The Wendy Blickstein D’var Torah Competition recognizes achievements in D’var Torah writing on a particular theme. This year’s theme was leadership and authenticity in relationship to Parasha Yitro. Mazel tov to Lauren Bayne, whose D’var Torah came in 2nd place. Read the other winning pieces.
Israelites and Influence: Creating Change Within NFTY
By Lauren Bayne
Whether or not we know it by name, we all have heard of Parsha Yitro. You probably know the basic story, of Moses going up on Mount Sinai and G-d giving him the Ten Commandments. However, to get into more detail, the story states that the people of Israel trembled in the presence and were so fearful, they asked Moses to be the one to receive the word of G-d, while they stood back and away from the mountain. Moses assured them and told them to not be afraid, for this was only G-d giving them a test.
These people, just ordinary citizens, did not ask for this test. The Israelites only fled Egypt in search of their freedom; no one could have foretold that they would be the leaders in front of a major change in the way of life. Although the Jewish people were not listed by name in this Torah portion, we tell the story year after year and recount their fear. The people of Israel had no way of knowing that I, a teenage girl thousands of years later, would be writing an essay about their journey. They could never have guessed that the word of G-d that frightened them would exist for so long and provide the moral basis for governments and philosophies and human decency. They were trying to live their lives without being killed, and they put their trust in Moses to hear the word of G-d for them. If one other person had stood up and declared that they wanted to be the one to go up on Mount Sinai, perhaps history would have been incredibly different, in ways that we cannot predict. Yet no one spoke up, and that silence became their influence.
Influence itself is a tricky thing to define. Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes it as “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.” We alone cannot measure our influence, since we have no control over who it affects or how it affects them. We all interpret things in different ways. One person reading my essay can take away the concept of how easily history can change, whereas another person may focus on how intangible influence is. I have no control over this, which can be slightly terrifying. The people of Israel did not speak up and volunteer to ascend Mount Sinai because they were so terrified. However, we must not let our fear stop us from striving to create influence.
In my freshman year, I dove into NFTY headfirst, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. At every turn, I felt like I was being confronted with millions of acronyms and people who had been friends for years. That “fish out of water” experience was suffocating at first, and I convinced myself that maybe NFTY wasn’t the place for me after all. However, I did not let my fear stop me from gaining that Jewish experience I so desperately wanted. Despite not knowing anyone, I continued to attend regional conventions, eventually made a few friends, and then ran for Social Action Vice President of my TYG. Had my fear stopped me, I would not have been able to learn how to write programs that create a difference, I would not have participated in thought-provoking discussions led by my region’s SAVP, and I would not have cultivated my passion for taking action in my community. Outside of those effects on me, I have no idea what my being in NFTY means to others. Maybe people don’t like me or my programs, I don’t know. That is a bit nerve wracking to think about, just as the people of Israel were terrified to hear the word of G-d. History could have easily been so different, yet it created an influence all the same. The path from those people and their experience in the desert does not connect in a straight, clear-cut line to my experience in NFTY, but it connects all the same.
Just because we cannot measure our own influence doesn’t mean we should stop striving to create one. Whether it is on the national, regional, or local level, we all have the power to create some sort of change. Write a program, or even just start a conversation with someone about the issues that bother you in this world. Even something as simple as introducing yourself could lead to a new friendship. Maybe, you will spark the action that creates waves or policies or headlines. Maybe, it just changes one person’s perspective. Maybe, thousands of years from now, someone will write an essay about something you did, even if your name isn’t attached. You may forget my name, and that is fine with me. I may not influence you at all, and that is also alright with me. Do not tremble in your own magnitude: just being here, in the presence of others, you are influencing their own lives. It is not tangible, and it is not direct, but it still exists. Even the smallest of acts can change the course of history.
Lauren Bayne is a sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri and is part of NFTY Missouri Valley. She is the Social Action Vice President of her temple youth group, and also the secretary of her school’s debate team. She is extremely passionate about social justice, particularly in regards to education reform and women’s rights. She is also involved in her school’s Politics Club and Philosophy Club, and she is a Madricha (teaching assistant) at her temple’s religious school.