Judaism is all about life – love of life, reverence for life, building new life. But life also brings death. The pessimist says, “You begin dying the moment you are born,” not only referring to the steady decline of our own lives but also the universe around us. We consume resources to clothe, feed, educate, and protect; we use up animals, plants, water and air as we spiral along the continuum from birth to death.
Yet Judaism teaches a more powerful lesson about life: “Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:15.) Although God is the giver of life, human beings have great choice in the matter. Choice resides in a thousand daily decisions—what we eat, how we drive, what cosmetics and cleaning chemicals we use. We choose life in other ways. One is repentance, the theme of the High Holy Days. We are asked to shake off bad behaviors so as to enhance life and not harm others. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik adds another dimension: teshuva as an act of re-creation. We must pause to review our lives, examine stale routines and static relationships. Becoming aware of life’s partial deaths enables us to live at new depths of intensity and goodness in the coming year.
Aging presents these selfsame challenges. Can we be born again – to life? Most people create or achieve success once – by their 40’s – then coast or repeat until they retire. Many people stop reading after graduating from college, calcifying their brains long before dying. Judaism offers an alternative: “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not hold back” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) The Rabbis comment: If you raised a family in your youth, renew it in your later years. If you created in your prime, do so again now. Those who love, dream and create again as they age are models to humanity — filling the world until their dying day — with life.