A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

“Choose life,” the Torah tells us in Nitsavim, “if you and your offspring would live – by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to him For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the Lord swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them (Deut.30:19–20).” These verses are with me always, and they have been more deeply implanted in my heart and soul each time I visited Israel.

It was July, 1989, before the first intifada had begun. I was walking through the Shiloah underground water tunnel at the City of David, Jerusalem (constructed by King Hezekiah to link the Gihon Spring with the pool of Siloan, 700 BCE). The tunnel was still open then, before it became too dangerous for Israeli authorities to allow tourists to venture through this narrow, historic passage. Our guided group walked in darkness over slippery stones in almost knee deep water to get to the other side. Only a single candle, protected by my hand so that it wouldn’t blow out, lit my way. And then, midway, the passage widened to reveal the meeting place where an inscription in rock was once inscribed in the ceiling. Even though the ancient rock is now in a museum, my skin tingled then with the appreciation of what was once there, and with the knowledge that, as Jews, we must never forsake the Covenant, nor to strive for peace.  

Soon after we reached the other side, I was inspired by this exhilarating experience to write the following poem. Today, as Selichot approaches, I choose life in anticipation of the peace and joy that might be – one day — on both sides of the tunnel. Choose life.


A slim, green candle,

purchased from a village waif,

held low against the draught,

lit my way through

this winding, cool, wetted

chasm where once,

deep beneath the ancient stones,

inscribed in rock, a

joyful, dripping message

recorded the meeting of

men, toiling to touch,

centuries past. Clear spring

waters flowed as they fused.

I niched my candle

in the rock; its light

still grows and burns

inside me, always.

You have shown me

your wineglass,

blessed city that wishes

the world what it might be.

O Jerusalem, for me

you plant new vineyards

in the cloudless sky.

Although what I have been describing here happened long ago, and I am in my eighties now, I am heartened – and excited – by the statement in Va’yalech – it’s a comvined portion this week — that Moses was a still a vigorous 120 years old — “with eyes undimmed and with vigor unabated” (Deut. 34:7) before he passed on the leadership to Joshua. It was time for a new generation in the land. And for that new generation, in turn, to explain the Covenant to their children. “Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this teaching. For this is not a trifling thing for you; it is your very life: through it you shall long endure on the land you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan” (Deut. 32:46-47.)

As for me, I am tickled pink by the fact that God also chose to create a beautiful poem at this time of entering the Land, and that Moses wrote it down. Today we call it “The Song of Moses,” which appears in the next Torah portion, “Ha’azinu..”

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2015. All rights reserved.