Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Choices: Intermarriage and Internet

I

"Re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom - see, I place before you today" (Devarim 11:26). The Vilna Gaon (in Kol Eliyahu) comments on each of the five words of the parsha's opening phrase:

"Re'eh - see" in the singular, to teach: see what is before you, and do not follow the negative behavior of the world around you.

"Anochi - I" How can one overcome the yetzer hara that impels him to sin? The answer: I [Hashem] will be with you [Anochi e'h'ieh imach] and will help you against the ever-present evil inclination. Only with Anochi, Hashem's help, can one prevail (Kiddushin 30b).

"Nosein - place", is in the present tense. Even if one has made bad choices in the past, it is always possible to choose properly for the future.

"Lifneichem - before you". One may say, "How do I know which choice is correct?" "Before you" indicates that if you look with a discerning eye at the unfolding story of Am Yisroel, all will be clear to you (see Iturei Torah).

"Hayom - today". One may ask, "Even if I repent, how can I undo the sins of the past?" "Today" teaches that a ba'al teshuva is like a child who is born today, and all of his sins are erased.

II

The last two words of the passuk are "beracha u'k'lala - blessing and curse". Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch relates "beracha" to breicha, a water supply, and k'lala to kal, light, shallow, worthless, completely without weight.

Choices which seem inconsequential are often extremely significant. A positive decision, such as a proper Torah education, or a proper parental model, affect generations "downstream". The word beracha contains three letters whose arithmetic value begins with two, signifying how blessings can multiply. Indeed, the ramifications of a blessed decision can be, like a spring (breicha), eternal.

Poor choices about seemingly insignificant matters can yield devastating results. Many such decisions are reached when one does not realize their gravity and implications. Hence curse results from a failure to make a weighty decision. The matter seems trivial, expediency governs, and only in hindsight can a major negative consequence be traced to a choice which, when made, seemed harmless.

III

Every person has a nekudas bechira - point of choice (Michtav Me'Eliyahu I p.112 - 117). Some choices are beneath that point. A Torah Jew need not choose to avoid non-kosher food or work on Shabbos. It is taken for granted. Some choices are above that point. Many Torah Jews are guilty of lashon hara or bitul Torah without choosing to do so. It does not occur to them that their behavior is problematic.

Our goal in life is to raise our nekudas bechira. For example, one whose vocabulary includes profanities is constantly choosing whether to utter them. A Torah Jew should resolve to never use such words. His subsequent behavior is "forced" by his previous decision. He need not choose whether or not to use foul language. The offensive terms are simply not in his vocabulary.

Our point of choice (nekudas bechira) rises and falls in accordance with the choices that we make daily. Over time these points form a line which goes up and down depending on the status of the person (Michtav Me'Eliyahu V p. 18). One is punished for lowering the point of choice, and any misdeed about which one rationalizes or seeks excuses is within the range of the nekudas bechira (p. 500).

The greater a person is, the greater is his yetzer hara (Sukka 52a). In order to maintain even choices, for one who has a strong parental or educational background, or who has reached a high spiritual level, a more powerful evil inclination is created (p. 355).

IV

Each generation and community faces unique challenges. As mentioned, the parsha begins "Re'eh", see, in singular, lifneichem, before you, in plural. We are warned not to follow the sinful behavior of our time and place. Sometimes a careful analysis of current practice and trends is essential for a proper choice.

For two centuries, since the emancipation of European Jews undermined insular Orthodox communities, the challenge of dealing with the seductions of the non-Jewish world has increased exponentially. The greatest threat to our very existence is intermarriage, which includes marriage to non-Jews who have undergone non-halachic conversions.

Many may rightfully insist that this sin is beneath their nekudas bechira and need not be addressed in the Torah community. However, as we have been recently reminded, an observant upbringing and Orothodox education is no guarantee.

Moreover, the nekudas bechira moves insidiously. Seemingly small changes in attitude and beliefs, followed by gradual, nearly imperceptible, waning in Torah observance, can, incrementally, lead to the worst sins. Only in hindsight can the k'lala be attributed to decisions taken lightly (kal) long before.

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l was once approached by a distraught parent whose child was about to intermarry. The grieving father told the Rav that he had sent his daughter to a major Midwestern university campus[1]. It was this seemingly innocuous choice, Rav Solovetichik replied, that led to the unfortunate result (see Berachos 32a and "A Parent's Guide to Orthodox Assimilation on University Campuses")

V

Recently, the internet has dramatically changed many aspects of modern life. Like most facilitating phenomena, the internet has many very positive aspects. Yet we sometimes ignore its negative potential.

For example, pornography is a scourge which has plagues our society for a long time. However, as a recent seminar[2] noted, it used to be a "subculture", requiring acquisition of embarrassing, often illegal, material. Today, it has entered mainstream culture by its being accessible everywhere online. This development has moved the point of choice for Torah Jews as well. For many, acquiring pornographic material was, in the past, beneath their point of choice. However, the ease of a click of a button at home or work, or being lured by a pop-up on the screen, has made avoiding pornography a challenge and test.

Many rabbonim, including myself, have dealt with marriages threatened by a wife's discovering her husband's viewing of internet pornography. One who believes that otherwise scrupulously observant Jews, ordained Rabbis, or Torah educators do not make the wrong choice on this matter is simply mistaken.

Some rabbonim have, therefore, advocated a ban on the internet. Such a ban may be impractical or above our point of choice. Yet we dare not trivialize the significant danger the internet presents, or limit our acknowledgement of the danger to our children. The internet and the evil inclination form a potentially lethal combination for all.

The Vilan Gaon has taught us that, with Hashem's help, we can overcome the most ubiquitous yetzer hara. Bad choices of the past can be reversed, and sins erased. An eternally blessed future is within our reach. However, for this bracha to take effect, we must avoid k'lala, making poor choices on seemingly inconsequential matters without realizing the curse which may result. As we read parsha Re'eh, we must resolve to discern which choice is beracha, which is k'lala, and to choose beracha.


[1] Also see Al HaTeshuva, by Rav Soloveitchik, footnote on page 64

[2] "Treatment for Internet Porn: A Social Epidemic", Mary Jo Barrett, Psychotherapy Networker, March 2007

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