In this week’s Torah portion, Netzavim, Moses delivers instructions that are very strict. He knows that his time with the Israelites is coming to an end and he knows that the chance of his people dispersing far and wide is strong. So, he outlines very specific guidelines which, if not followed, will bring very dire consequences.
Why be so harsh? Why be so restrictive? What Moses understands is that without adherence to specific laws, the possibility of his people surviving as a community is small. He mentions that there will be temptation to stray, but that the laws will bring individuals back to God. And, he also says that he is leaving them with written laws to which they can refer in order to stay on the correct path. He knows that without these concrete guidelines, chaos and anarchy will rain.
Back in modern day court, in the first dispute, the judge ruled in my favor. The defendant was livid and requested permission to make a plea before the bench. His argument was based on what he deemed his past generosity and, in his opinion, what would be the most fair outcome. The judge listened patiently and then replied, with great compassion. He said that he hears cases day in and day out and it is his job to abide by the law. If he were to stray from his interpretations and rulings and make his decisions based on anecdote or perceived fairness, he would not be doing his job. And, his rulings would be inconsistent which, in turn, would cause havoc in the community.
Moses ends his speech by telling his people to choose blessings over curses. And, in effect says, that these rules and laws are to protect not harm. And, that by following them, they will flourish as a people and survive as a community. The judge, too, concluded by telling the defendant to count his blessings. His final words were that in five years this supposed breach of fairness would just be a blip on the radar and that he should move on.
In other words, the judge, like Moses, was advising to “choose life” in order to move forward, choose life in order to ensure one’s survival, choose life for the sake of one’s family, and choose life for the successful future of the larger community.