֶלָּא לְמִי שֶׁאוֹהֵב אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל – Hashem loves only those who loves His people! (Mesillas Yesharim, Ch. 19) “Oh,” Hashem says, “What did I just hear from this man? He said he loves his people!” You picked up a diamond now! You chose life!
Why wait till tomorrow? Right here where you are, stop for a moment and say, “I love you Hashem.” Right now, all together, everyone say, “I love You Hashem.” That’s a tremendous achievement in life! You can say it again and again and each time it’s another precious diamond! And don’t think it’s an exaggeration! Life is full of diamonds! You don’t have to waste a minute from choosing.
Driving Blind on Ocean Parkway
Oh, what a tragedy for those who don’t know this! I look out my window on Motzei Shabbos, Saturday night, and I see cars rushing down Ocean Parkway. An endless line of cars are traveling to Manhattan; also an endless line of cars arriving from Manhattan to here. Where are they going? If there’s something in one place, they’d all be traveling in one direction. But they’re traveling in various directions
Some of them are choosing to go to the movies. How silly a choice it is! “I’ll coop myself up in a movie where there’s no fresh air and it costs money too and my eyes are feasting on garbage that never happened, on someone else’s imagination.” If people would only know what they’re giving up when they choose movies; it’s mavess, if you’re Hungarian, it’s the same word. They’re not choosing life. They’re choosing the other thing.
It’s only that people are blind and they don’t see the diamonds right in front of them. But if you would open your eyes you would see diamonds on the street, rubies, beautiful stones, precious stones. And as you walk on the street you say, “I love you, Hashem,” or you say, “I love my nation, the Jewish people,” you say, “I love the Torah,” or you say, “I remember you took us out of Egypt.”
Thousands of things you can choose to do. Daven to Hashem, “Hashem, guard me against loshon hora.” Every moment of life is another opportunity. And as you say these words, as you think these thoughts, you’re picking up diamonds. And the diamonds go into your mind; your mind becomes more valuable, more exquisite than it was before!
That’s what life is but the world is blind. And therefore, Hashem said, “Take off the blinders. I put you into this world to accomplish. הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ – I put before you life and death, וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים – and I want you to choose life.” And not only I ‘want’. I commanded you. You must constantly choose to live for a purpose. It’s called living in the present, understanding that every moment of your life you can be choosing life.
Part II. Reliving With Choice
I’m going to tell you a chiddush now, something that will expand this mitzvah of bechirah in directions that you would never have imagined. And if you’ll take it seriously you’ll see that the opportunities of bechirah, the diamonds on the road, are much more than what we said till now.
What’s the expanded bechirah I’m talking about? It’s called bechirahl’mafreya, retroactive choosing. It means that besides for picking up diamonds by living in the present, a person can choose to activate his free will “l’mafreya” – on things that already happened in the past.
You didn’t know that? It’s good you came tonight because it’s a principle we can apply in many areas of life. It’s not my chiddush by the way. Boruch Hashem, I had rebbeim in Slabodka who taught me this – they brought proofs, various proofs (ed.: See sefer Lev Avigdor Shaar Habechirah) – and I’m just sharing it with you so that you can utilize it to great benefit. Besides for activating the free will to live in the present, to make use of every minute of life, a person can also fulfill וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים for the past.
A Fight with the Sandak
It’s a very important principle and let’s see where it leads. I want to remind you about your bris. You were lying on the pillow on the knees of the sandak and the mohel started making preparations for your bris. Were you happy about it? Absolutely not. You were kicking and crying and the mohel told the sandak, “Hold on tightly to his legs!” And you, you poor little victim, you were screaming and fighting to get loose but your little toothpick legs couldn’t do anything. If you could have, you would have kicked the mohel in the face and run out of the beis haknesses to hide in the bushes somewhere.
So the question is, were you mekayem the mitzvah? You didn’t choose that mitzvah; you did nothing. And that’s a pity because you have to know the mitzvah of milah is so important that it’s one of the two mitzvos asei in the Torah for which there’s kareis. If a person refuses to let himself be gemahled, he’s chayav kareis. And you didn’t want it!
Such an important mitzvah and it’s done baal korchoch, against your will?! Is that a way for a man to live? All his life to have on his record one of the most important mitzvos that he did not want to do?
It’s a big question. Don’t think it’s a small question.
Reliving the Pain
The answer is what we’re talking about now: bechirah l’mafreya. You hear that? It’s not too late. Now is the time! Right now it doesn’t hurt; it’s easier. And because you have seichel now you can use it to choose. “Ah, I thank you Hashem! If I had to do it again now, I would do it gladly. I would tell the mohel, ‘Go ahead.’ I won’t scream.’”
Now, it could be you would scream. You know, when they circumcise Russian boys – there are Jewish boys who come from Russia; they’re big boys already, eighteen-year-old boys and they’re not circumcised. So when they send the mohel down to do the bris milah, along with him they send six strong solid Lubavitchers. And their job is to hold him down!
So it could be that you might get cold feet. But at least you’re saying it. “I won’t scream. I wouldn’t kick. I’d do it gladly, a big mitzvah like that, only once in a lifetime. I’m so happy.”
Circumcising during Bentching
Now if you pay a little attention when you say birkas hamazon so you’ll know that in the brachah of נוֹדֶה לְךָ ה’ אֱלֹקֵינוּ we thank Hashem for a number of things. You’re sitting back now and you’re burping; you’re full, boruch Hashem! But before you come to thanking for the food, you say וְעַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ — I thank You Hashem for the bris that You stamped in our bodies.
Now here is a great opportunity to choose. As you’re saying these words you’re thinking: “I am happy that I had this mitzvah done on me. I’m sorry that I kicked and cried. I am mekabel b’rotzon, with my full goodwill, all that was done.”
Everyone else is rushing through, but you stop for a half minute and you’re imagining now how you’re on the sandak’s knees and they’re getting you ready for the milah. And you say, “I’m willing to do it. I’m happy to do it. I thank you, עַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ.” Of course it’s not the same as choosing it beforehand, no, but there’s something there. It’s an opportunity. You’re going to get a certain reward for your bechirah l’mafreya.
Now, the mitzvah of milah is just an example, a mashal of the opportunities life provides. Of course, if you’re hearing this now for the first time so it might seem ridiculous to you. That’s why you have to come here more often. It’s a very big subject, this matter of utilizing certain things that happened already and going back and saying, “Yes, I am maskim, I accept it as if I was standing there and looking on.”
Back to Slabodka
I’ll tell you something private, how it applies to myself. You know, when I went to Slabodka, it wasn’t really my choice. I remember, I had chaveirim and we were sitting somewhere in Manhattan outside of the yeshivah on the lawn and we were talking. My chaveirim said that they were going to Slabodka. “Come along with us,” they said.
Now I was happy learning in the yeshivah here in America. I was learning well and I didn’t want to leave. But they were good chaveirim, they were my chaburah, so I went along with them. Baal korchi, I went along. I did not choose of my own free will to go to Slabodka! I got dragged along.
I look back now. What a hatzlachah it was for me! It was the highest point in my life! To learn in an old-time European yeshivah! The ruach I experienced in that yeshivah is not to be found anywhere today. Besides for the milchemes haTorah that went on day and night, there was also the ruach hamussar. There was a remarkable spirit of respect for our great roshei yeshivah, men with brilliant minds, teaching Slabodka derachim. Brilliant minds they had!
And all that, everything that I gained there and everything I became, was not because I chose to do it! It wasn’t me! I should have chosen to go but I didn’t have the seichel.
Now, is that the way to live? That one of the biggest benefits I received in life, whatever I achieved, it should be against my will? So I think about that often; I go back and say “Hakadosh Baruch Hu, I’m so happy I went. Right now, sixty eight years later, I’m choosing to go.”
Back to School
And that’s an important lesson for everyone. Because here’s a five-year-old little boy and they’re taking him to the cheder. He’s not happy with it. He wants to stay home with his mother. In cheder, sometimes there are rough boys and sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes the rebbe might give you a little potch too. In my times, the rebbes gave petch.
He’s not happy at all but what can he do? Nobody asked him. It’s not his choice. He has to go. The mother wakes him up – and the mean father is coming home from shul soon – so he has to go to cheder.
Such a benefit was given to you – you were introduced to the world of Torah! – and you never were able to appreciate that great opportunity! Yes, of course, when you open a Gemara now, you have a geshmak in it. Even if not, at least you understand that Torah is a big mitzvah. You’re willing to learn. But at that time there was no bechirah at all. Your career in Torah was begun baal korchoch and that’s how it remains all your life – unchanged.
So you have to go back now and say, “I’m so grateful to my parents that they forced me every morning to get up and go to cheder. I’m choosing now to accept, to be happy all those times when I wanted to sleep and they said, ‘Nothing doing! You have to go to cheder!’”
It could be you’re sixty years old now but you say it anyhow. That’s bechirah l’mafreya. It’s an especial perfection of the mind, to choose even in the past.
Abba! Potch Me Again!
When you grow up as an adult and you think of all the occasions when your parents scolded you, sometimes they slapped you, it wasn’t with happiness that you received those reprimands and blows. But now you look back and you say, ‘Baruch Hashem, I am grateful that that happened to me. Whatever they did was for my benefit.’
He wanted to make a mentch out of you. And it worked. To a certain extent you’re a mentch – and a certain amount of credit goes to those petch. And so you should choose that right now. It’s like you were standing there and telling your father, “Abba, Tatte, give me a potch. I deserve it.” Imagine what a big schar. L’mafreya, you’re choosing life.
And what if it wasn’t your father; what if Hashem gave you a potch? If you ever had a fever in the past, let’s say when you were a little boy, or a toothache once upon a time, look back now and note that it was good for you. Yissurim memarkim. Adversity, suffering is a benefit.
Now most people who are listening to these words, don’t even think what it means. Yissurim are a benefit, they’re a gift from heaven. A lot of sins, a lot of Gehenom is wiped away by means of troubles. Only at that time, you don’t appreciate it. To be mekabel yissurim willingly, that’s a madreigah that is not easy for us regular people; most of us will never be able to do that beforehand, to ask for yissurim. But chas v’shalom, if it happened already, you didn’t ask for it but it happened anyway? B’dieved, if you take upon yourself a willingness for what happened, in a certain sense, you get reward as if you did it. Absolutely.
Thanking for Tzaros
At least when it’s all over so it’s easier now to think about it; you can use your free will to look back and say “אוֹדְךָ ה’ כִּי אָנַפְתָּ בִּי – I thank you Hashem that you were angry at me” (Yeshayah 12:1). I thank You Hashem that You brought the difficulties upon me because difficulties change a person. Everybody gets better as a result of yissurim.
Some people become great tzaddikim because of the difficulties they encountered in life but even those who didn’t become big tzaddikim, nobody becomes worse because of yissurim. And therefore if you have sense, you’ll take tonight’s words and think back to all the difficult times in your life and say, “I thank you Hashem for what you did for me.” That’s also included in “choosing life”.
Now, I really would like to speak more about the subject – I have lots to say on it, lots of examples – but I’m afraid too much will seem ridiculous in the eyes of people who are not accustomed to it. But at least this we should know. As great of a subject bechirah is – and it’s a very great subject, the opportunity to choose greatness and perfection – it’s infinitely greater when you practice expanding וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים into the past.
Part III. Living For Choice
A Fool and His Money…
In Mishlei (17:16) we read the following verse. It’s a question but really it’s a rhetorical question; we know the answer. לָמָּה זֶּה מְחִיר בְּיַד כְּסִיל – Why is it that money is in the hand of a fool? It means, what’s a fool doing with money? לִקְנוֹת חָכְמָה – The purpose of money is to buy wisdom; and this fool is going to waste it on nothing, on garbage. וְלֶב אָיִן – He has no sense; or he’s not making use of it at least, so why should he have the money?
If a little boy with no sense is walking around with money in his hand, it’s a mitzvah for somebody to have pity on him and to take the money out of his hand. He should take away the money and take it home and give it to the boy’s father because the fool is just going to waste it.
What is the money that a fool carries around in his hand? He has piled up in his hand wealth of years and months and days and hours. That’s the real wealth. A young man is loaded down with capital. Hakadosh Baruch Hu sent us into this world with money. Life is money! Life is wealth! Every day is wealth! Every hour is wealth! Every minute is wealth!
A young man of two, a young man of twenty, a young man of forty, a young man of sixty, a young man of eighty. As much as you have, it’s a great wealth – it’s the wealth of וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים. And not that every year is a great wealth; every second of life is a gem that is unequaled in value among all the treasures of the universe. Even in the Kimberly Diamond Mines in South Africa, you will never find a gem as precious as one second of life!
…Are Soon Parted
And therefore the possuk says, why should this wealth be in the hands of a fool? He doesn’t have the sense to understand that’s why he’s given life. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is saying, ‘Why should he live? It’s a waste of good days! He never learned that the purpose of life is to ‘choose life’ – every second again and again. I should waste such precious wealth on this ksil?’
And that means that we are obligated to always be considering in our minds, ‘Am I that fool? Am I spending the money of life the way the One Who gave me that life is looking for?’
You know how many people are bemused? Their minds are preoccupied with empty things; with the Yanks and the Mets, with politics and entertainment. You know how many people are wasting their lives pursuing after imaginary wealth instead of true wealth? And what of people who waste their lives pursuing imaginary pleasures? They’re chasing imaginary dreams instead of the diamonds of living with choice.
I know a fellow in the neighborhood who is a connoisseur of wines, of bourbons. He has a cabinet in his basement filled with all different types of wine. And he knows their names! Is that a man who is making use of his time, of his opportunity of bechirah?
There are people who are going around thinking how they’re worried and they’re angry, they’re being persecuted, the injustices that others did to them and their lives are wasted away by silly and foolish imaginations of persecution. I know a man who walks around thinking about ways and means how to get even with his landlord. I’m not talking about lunatics. Sane people! But they’re ksilim, they’re fools. וְלֶב אָיִן.
So you’ll tell me that it can’t be helped. You’re bemused; you’re distracted. No, don’t say that. A man who realizes that this life is a golden opportunity of וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים doesn’t waste it by yielding to circumstances.
Ignoring the Roaches and Rats
Let’s say, for some reason, they would let you into a big bank vault where they keep extra cash. They keep thousand dollar bills in big packages. Hundred thousand dollar bills in big packages! A lot of them, all over the place. There’s no end of it. And let’s say the president of the bank says, “You know, I’m going to let you into my bank vault in my bank just for one minute. And you can take all that you can. Whatever you can grab you can keep.”
So you walk in and first thing you say is, “Oh, it’s stuffy in here. I can’t do anything in here! How can I work in here? It’s so stuffy!” So you wait until he brings in a fan, and he makes it nice and comfortable for you, nice and convenient. Ohhh, now you’re all ready to accomplish.
But now you see that the bank vault is full of spiders. It’s full of roaches and rats. What are you going to do? Wait until the exterminator comes?! No, you’ll dive in. You’ll chase the rats off. You’ll brush off the cockroaches or you’ll pull out the bundles of thousands even with the cockroaches! Who cares?!
This world is too precious for being distracted and gloomy and lazy. In a world where you can find a thousand dollars every second, you can’t afford to waste time saying, “Well, this thing upsets me, and this thing bothers me.” Life is too precious to waste by being discouraged and downcast. You can’t afford to be dispirited and despondent.
Thunder and Hail
All these things are for fools. Because then you’ll wait till it’s nice and convenient, which it will never be anyway. And you’ll lose your opportunity. Life will just pass by, and that man will have to go into an insane asylum, and he’ll have to wait till he recovers, and then when he’s an old man, ready to die, they’ll let him out and he’ll just toddle off to the grave?!
So a man has to be strong enough of character to say, “I don’t care what it is! It can thunder and it can hail, whatever it is, I’m just going to go about my business collecting the thousand-dollar bills. As many as I can grab, I’m going to grab.”
And it’s endless, the opportunities. Someone is hailing down on you mean words? You should think, “I’m not going to waste my character by sinking to this man’s level and quarreling with him! On the contrary! I’m going to choose greatness right now! I’m going to fulfill וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים by keeping quiet.”
A woman, she’s busy raising children. It’s thundering in the house – the children are making noise like nobody’s business. But she reminds herself about choosing success and she thinks, “Why should I be like my gentile neighbors, Mrs. O’Reilly or Mrs. Libertino, who are raising children primarily by instinct?” And so she chooses to add one little thought: “I’m raising a family to serve Hashem.” When she nurses the baby and when she diapers the baby and she’s cooking meals, always she’s thinking “I’m doing the will of Hashem.” That’s how her housework, her raising children, becomes avodas hakodesh! It becomes the holiest kind of work, bringing up tzaddikim, future tzaddikim, ovdei Hashem.
You can’t sleep in the middle of the night sometimes? You are awake for a few minutes? Don’t just roll yourself in bed in misery; remind yourself about our chiddush, bechirah l’mafreya, and think of ways to apply it. A person if he wants he can, in his mind, relive his chasunah. You can go back and get married l’shem Shomayim. You were too busy then; the gown and the place cards and the makeup. You forgot to think; you forgot to choose. So do it now.
Right now you can choose again. Think back to the day of the chasunah, and choose retroactively to get married l’shem Shomayim. “Hashem, I married my wife in order to serve You, to build a frum family, to raise a home of boys and girls who make brachos and daven and are ovdei Hashem. I married my wife, not because of romance. No, I married her because I wanted to build a home for You.” Think these thoughts while you are lying in bed. On your bed, in the middle of the night; your family is fast asleep but you’re fulfilling וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים. It’s a tremendous achievement.
Playing the Bechirah Record
Now you have to know that we’re talking tonight about how to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Because very soon will be the last day of the year; the end of the year is creeping up on us so now is the time to get started! You’re already starting right because you came here tonight and we’re talking about a very important subject. Very good. But you have to do something with it.
Because Hakadosh Baruch Hu is going to say when we ask Him, “Ribono Shel Olam,kosveinu b’sefer hachaim, write us into the book of life.” Hashem will say, “I’m going to consult your record. How did you utilize your life until now? How did you live until now? You wasted your life? You want some more life to waste?” לָמָּה זֶּה מְחִיר בְּיַד כְּסִיל – “Why should I give more money in the hands of the fool, וְלֶב אָיִן – who has no sense.
The New Year’s Resolution
And that, therefore, is a kabbalah for the new year. We should say, “Ribono Shel Olam, I’m afraid that when I ask for chaim, You’ll chalilah say, ‘I already tried with you so many times. The purpose of life is to choose life and to choose life and to choose life again and again. That’s why I give you life, for that purpose alone.’ And so, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, my kabbalah for You is that I’m going to utilize the coming year. I’m going to fulfill this mitzvah of choosing life.”
That’s a kabbalah for erev Rosh Hashanah. Think about it as much as possible from now until Rosh Hashanah comes and then Hakadosh Baruch Hu will see that this man means business. And just because of that, He’ll bless you with more and more opportunities to continue making more and more progress. Because you understand how to utilize that great gift of life – וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים!
“Oh,” Hashem says, “this man wants to live for a purpose. This woman wants to live for a purpose. They understand that life is for choosing life. And if that’s the case, I’m going to give him not only this year. I’ll give him even more.”
You know, sometimes there’s a gezar din to live long lives on Rosh Hashanah. Sometimes on Rosh Hashanah there’s a gezar din for a person to live a very, very long life. But you can be zocheh to such a gezar din only when Hakadosh Baruch Hu sees that you surely mean business. If you’re mesupak, you’re wavering ahin un aher, so He might give you another year or so; not more. But if you make it a clear-cut kabbalah and you make up your mind, “That’s my purpose in life. All my life I’m going to make use of that great gift of bechirah and I’m going to try and get better and better and make something out of myself; that’s my purpose in life,” so then Hashem sees that you’re serious.
“If that’s the case,” Hashem says, “I’m going to inscribe you not only for chaim for this year. I’ll inscribe you for very, very many long and happy and successful years.”
Have A Wonderful Shabbos
Let’s Get Practical
Choosing Life and Asking for Life
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, now is the time for me to clarify for myself what it means that I’ll be asking for life. And so this week I will bli neder spend one minute every day preparing myself for a long life of correct choices. The first thirty seconds I’ll think about how the half minute I’m living right now is the most precious of all gifts because I can choose greatness right now. And the second half minute I will choose to do something or think about something that is a diamond; demonstrating that I understand the value of choosing life.
Tapes: 61 – Counting The Days | E-58 – Wealth of Choices | E-116 – Wealth of Achievement By Thought | E-209 – Acting With Free Will | E-235 – Diamonds on the Road | E-248 – A Program For Effective Doing | E-255 – Wealth of This World | E-257 – Make Use of the Great Gift
Shimmy and the Spider
“Bye, Mommy!” Shimmy and Yitzy said as they started to walk out the front door on the way to cheder.
“Wait, Shimmy, I want to talk to you for a minute.” Mommy took Shimmy aside while Yitzy waited by the door.
“Shimmy, your new rebbe called last night after you went to sleep,” Mommy said. “He says that you seem to be talking to your friends a lot in class, and it’s disrupting other boys.”
“But Mommy,” Shimmy protested. “I’m not the only one who was talking. A lot of other boys were talking. Why is my rebbe only calling you?”
“First of all, Shimmy,” Mommy said, “How do you know he only called me? He didn’t say who else he called. And besides, it doesn’t matter if other boys are talking too. That’s not an excuse to talk during class. I want you to try to be on your best behavior today. You love learning. Save the conversations for recess, okay?”
“I’ll try,” Shimmy said. “It’s just so hard to control myself sometimes. We had such a fun summer vacation and I want to tell everyone about it.”
“During recess,” Mommy repeated. “Now hurry off to cheder. Have a great day learning!”
That evening after dinner, Totty called Shimmy aside.
“Shimmy,” Totty said. “Your rebbe called again. He said that you were talking again in class today. What happened?”
“Well right when we got to cheder, Chezky told me that his Zaidy and Bubby bought him a fifteen-speed mountain bike for his birthday. So I just needed to know more about it!”
“Shimon,” Totty said.
“I know, I know, I could have talked to him about it during recess. But I just couldn’t control myself. What am I supposed to do? I need to talk during class. That’s how Hashem made me.”
“Shimmy, come outside. I want to show you something.”
Shimmy followed Totty out towards the park near their house. As they arrived at a maple tree near some park benches, Totty pointed up.
“Take a look at that,” he said.
“Wow!” exclaimed Shimmy. “That is the largest spider I have ever seen!”
Shimmy and Totty stared for a moment at the massive spider working on his massive web.
“Now take a look at that web,” Totty said. “Look at how detailed and intricate it is.”
“It really is incredible,” agreed Shimmy.
“Now, how do you think the spider learned to make webs like that? Do you think he sat in a classroom where a spider teacher stood all day explaining how to spin a web?”
“Of course not,” Shimmy laughed. “Hashem gave spiders the instinct to know how to create webs.”
“That’s exactly right,” said Totty. “And not only that, they instinctively know when and where to place their webs. And to sit in the middle and wait for fat juicy bugs to get caught in it so they can eat them. Not to mention the incredible neis that the spider is even able to produce a sticky silk from which the web is made.
“Now, let’s say someone told a spider not to make a web. Would the spider be able to listen?”
“Well no, because spiders don’t understand English.”
“Imagine for a second that the spider could understand you. Could you convince him not to make a web?”
“I don’t know, but I’d guess he’d do it anyway because that’s how Hashem made him.”
“Exactly right!” smiled Totty. “Now let’s talk about how Hashem made you.”
Shimmy looked confused.
“Hashem gave you bechirah – the power to choose between right and wrong. And he gave us a mitzvah in the Torah, וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים – choose life! We are commanded to use our power of choice to choose eternal life by doing Hashem’s mitzvos.
“We are not spiders or ants or honeybees who automatically do what they do without giving it any thought. We are human beings to whom Hashem has given the ability to think before we act and make a decision about whether or not to do something.”
“But it’s so hard,” Shimmy said.
“Nobody said it was easy,” Totty said as they turned and started walking back to the house. “But it is doable and it is very rewarding. I know that you have the ability to not be disruptive in class, because Hashem Himself gave you that ability. And I have confidence that you will be able to make the right decision tomorrow and sit quietly while your rebbe is teaching.”
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
Takeaway: Bechirah is an important mitzvah and an opportunity that only we have. Only we can make our days worthwhile by choosing to do the right thing!