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Our Children in a Divided World#691

09/03/2021 03:14:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Nitzavim
Choose life so that you and your offspring are to live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Our Children in a Divided World

What in heaven’s name is going on in the world?

Am I the only one who feels that a dark and nasty cloud is enveloping us right now? Floods, earthquakes, fire, plague.

Wars, environmental degradation, sexism, otherism.

It’s almost biblical.

As many of us — before Rosh Hashanah — try to put this into some perspective, an unmistakable conclusion emerges.

To put it mildly, we are living in difficult and disturbing times. This week, I’ve been asked several times, “Are we living through a series of random events, or is this all Godly inspired?”

I believe it is neither.

More often than not, the unsettling events currently afflicting our world result from human choice.

A close review of many current domestic and global problems reveals that most of these events emanate from a world that appears more focused on profit and immediate gratification, than on long-term moral investment in the future.

This leads us to, perhaps, one of the most important verses in the entire Torah, which we read this week. It is contained in the Parashah called Nitzavim: "You stand this day — all of you."

The Torah tells us that life — individually and communally — is a matter of choice.

At the end of his days, Moses gathers the Israelites and speaks to them about options and consequences. Follow God’s laws of compassion, kindness, loyalty and discipline — he says — and you will be blessed. Turn to a world of idol worship and immediate gratification, and you will be cursed.

Says Moses, I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. [Therefore] choose life so that you and your offspring are to live. (Deuteronomy 30:19).

It’s an amazing piece of advice, reminding us that so much of our success or failure depends upon our choices.

In many ways, we are the central characters in our own stories. We are the common denominator in every positive or negative event of our lives.

I often use this biblical quote at the funeral of elders, who — despite the many challenging events that occurred in their lives — chose to pick themselves up and “choose life.”

Yet, as is often the case when I read a verse from the Torah anew each year, a different word pops off the page.


Increasingly, we are living in a world where our institutions are being challenged. Scientific facts — supported by thousands of tests, examinations and experiments — are being mocked.

Doctors, who rely on painstaking medical investigation, are being devalued.

Our airwaves are being flooded with material highlighting the misfortunes of others. Gossip has become an industry.

Anyone with a computer can advance an often-ill-motivated theory. Was it really Jewish space lasers that caused the recent California fires?

Tens of thousands believe so.

Indeed, most of us can handle and dismiss these ridiculous theories. We understand how instances of bad judgement within our institutions have led to an erosion of public confidence.

What bothers me is the effect of these attitudes and behaviors on our children.

As you grew up, chances are there were people of honor and integrity you could believe in: Golda Meir, Mother Theresa, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, even athletes, who spent less time trash talking, and more time setting an example of discipline and integrity.

In the words of Paul Simon, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” Where are the great heroes now?

I worry about the children growing up surrounded by an increasingly divided world bereft of respect.

It is not the hour for political, environmental or ethical debates. But it is time for us, in advance of the High Holidays, to think about our “offspring.”

Are they growing up cynical and suspicious? Who do they have to believe in? Who are their heroes?

And the answer is, I believe, you and me.

This week’s Torah portion warns us about the consequences of embracing materialism and immediacy. Yet, we — as a society — have made certain choices that resulted in bringing this nasty cloud upon us.

Floods and fires, wars and degradation, are to some degree, results of decisions we have made. Indeed, the majority rules until a time that a different majority rules.

But what about our children?

You may be one who has lost confidence in our institutions.  Understood. But what do we replace those pillars with?

As parents, grandparents and others who emerging generations look up to, we replace what is lost with teachings of optimism, compassion, kindness, loyalty, discipline and respect for others.

Based on our experience, you and I have learned that there is more to be gained through love than through hatred. It is better to respect the earth, than to overuse it.

Extending a hand of friendship, or placing a call to the sick or lonely, helps build a better world.

It is no accident that we live in a world permeated by social problems, lone wolves and a societal obsession with escape through activities that numb the soul.

This week’s Torah portion talks about choices.

Especially, during the days preceding Rosh Hashanah — as we are encouraged to rid ourselves of the things that bind us — let us not only think about the choices we make each year, but also of the children who observe and listen to us.

Let us, by the lessons we model, choose blessing and optimism over the curse of pessimism.

This is still a good world. It is a blessing that we get to live our lives.

While during these challenging times, we may not always agree with each other, let us at least teach our children the Jewish principle that “there are 70 faces to the Torah.”

Many ideas. Many perspectives. Many points of view — left, right and center. Let us honor the Jewish principle of respect for other viewpoints. For diversity and discussion make us stronger.

Let us also remember not only to make good choices this coming year, but also to teach them to our children.

Most importantly, despite the challenges that face us as a democracy, let us speak of a good world.

Let us encourage our children to stand against so many disturbing trends we face as a society. We are better than that.

Let us, by the choices we make during the next year, help our children and grandchildren follow what the Torah teaches this week.

For them, and for future generations, help them choose life. 

Shanah Tovah. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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