Choosing Life: What will it be? A giant or a grasshopper?
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Adaptation of a sermonette delivered at Manchester Reform Synagogue on 18th June 2022.
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In the last few weeks, I have had moments where I have felt completely alive.
Moments where I have been awake to the vibrancy of life around me – the aliveness within me and around me. Let me give you an example, a few weeks ago, I and thousands more people, were dancing and singing to Alicia Keys at the AO Manchester Arena. Thousands of people jumping, screaming, and bellowing her tunes out. The energy in a space like that reverberates around and within you. I’m sure you’ve had similar moments in concerts or gigs – when the music is everywhere and you feel at one with everyone and everything.
Another moment of aliveness, of vibrancy I experienced, was during our recent holiday in Marrakesh – the streets full of life – animals, motorcycles, the narrow streets of the markets, the call to prayer, the colour, the spices, the people. Life abounded.
Can you think of a moment recently when you’ve felt completely alive?...
During the last two years we have lived in a world lacking of vibrancy. We’ve had times when all we have experienced was our four walls and a screen. We were unable to feel the energy of people being together, singing together, the life of the city. Perhaps we have felt as if we have been collectively asleep and now, gently and hesitantly waking up and re-finding and remembering the vibrancy around us. Our texts understand this balance – as the book of Kohelet (3:1&4) says:
לַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכׇל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven….
עֵ֤ת לִבְכּוֹת֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִשְׂח֔וֹק עֵ֥ת סְפ֖וֹד וְעֵ֥ת רְקֽוֹד׃
A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing….
We could add – a time for sleeping and a time for waking.
Our rabbis, as we know, equated sleeping with 1/60th of death. And of course, the past two years has been full of death – the passing of our loved ones and the death of these spaces of aliveness. A time for death and a time for life.
Again – if we turn to Torah we have a clear demand places upon us. A verse in Deuteronomy – which we read at Rosh Hashanah, states:
הַעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֮ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֒רֶץ֒ הַחַיִּ֤ים וְהַמָּ֙וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live— (Deut. 30:19)
Choose life – so that you may live. What does it mean for you to choose life – to choose aliveness? We’ve seen the stark choice before the Israelites in a recent parasha (Shlach Lecha). So afraid and untrusting are the Israelites that they decide to send out spies to scope out the land said to be flowing with milk and honey. The spies come back and say - 'sure, it looks ok and it does flow with milk and honey, but the people are fierce and they are like giants! In our eyes, we looked like grasshoppers and so we were in their sight' (paraphrased from Numbers 13). The Israelites, upon hearing this, went to their usual place of fear and wished they were back in Egypt in slavery. The rabbis saw that the spies overstepped by adding in their opinion but also, crucially, they projected their fears onto the inhabitants of the land. They did not know how they looked to the inhabitants - they projected their felt smallness outwards and that fear spread.
The questions and lesson for us, from this piece of Torah are: do we choose 'the grasshopper mentality' which demands we stay in our fear, our smallness? Choosing this attitude means we beg to be kept in bondage, in slavery, in our narrow place. Do we choose spiritual death?
Or do we choose life – 'the giant mentality' – to find spaces of aliveness through the grief and the pain and our own mortality – to explore vibrancy through places and spaces that awaken our senses?
How may we live?
What do we choose?
May we find aliveness and choose life. May we awaken ourselves.