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   by Jacob Solomon

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'I am giving you today [said Moses, just before his death] life and good, death and evil… You shall choose life, in order that you and your children shall live. Love the Lord your G-d...' (30:15-20)

Moses did not phrase the choice as ‘life or death’ and ‘good or evil’, but instead put the positives together and the negatives together: ‘life and good’, ‘death and evil’. He finishes by telling the Israelites to ‘choose life’ so that ‘they and their descendants’ will live. And lest the Israelites lose track of how to ‘choose life’, they are told to ‘Love the Lord your G-d’.

Elsewhere, G-d instructs the Israelites to ‘live’ by keeping the Mitzvot. During the afternoon service on Yom Kippur, the Torah reading includes:

‘You shall observe My judgments and statutes… and live by them: I am G-d’ (Lev. 18:5).

The well-known Halachic interpretation (Sanhedrin 74a) is that keeping people alive – ‘live by them’ generally overrides observance of mitzvot. Thus Sabbath observance must give way to giving emergency medical treatment. The prohibition of theft does not apply when a person takes food from a market stall without payment if there is no other source of sustenance to save him from death by starvation.

However, the Ramban emphasizes ‘live by them’ as referring to ‘social commandments’: such as those involving murder, robbery, personal property, and debts. Adherence to commandments between man and man creates a peaceful and trust-building society, which serves as a source of stability and indeed support (rather than fear and threat) to its members and participants.

And the Chiddushei HaRim (the first Gerer Rebbe – 1799-1866) reads ‘live by them’ as teaching that a person should not observe the sacred traditions of Judaism by rote. We are to ‘live’ through the commandments – their enabling of connection with the Creator (which may be interpreted as coming close to and loving G-d) to be a source of deep happiness and inner peace.

Thus ‘life and good’ go together. The performance of true sacred Torah traditions is optimized in a society that promotes them as a basis of real joy rather than socio-religious-one-upmanship under the leadership of those with less than Torah-compatible true motives. Ve-hamaskil yavin.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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