Therefore Choose Life: Life as Art

Parashat Nitzavim continues to discuss the blessings and the curses of Parashat Ki Tavo, but presents a new idea: the aim of the mitzvoth is to sustain life, and choosing life is choosing blessing.

See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil… I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed

The Sages interpret “therefore choose life” in practical terms:

A father is commanded to teach his son a trade… Hizkiyya said: as the verse states: ‘Enjoy life with the wife whom you love’ …Just as a father is obligated to marry his son to a woman, so too, he is obligated to teach him a trade, as indicated by the term: Life… Just as his is obligated to teach him Torah, so too, he is obligated to teach him a trade …And some say that a father is also obligated to teach his son to swim in a river… [for] it is necessary for his life, i.e. this is potentially a lifesaving skill (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin).

The choice in life is an active choice, a life of bringing up children. Educating your children will insure their life and sustenance and existence throughout the years. It is interesting to note that the obligation to teach his son a trade is as important as teaching his son Torah. And why do the Sages refer to teaching the son to swim? Because swimming might be life-saving under certain circumstances, and generally refers to any skill the son might need in order to adjust to his environment.

Art! Art Alone

When he was 26 years old, Ludwig van Beethoven began to lose his hearing. After consulting experts, he realized that the process is irreversible, and fell into depression to the degree that he considered taking his own life. In the depths of despair, Beethoven clings to the one thing he considers the core of his being – art – and decides to choose life:

No longer can I enjoy recreation in social intercourse, refined conversation, or mutual outpourings of thought. Completely isolated, I only enter society when compelled to do so. I must live like an exile. In company I am assailed by the most painful apprehensions, from the dread of being exposed to the risk of my condition being observed… What humiliation when any one beside me heard a flute in the far distance, while I heard nothing, or when others heard a shepherd singing, and I still heard nothing! Such things brought me to the verge of desperation, and wellnigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone, deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?
It is decreed that I must now choose Patience for my guide! This I have done. I hope the resolve will not fail me, steadfastly to persevere till it may please the inexorable Fates to cut the thread of my life. Perhaps I may get better, perhaps not. I am prepared for either. Constrained to become a philosopher in my twenty-eighth year! This is no slight trial, and more severe on an artist than on any one else… Oh! ye who may one day read this, think that you have done me injustice, and let any one similarly afflicted be consoled, by finding one like himself, who, in defiance of all the obstacles of Nature, has done all in his power to be included in the ranks of estimable artists and men (Beethoven, Heiligenstadt Testament).

For what is “therefore choose life,” if not the willingness to face adversity and strife, and yet knowingly choose to continue to engage with the world?

Happy Blessed Year to all “Verbal Resuscitation’s” readers!

Feature photo by Pixabay

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