Divrei Torah

PARSHAS NITZAVIM 5776

About eight years ago, I chaperoned a group of teenagers for the “March of the Living.” This trip visited the old Jewish communities in Europe, as well as several ghettos and death camps. Upon arriving in Israel, one of the first places we took the teenagers was to Masada. On Yom Ha’atzmaut evening we were in Ranana. While there, I called friends of ours. 

The husband wanted to know about our trip, so he asked me where we had visited so far. I told him that we visited the old communities in Europe, ghettos and death camps. He responded, “They killed Jews there.” Then I told him that we went to Masada. His response was, “They killed more Jews there.”  

When I thought about his responses, I came to the realization, what are we trying to sell people to convince them about Judaism? Jews were killed here . . . Jews were killed there. What do we want our students to think. “Wow! That’s great! Can you please sign me up for the next pogrom?” Why don’t we try to impress our youth with the positives of Judaism? 

That idea can be found towards the end of this week’s Parsha. Moshe tells the Jewish people that G-d gives us choices. We can choose life and good or death and evil. Moshe tells the Jewish people, “and you shall choose life in order that you and your offspring will live.” Rav Moshe Feinstein raises a question. Why must the Torah tell us the reason for choosing the good – that it leads to life. The Torah tells us that a choice of evil is death. Isn’t that sufficient reason to choose good and life? 

Rav Moshe suggests that the Torah is emphasizing to us what type of good to choose – a good that will leave a lasting impression upon our children and students so that they will also want to choose the good. 

The Torah wrote a special verse to teach us this lesson – act in a way that will leave a lasting impression - because there are people who keep the Torah, but do so in a manner that discourages others from following in their footsteps.  They do mitzvos but they give the impression that they are doing it only because it is a requirement. After all, G-d created the world so they must do what G-d commands. However, they get no pleasure from doing mitzvos and the mitzvos seem to be a burden for them. They would prefer to devote their time to other pursuits. Well, their children and students will sense that and will not follow their lifestyle of Torah and Mitzvos.

If you want to leave a lasting impression – in anything – if you want people to be excited about a particular matter – you also must show excitement about it. We want others to think the world of Judaism. See how great it is! See all of the wonderful benefits of the Torah and Judaism. See how good it is! That is how we teach others life. Let’s show others the positives of Judaism and G-d willing, may we be blessed with a year of health, happiness and positive outcomes for the Jewish people.