At the end of this week’s Parsha, Hashem presents us with a choice between good and bad. The Pasuk says, ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב ואת המות ואת הרע, “See, I have placed before you today life and good, death and bad” (30:15). A few Pesukim later, the Torah says, ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך, “And you shall choose life, so that you and your children should live” (30:19). What kind of choice is Hashem giving us? Why would anyone choose death over life?
The answer lies within our interpretation of choice. We do not only choose with our will; rather, the Torah asks us to express our choice through our actions. Rashi explains that the way we choose good is by doing good, and we choose bad by failing to do good.
This Pasuk brings to mind the beginning of Parshat Re’eh where Hashem tells us, ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה, “See, I give to you today a blessing and a curse” (11:26). This seems similar to our Pasuk, but there are two major differences between them. One is the difference between את החיים ואת הטוב and ברכה and between את המות ואת הרע and קללה. The major difference is our role in each one. A blessing or curse is bestowed upon us by Hashem while for the טוב וחיים or רע ומות, we have an ability to reach out and get it for ourselves.
The other difference between the two Pesukim is that the criterion for the good in Nitzavim is our actually doing good. In Re’eh, the word used more than once is לשמוע. In the Pasuk את הברכה אשר תשמעו, the root ש.מ.ע. is also used. Listening is passive, the same way that the Beracha is passive on our part, but בחירה, choosing, is active. We are the ones choosing חיים through our actions with our knowledge of good and evil, but the ברכה וקללה are passive.
As the Ramban explains in reference to העידותי בכם היום את השמים ואת הארץ (30:19) the heavens and earth bear witness that there are no extraneous factors from above or below affecting our freedom to choose between good and evil. We chose to live by good deeds and actions; therefore the Torah writes, ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך.