This week we mark the completion of ten years of Derech Tsofeh with a guest d’var Torah by Rabbi David Shapiro, retired principal of Maimonides School in Boston, now living in Israel.
I want to share with you something I learned from my teacher in Boston, Rabbi Yitzhak Twersky (of blessed memory).
In this week’s parasha, BeShallach, as the Children of Israel escape Egypt with the Egyptians pursuing them, God split the Sea of Reeds, the Jews walked through on dry land, and then the waters came crashing down, drowning the Egyptians. Moshe and the Jews burst forth in spontaneous song to thank God. We recite this song (“Az Yashir”) in our daily morning prayer.
The second verse contains the phrase “This is my God, and I will make Him attractive.” Since we cannot improve upon God’s essence, our Rabbis have interpreted this to mean that we should try to influence others to be attracted to God and to our Torah tradition.
How can we accomplish this? There are various options suggested in the Midrash and in the Talmud; here are three of them:
(1) We should talk to others about the beauty of our religion. This will make God attractive to them. In doing so, we are Friendly.
(2) We should perform ritual mitzvos in an aesthetically pleasing way. For example, use a fancy tablecloth for the Shabbat meals. Recite kiddush on Friday night with a silver, pewter, or crystal goblet (rather than a paper cup). Decorate your Sukkah. Place an artistic cover on the Torah. This will make our ritual practice, and God, attractive to others. By honoring the mitzvos, we are Reverent.
(3) We should relate to other people by imitating God’s conduct. He is merciful, so we should treat others with compassion. He forgives our sins, so we should be forgiving to others. He is gracious, so we should relate to others graciously. Such ethical conduct will elicit respect for our religious tradition and for God. In this way, we are Kind.
As Scouts, we have a responsibility to act always in a manner that will earn the respect of others. Each individual Scout represents all Scouts. In this week’s Torah reading we are reminded that we also represent God and our Torah tradition. By living up to the standards expected of us as Scouts, we will not only do our “duty to God” but will also successfully meet the challenge of “making God attractive to others.”
My beloved teacher, Rabbi Yitzhak Twersky, never preached to us. He simply modeled the behavior that he wanted us to adopt. He practiced all three of the interpretations listed above, and he was therefore inspiring to Jews and to non-Jews. Throughout his life, he “made God attractive.”
Rabbi David Shapiro