Choose Life! By Sarah Lehrfield
There is a tradition among top academics called “The Last Lecture.” Its basic premise: If you knew you were soon going to die and you had the opportunity to give one last lecture, what would you say to your students? For Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science and design at Carnegie Mellon University, it was not hypothetical. He had been diagnosed just a month with terminal pancreatic cancer.
His lecture in 2007 was the predecessor to his book, his last will and testament to his children. He shares with them wisdom that only a man with a few months left to live can impart. He talks about the importance of fulfilling childhood dreams and using every opportunity that comes your way. He teaches them the value of showing gratitude, apologizing first, being positive, growing through challenges and having patience with yourself and others. He tells them not to waste time complaining but to work hard. “The brick walls in our life,” he says, “are not there to keep us out. They are there to show us how much we really want something.”
While there is a tremendous amount to gain from his lecture and subsequent book, I had a realization after watching the reprised version of his lecture that deeply moved me. Randy mentions that the purpose of his lecture was not just to encourage everyone to follow and achieve their childhood dreams but to share with the world the secrets of how to live life!
Mulling that over, I came to the realization that the greatest gift we are given as human beings is life itself. And without it, we cannot chose to live it. The fact that you and I are alive, that we have been gifted with life to live, means we have the responsibility to chose to live it! Not merely to exist, but to live in the most vibrant, productive and meaningful way possible. To make the most of the gift we have been given. We can be alive but not live or we can be months before death and feel more alive than ever.
The end of this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, holds a most crucial message God relays to the Jewish people: “I call heaven and earth today to bear witness against you. I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse. You shall choose life so that you will live.”
This passage is especially relevant as we approach Rosh Hashanah with its beginnings, fresh starts and opportunities to renew ourselves. Right now we have the chance to create intentions for how we will best use the gift of life we hope and pray God will give us this coming year.
Rav Noach Weinberg sheds light on this concept of choosing life at this time of year. On Rosh Hashanah, we are not celebrating the birthday of the world, we are celebrating the birthday and the creation of humankind. The Torah says in Genesis, “And God formed the man of dust from the ground and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being.”
What defines our humanity is the constant struggle between our two parts – our bodies and our souls. Each yearns to go back to its source; the soul for growth that leads to Godliness, the body for a life free of pain, challenges, discomfort and delayed gratification.
The Hebrew month of Elul, with its spiritual properties of renewal, and the quickly approaching holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are times built into the Jewish calendar set aside for introspection and spiritual accounting. We ask God to grant us life, we want God to grant us life, but God wants to know from us, “How will you chose to live that life?” We do have a choice here. Physical life is a gift from God. We ask for it but it is up to Him. Choosing life means choosing to live the gift of life He gives us, whatever that may be, with Godliness and purpose, with soul. Less body and more soul. That is entirely our choice.
Take a few minutes out of your busy, back-to-school, work and family life to think about goals for the coming year. How can you improve your relationships with the people in your life? Will you choose forgiveness and love? How will you refine your personal, internal self this year? Will you be more patient, more accepting, less critical? How will you enhance your relationship with the One who grants you life itself? Will you gossip less, reach out in prayer more, take on a new mitzvah or approach an old mitzvah with renewed vigor?
Chose goals that will elevate your soul and bring you closer to its Source. Write them down for the sake of accountability.
Wishing you all a Shana Tovah!
Sarah Lehrfield is a JWRP City Leader and the daughter of a City Leader. She is passionate about running, reading classics, being a listening ear for others and bringing the wisdom and relevancy of Judaism to all Jews. She teaches classes and runs women's programming for the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI). She lives in the burbs of Denver, Colorado with her husband, three kids and plenty of snow gear.