Rosh Hashanah celebrates the gift of free will. My rebbe, Rabbi Yitchok Hutner of blessed memory, characterized Rosh Hashana as the holiday that celebrates the gift of bechira , free will. Rosh...Read More
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The second law of thermodynamics says that “…the world acts spontaneously to minimize potentials…” This universe is constantly moving toward greater and greater disorder. In simple terms, this law of entropy means that things left alone will disintegrate, fall apart, and eventually disappear. Existence is only extant as long as there is a force supporting its existence. The same is true of life itself. The normative state of living things is death. We humans are only alive because we are constantly making ourselves live. The body is dying due to lack of oxygen, but we are constantly breathing in oxygen to keep it going. The body is disintegrating, but we are replenishing lost cells every time we eat. The body is being tugged toward Earth by gravity, but we force ourselves to stand and sit upright. We are, in effect, continually pumping life into an inanimate collection of atoms that we call our body. Life is not simply a state of being; it is a state that we are choosing to perpetuate. And that which is true on a physical level is always mirrored on a spiritual level.
In this week’s Torah portion we are told: “Choose life, in order that you may live” (Deut. 30:19). Spiritual life is as much a choice as physical life. Left alone, a person’s state will tend toward low moods – depression, selfishness, mindlessness, laziness and similar effortless states. Unless we actively choose to be alive, awake, energized and engaged in life, we will sleepwalk through the world. How do we actively choose life? By reading the manual. A pilot does not jump into the cockpit of a 747, turn the keys, and fly. He studies, reads the manual, slowly absorbs the material, tests it out, and eventually reaches tremendous heights. So, too, with life. God did not create the world, throw us into the “driver’s seat,” and then neglect to give us the instructions on how to drive.
The word Torah means “instructions.” It is referred to as Torat Chaim — “Instructions for Living.” It is not just a history of our people, or a bunch of stories. It is the instruction manual, a book of wisdom that has application to our lives today; to help us be better people, better spouses, friends, children, parents. To help us get the most out of this world, we look into something timeless, something practical and relevant. We look to the Torah.