Message for Today
by HaRav Dov Begon, Rosh Yeshivat Machon Meir
“Turn away from evil and do good.”
G-d commanded Moses to speak to the Israelites, admonishing and directing them before their entrance into the Land: “Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow [any] of their customs” (Leviticus 18:3). Rashi explains that the deeds of the Egyptians and the Canaanites were more corrupt than those of all the other nations. He comments on the expression, “Do not follow any of their customs”:
“What did Scripture leave [unsaid] which was not previously stated? Rather, this verse refers to their customs, matters which are [social] obligations for them, such as [attending] theaters and stadiums.”
These activities are in the class of “the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), activities that lead one to neglect Torah learning. Well-known is the Rabbinic rule that whoever scoffs will be visited by suffering (Avodah Zarah 18b).
What precedes in the category of “avoiding evil” (Psalm 34:15). As far as the obligation to “do good” (ibid.), it says, “Follow My laws and be careful to keep My decrees, [for] I am the L-rd your G-d. Keep My decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that a person can [truly] live. I am the L-rd” (Leviticus 18:4-5).
Rashi explains “Be careful to keep My decrees” as follows:
“Don’t dispense with your obligation. Don’t say, ‘I’ve finished learning Jewish wisdom. Now I shall go and learn the wisdom of the nation.’”
Quite the contrary, we have to learn Torah in such a way that we learn it our whole life. That is how we fulfill, “Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the L-rd; and in His law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1; Avodah Zarah 18b).
What was true in Biblical times is true still. When Israel first set out on the stage of history, we were admonished, “Avoid evil and do good.” We were to “avoid evil” – not to do the deeds of the Egyptians and Canaanites, who were steeped in sexual sin, idolatry and theft; neither to develop a culture of theatres and stadiums, involving scoffing and frivolity, or competitions involving violence and cruelty. Today, as well, we mustn’t pursue that same culture which no matter how different it seems remains the same, that culture of scoffing, violence and cruelty. Yet today these sins are occurring not just in the new theaters and stadiums, but unfortunately almost everywhere that there are television and Internet. There, we find the wholesale display of sex, violence and evil, all of which can influence the psyche and behavior of the spectators. In fact, such content leads to unprecedented neglect of Torah learning and deterioration in morality, behavior and values.
We are also commanded to “do good.” The terrible crisis plaguing education and culture in our country requires that these frameworks engage in some deep and candid soul-searching, and that the entire public do so as well. All must ask whether the time has not arrived to return to our Jewish roots, to learn and to teach our holy Torah with love, not just on an individual basis, but on a governmental level. Surely, that crisis of spirit, morality and values which plagues Israeli society plagues almost every Jewish home, the education system and the entire governmental framework, and it requires us to make a fundamental change in order to imbue spiritual content and values into our country. As one of our heads of state said in our country’s infancy:
“The Jewish Nation is not just a national or political unit. Rather, it incorporates also a spiritual, ethical will and has borne a historic vision ever since it appeared on the stage of history… We cannot understand Jewish history or our people’s fight for survival if we do not envision the spiritual and philosophical uniqueness of the Jewish People.”
May there soon be fulfilled through us the words, “Who is the man who desires life and loves days, that he may see good therein? Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”