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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Life for Your Children

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"Life and death I have placed before you, blessing and curse, and you shall choose life so that you and your offspring will live" (Devarim 30:19). This pasuk is somewhat puzzling. When Hashem offers you to choose life and you choose it, then isn’t it obvious that you will live?
One straightforward answer that fits in well with the context of the p’sukim depends on our noticing that the p’sukim directly before and after this one refer to life specifically in Eretz Yisrael. There were times that a generation sinned so terribly that they brought on exile, but the exile actually took place only a few generations later. The navi, for example, blames Menashe for the destruction of Yerushalayim (Melachim II, 23:26), although it took place decades later. Thus, the test of one’s choosing of life in the Land may be only in the lives of the offspring, as the pasuk infers.
The Netziv, understanding the life in question as referring to one’s afterlife, points out that there are different relative levels of life and lack thereof. One who sins still has some level of life in the afterlife, which is further reduced the more one sins. To encourage one to see the value of making proper choices, the Torah points out that the impact will extend to the prospects of future generations as well. We know that people sometimes tire of efforts to save themselves, whether physically or spiritually. Many good people who would find it difficult to succeed are aided by the knowledge that their efforts will help others, certainly when the others are their progeny.
A third p’shat understands the reference to offspring not in regard to the possible punishment or reward but in regard to the choice itself. Obviously, making a choice between life and death does not consist of making a declaration or a one-time action like pressing a button (or putting a name in the ballot box, as some politicians would have us believe). Rav Moshe Feinstein (in D’var Moshe) says that one’s choice of life has to cause not only that he will live as a result but that his choice will influence his offspring to live as well.
How does one accomplish this and thereby pass the Torah’s test? Rav Moshe says that if one follows the mitzvot of the Torah in a manner that makes it appear as a burden that he personally is able to bear but is an unwanted task, then his children are likely to decide that they are not up to being so heroic. What, he says, is needed is to go about fulfilling mitzvot in a manner that shows his appreciation and love of the lifestyle of significance that they engender. When one does that, then his children will be eager to follow in his footsteps. This is the real choice of life that is responsible for the blessings that Hashem would like to bestow upon us.
Let us remember this Yamim Noraim season that our goal is not just to survive by means of teshuva and mitzvot but to enjoy and thrive under their influence as well.
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