Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Educator Chanan Porat z”l once published a book of correspondence between himself and Anat, a resident of Tel Aviv. In one of her letters, Anat quotes from “To Live,” a poem she wrote in which she expresses her desire: “Not to live an ordinary and quiet life. To become acquainted with the beautiful and the ugly. To move between joy and sadness, between despair and hope, to traverse fields of love and of hate, to know the lower and upper worlds, to allow the soul to ascend to heaven and to go down to hell. Simply to live.”
This seems like a lovely wish from a curious soul, but in his return letter Chanan wrote: “In your poem there is a desire to embrace everything, to taste everything, for otherwise you will miss – heaven forbid – even one of the experiences of a full life. Yet one of life’s key experiences is missing from the poem: the magnificent challenge that faces and tests a person every day and every hour, the experience of choosing between good and evil, between love and hate, between the upper and the lower worlds. In making such a choice, there is a hidden force like none other. And such a choice cannot accommodate two opposites.
“The reason for living from the Torah’s point of view is not to make an effort to float like a butterfly between one flower and the next, trying to find honey in all the good flowers and the poisonous flowers too, but rather to gather strength to limit ourselves. ‘Who is strong? The one who subdues his evil inclination.’ (Avot 4:1) This is exactly the test which Adam faced in the Garden of Eden, in parashat Bereishit. He was called upon to exercise free choice and not to eat from one tree in the Garden of Eden. He failed. From that time until today, we need to make amends for his error.”