Graduation Speech - Rina Leah Davidson 2012
A couple of weeks ago my seven year-old brother, Elishama, was holding his compass and looking quite perplexed. He asked me: “Why does this compass keep telling me to sit on the couch?” So I explained to him, “the compass doesn’t tell you where to go, it tells you which way is north. It’s up to you to decide where you want to go.” As soon as that happened, I of course, ran to my room to write this story down, thinking, “yes, finally, something to talk about at graduation.”
Hashem gave us free choice in life. While there are many elements in life that are beyond our control, we ultimately decide who we are and who we are going to become. Rambam, in Hilchos Teshuva, writes, “Every person has the ability to become a righteous person like Moshe Rabbenu, or a wicked person, like Yiravom ben Nevot.” We all have the potential to become whoever we want to be, good or bad.
To give us this potential, Hashem had to hide His presence in the world. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in If You Were God, explains, “As long as He is hidden, we can strive toward Him, and attain the Godly…But if God were to reveal Himself, then man would no longer be able to exist as a free entity. He would know that he was always under the scrutiny of his Master, and that would make him into something less than human. He would become some kind of puppet or robot.”
Hashem wants us to choose Him and choose a Torah way of life. This is the ultimate purpose of existence. In Derech Hashem, the Ramchal explains that “the purpose of all that was created was...to bring into existence a creature who could derive pleasure from God’s own good.” But to be in this relationship, and experience the good that Hashem intended for us, we have to be worthy of it; we have to work for it. Hashem did not make His existence obvious, because to do so would eliminate our free choice and, consequently, our ability to have a relationship with Him, thus undermining the very purpose of creation.
However, we learn that when Hashem gave us the Torah, according to the Midrash quoted by Rashi, He literally held Har Sinai, mount Sinai, over our heads, threatening to drop it on us if we did not accept the Torah. Furthermore, G-d revealed His existence by giving the first and second commandments directly to us. In his book, Living Inspired, Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains this phenomenon. He calls this a moment of “emes,” of “truth.” A moment of stark reality. The question then arises: Why, at this pivotal moment in our heritage, when we were first accepting the Torah—what should have been the ultimate decision of our history—did Hashem make His existence a blatant reality and strip us of our ability to choose a Torah way of life?
Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains, “Sinai was emes, revelation. And in that revelation the first mitzvah of the Torah was spoken to the Jewish people—the mitzvah of emunah, [of faith]: ‘I am Hashem.’” We, as a nation, needed that moment of absolute clarity. The giving of the Torah and mitzvos was Hashem handing us a compass, showing us which way is north, revealing to us the path of the righteous and the good. At that moment, there was not a question of choosing Hashem. It was a moment of knowing, as Ayn Rand puts it, that there exists an “objective reality.” That A is A, north is north—whether I wish it to be so or not, Hashem created the world, and Torah is the ultimate truth. This glimpse of emes is a foundation of our faith, because, as Rabbi Tatz writes, “absolute blind belief with no core of certainty, of knowledge, does not make sense,” and is not what Hashem wants from us.Our relationship with Hashem needs that firm anchor of truth.
However, translating emes into action is no small feat. Knowing that God exists and consciously dictating our actions to abide by that reality, are two separate matters. And, as with my brother, there is not only one direction to go in. We do not need to sit on the proverbial couch of life. Hashem gave us the choice and ability to become whoever we wish. Make no mistake, I do not mean to say that listed within our options of viable directions is not following Torah and Mitzvos, because we cannot live our lives ignoring the basic premises of our existence. Hashem exists and this weekend will be the anniversary of His giving us the Torah and all of its laws. But that does not limit any of us to one, uniform existence. There is not one set path to keeping mitzvos. We need to harness our individuality in order to better our observance of the Torah. In all of our actions, we need to be conscious of God, “V’halachta B’idrachav,” “and walk in His ways.” No matter where any of our lives take us, we need to constantly live with the knowledge that Hashem exists and shape our own, unique actions accordingly.
As you look at my class, as parents, teachers, family, and friends, you see our accomplishments. But I see our potential; I see a group of future dentists, political journalists, statisticians, physical therapists, writers, biologists, doctors, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. I, myself, am a ballerina turned artist turned writer turned lawyer turned psychologist turned neuroplastician, which is--as of yet--not an actual profession. No one in this class is going on the same path. Invariably, we’re all going to different seminaries, yeshivas, and colleges. But regardless of what my classmates and I chose to be, regardless of the ever-changing directions of our lives, we need to always keep the education of Yeshiva Atlanta with us, and keep our awareness of Judaism, mitzvos, and Hashem, as our guiding light, as our true North.