What does the Torah mean by, "…and choose life!" (Deut. 30:19)? Everyone knows that life is better than death and good is better than evil, what is the real lesson here? The point is to look past the surface, that much of that with which we come in contact looks like life and good, is really death and evil. By stating "choose life", the Torah requires a person to use his intelligence. It is said that just because an animal [a veiled reference to the animalistic aspect part of our nature that is tied into this physical world] flees from or runs toward something, its action is not deemed as being its own choice. (Ramach Otiot #229) So too, a person who bases his choices on instinct, mood, whim, or superficial thought, is not actually choosing anything. How can we connect to G‑d's essence?

This week's Torah portion contains one of the two times that the Ten Commandments are presented. Commonly known as the "Ten Commandments", the more scholarly translation is the "Ten Sayings", simply because there are, in fact, more than just ten commandments contained within them. The first three words of the first saying are: "Anochi, Havayah E-lokecha/I am G‑d, your Lord"; the word "Havayah" refers to His aspect of transcendence, and the word "E-lokecha" to His aspect of immanence.

The Baal Shem Tov taught:

The Talmud (Shabbat 105a) questions the choice of the word "Anochi", meaning "I", as opposed to the commonly used pronoun, "Ani". The answer given (also in Zohar Acharei, 73a) is that "Anochi" is actually an acronym for the words, "Ana nafshi k'tavit yahavit", meaning "I [G‑d] wrote [expressed the essence of] My soul and gave it over [to you, the Jewish people in the Torah]"!

How can we connect to G‑d's essence? In the Torah portion Chukat, it is written, "This is the Torah - man" (Num. 19:14). Just as the Torah is an intimate expression of G‑d, so also it is an intimate expression of the essence of man, as the Zohar says, "G‑d, the Torah and The Jewish People are one". Just as a person has 248 limbs and organs and 365 blood vessels and muscles in his body, so too the Torah contains 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments from G‑d. Every commandment relates specifically to one of our organs, and we enliven and strengthen that organ when we do the particular commandment that relates to it. It follows, that the Torah is a constant source of life force for those who fulfill it. Just as a person has five parts to their soul: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechida, so also there are five parts to the Torah: 1) the physical ink on the scroll, 2) the apparent explanation [peshat], 3) the hinted explanation [remez], 4) the homiletic explanation [drush], and 5) the mystical explanation [sod]. This is the meaning of "Ana nafshi katavit yahavit" - that G‑d gives us His Soul in the Torah. (Degel Machane Ephraim and Sefer Baal Shem Tov)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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