Nitzavim-VaYelekh 5777

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

The latest surveys of the Jewish community in North America statistically verify what Jewish communal leaders have surmised for years: assimilation and intermarriage are increasing at alarming rates. Speaking to a Pittsburgh audience in June 2017, Rabbi Mark Staitman cites the intermarriage rate in that city to be approaching 65%. Not only has the rate of intermarriage exponentially increased from what was the norm less than a century ago, resistance to intermarriage has all but disappeared. Demographers note that Jews are the only group not to have replaced its population losses suffered during World War II. Add to this the fact that the Jewish birth rate (except in Israel) lags behind the mortality rate, it is easy to see why many are pessimistic about the Jewish survival.


However, as Rabbi Leonard Beerman once insightfully noted: “Mere survival is not enough. It has to be survival for a purpose. Judaism is not an annuity. It is a mandate.” This is precisely the message of the Torah.


When Moses talks of the centrality of Torah and mitzvoth and urges their observance, it is because through them the people Israel will “thrive and increase” (Deuteronomy 30:16). The objective of Jewish living is not just to survive but also to flourish. Life alone is not the goal of Judaism. It is a necessary condition for attaining the goal. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has it right when he cogently argues in his book Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? Jewish Continuity and How to Achieve It that what Judaism needs in addition to survival is revival.


Rabbi Sacks contends that Jews should not just send their money to Israel. They should send their children and their teachers. From Talmudic times we have predicated our continuity on Jewish education. So long as Jews learned, Jews lived. The thriving of Judaism is a function of Jewish knowledge. So education must be the first priority. Finding the ways of making Judaism the relevant, dynamic, and appealing teaching it was meant to be should be the community’s chief concern. And ensuring that a thorough Jewish education is within the economic means of every Jewish family must be the second priority.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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