Choosing Life

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

Difficult choices are something we tend to run away from. It looks great on TV, but who wants that kind of pressure? This presents us with a paradox:The more we limit life by removing the choices, the more boring, repetitive, and meaningless life gets. On the other hand, the more we confront difficult decisions, the more exciting life is — but the more pressure it has.

What many people opt for as a result is the illusion of choice.These illusions come in many shades. Popular hues include the soap opera, murder mysteries, and the NFL.

All these forms of entertainment are popular because they involve people with whom we can identify as they live through their struggles. When Joe Montana steps up to the line of scrimmage, I can determine what I would do if I were him. I call the plays and make choices, albeit illusionary ones. It’s like a virtual reality life!

Business can be another shade of illusion. Isn’t it exciting to decide where to invest and what to sell? But this, too, is not real choice. This is really just a matter of being smart enough to understand the principles, in which case you’ll make more money than the next guy. There aren’t necessarily meaningful alternatives. But it does give the feeling of real choices.

If the only result is that I can buy another car or take another vacation, then the choice is not very significant.

Existing is easy, but living requires active participation and choice. We can go through a whole year just existing, but living requires 365 days of choosing life. The Torah is telling us that mere existence equal death. Because if we´re not growing, we´re decaying.

For choices to be real and meaningful, there have to be consequences. Choices that have the greatest consequence are the most meaningful. But how can you make meaningful choices every day? What is there to choose from?

Between now and Rosh Hashanah we will read the Torah portion of Nitzavim, in which G-d relays the following message: “Behold! I have put before you this day, life and good, death and evil ... the blessing and the curse. Choose lifein order that you will live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:15 - 19).

But how do we “choose life”? Surely we don’t literally choose it; that’s like saying we choose to breathe!

Here are some examples of choices of life: How should you be raising your child? How should you treat your spouse? Should you work less and spend more time with your family? How about trying Shabbos, or even spending meaningful time by yourself?

They are difficult choices to consider because it›s so much easier not to think about them ... to just exist.

If you want to stop this merry-go-round called existing, then you have to make serious choices. It’s time to drop the convenient answers. Get beyond what is comfortable. Be prepared to do something else, to give yourself real alternatives. That’s what makes up the choice of life.

Do you want to be where you are in life? Do you want to do what you are doing, or are you doing it because you did it yesterday, and yesterday you did it because of the day before? Can you trace your life back to some initial decision to become rich or famous or comfortable? Have you put your life on automatic pilot, and forgotten to check on the gauges?

Without choices, you are no longer alive. And when you are no longer alive, you are no longer you.

By Rabbi Stephen Baars


Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at and