Waiting for the train to come, Einstein then realized that he couldn’t find his ticket. As he frantically searched around for his ticket, the conductor of the train, which was now at the stop, reassured Einstein that he can get on the train even though he doesn’t have the ticket. Einstein acknowledged the gesture but told the conductor, “I may get on the train indeed, but I have no idea where I am going to.”
The train of life gets us places, but the question is, where are we heading towards. In this week’s Torah portion we read, “See I put in front of you today life and good, and death and evil.” The Torah was given many, many years ago. Why does it say “today”? Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that perhaps the intention of the word “today” in conjunction with the pasuk itself comes to teach us that every day [hence, “today”] a person should focus on choosing between the two paths mentioned in the pasuk: Will it be the path toward life and good, or the other path? One is not to become complacent or feel assured that just because he is living the right way up until now, he should continue in that way, for perhaps now he can take a higher path. It makes no difference what path one was on up until now—whether it was the right path or not—“today,” and every day, a person needs to make a conscious decision and become aware of choosing the right or better direction in life.
The opening words in the first chapter of Mesillat Yesharim are zoomed in on this idea: “The foundation of piety and the root of perfect service [of God] is for a person to clarify and come to realize as truth what his obligation is in his world, and toward what he needs to direct his focus and aspirations in...” The Mesillat Yesharim is not speaking to one class of people; it’s a guide for everyone, no matter where they are holding right now in life. The parsha starts by saying, “You are all standing here today before Hashem your God, your leaders of your tribes, your elders, your officers, everyone in the Jewish nation. Your young children, your wives, your convert...your woodcutters, and your water-drawers.” One may be wise or may be simple, have a wealth of life experience, or only a little, young or old, etc.; we all are here “today” and can come to a greater clarity and truism of what our obligation is in life, what our direction is, and where we want to head toward. Yesterday’s path was the past, but today is another day to strive for a more meaningful path.
Much of our future and daily deeds are based on the general direction we take in life. The ben sorer umoreh wasn’t that bad of a boy—the Gemara even considers him to be [relatively] innocent. But yet he loses his right to live. Why? Rashi in explaining the word “sorer” says that this boy “deviated from the path.” This boy lost his direction in life, and even though he may not have committed such heinous crimes, Hashem, Who foresees the future, sees that this boy will inevitably become a terrible person. If a simple deviation from the proper path in life causes such a result, imagine what a simple reconfiguration toward aiming for a better path in life can do.
We’re all on our own train in life, and it’s easy to get caught up in it without giving much thought to where we are going. In Megillat Eicha it says (which is also read in the Selichot, at least according to the Sephardic tradition) נַחְפְּשָׂ֤ה דְרָכֵ֙ינוּ֙ וְֽנַחְקֹ֔רָה—“We will search our ‘ways’ (or ‘paths’) and examine them.” Indeed, we want to examine our individual actions, but we also want to search for good values and perspectives to inculcate, consider general ways toward a more growthful life, imagining who we want to be and where we want to go.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]