“See, I have set before you this day the life and the good and the death and the evil” (Deut. 30:15)
Moses speaks to the People in the name of God, before they enter the Promised Land. He explains to them in clear cut words what free will is about. Not only does he explain, but he sets before them the simple truth: we don’t have any other option, but to choose. It is a kind of contradiction: we must choose and we lack the option of not choosing. This is the contradiction; this is the reality. We have before us the life and the death and the good and the evil. Even if we do not choose, we have decided, chosen, not to choose. Maybe we have chosen the negative option, the evil, the death.
Together with the explanation, there’s an advice: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you: I have set before you the life and the death, the blessing and the cursing: choose life, that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). Blessing and curse have been added here to the list. Even though we cannot choose not to choose, the contents of the choice is not defined – it depends only upon us. We have now many options: life, death, good, evil, blessing, curse. The advice is: “choose life”.
Why not to choose the blessing? Why not the good? When we choose blessing, aren’t we choosing life? And if we choose the good, aren’t we choosing therefore life? Life is afterwards a fact – if we choose, it is because we live! Blessing and good are active choices and not simple facts: if there’s no blessing in our hands, if there’s no good in our deeds, we may choose them! But life, we’re in it already. So, why should we choose life?
Well, good and evil, blessing and curse, they have two characteristics: 1) they are subjective; 2) they deny other possibilities.
They are subjective because the definition of good changes according to the person and to the situation. The same happens with evil, blessing and curse. If somebody is hungry, a piece of bread from the day before yesterday is good; but for somebody satiated this would be a bad choice. For a simpleton, mediocre knowledge is a blessing, while for a wise person it isn’t anything but insufficient and even bad, because it may lead to error. Illness may be bad for the sick person, but a blessing for others. Sometimes it is good even for the sick person him or herself!
We see then, good, evil, blessing, curse are subjective concepts. They depend on the human being, on his or her situation and the context.
They deny other possibilities because they don’t include in them but themselves. If something is blessed, it is not cursed at the very same time (and the contrary is also true). If something is good, it is not bad for the same person at the same moment. If there’s death, there’s not life. There’s the eternal life, the future and distant life. But life is not part of death.
Life, on the other hand, includes everything, even death. Only those who live may die.
Life – it is the only concept in this list of options in Hebrew that is expressed in the plural, “lives=hayim”. There is even no singular form of it in Hebrew. Life (lives) is complex, multiple, diverse, full of opportunities and options, full of challenges and possibilities to change, to make better, to become better. In the blessing the curse, the good or the evil there is something final, fixed, even static. The positive thing about choosing them is the possibility of choosing again time after time. But doing it only once (“I’ve already chosen the blessing”), the choice become fixated, it stops, it does not develop and it disappears as time goes by. Even when you choose the good, or the blessing.
Life (lives), on the other hand, means choosing movement, change, choice after choice, another possibility if we erred, strengthening if we were right.
To choose life includes in itself choosing the good and the blessing, as well as choosing to distance ourselves from evil and curse. This is a choice that requires from us to actively choose all the other options, all the time. If you have chose blessing, you stop there. If you have chose life (lives) you have to deal with your choice and to test it again and again to strengthen it, to make it better, to make yourself better.
May we always choose life with its complexity, multiplicity, its challenges… its life.