Entity, Enmeshment and Equality

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The Torah records multiple covenants Hashem has entered into with our people, from the covenants with each of our Patriarchs to the covenant at Sinai. Here, in Parshat Nitzavim, before entering and settling the Promised Land, Hashem establishes the final covenant with all of Bnei Yisroel, with all who are present as well as with all who are not yet present. The Torah begins by emphasizing that "kulchemall of you" are standing before Hashem, and then goes on to list the various subgroups that comprise the nation, heads of tribes, small children, women, proselytes, even the categories of hewer of wood and drawer of water to include the different kinds of workers. If the Torah makes it clear that all of Bnei Yisroel is included in the covenant, why does the Torah feel it necessary to then provide these examples and subgroups?

Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi offers a beautiful explanation that will inform much of our continuing discussion. Using the image from the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah, the members of Bnei Yisroel "will pass before You like members of a flock -- Like a shepherd inspecting his flock, making sheep pass under his staff." Just as in that image, the shepherd, while examining each sheep individually is still eyeing the entire flock and the interaction of each sheep within the flock, so does Hashem here, at this juncture, establish a covenant both with the individual and with the collective, teaching that each of us has a mission for himself as an individual as well as an additional mission toward the community and the nation, the "flock". Hashem is here tasking Bnei Yisroel with both their individual and communal responsibilities. Kulchem/All of you is not superfluous at all, but an integral part of the covenant.

The Be'er Moshe, the Oshover Rebbe, expands on this idea. We each have our own unique way of serving Hashem. It is a responsibility I have that no one else in the community can fulfill. If I do not fulfill it, it will not get done. This makes me an important member of the collective, for what I do or do not do will affect not only my world, but the global world. As the Tosher Rebbe adds, we must always remember that the Mishneh in Sanhedrin validates us and urges us to remember, בשבילי נברא" העולם/The world was created for my benefit." [Without forgetting the words of Avraham Avinu, "And I am but dust and ashes."] But a שביל is also a path [שביל הזהב/the golden path/mean. CKS] So we can interpret this Mishneh to mean, "This path was created for me." Where should this path lead? The Tosher Rebbe explains that this path should lead us back to Hashem. And each person has a path that is his personally and is also part of the collective. The Shabbat Shuvah Haftorah reinforces this interpretation. It begins with the singular שובה/you (s.) return, but ends the verse with שובו/you(pl.) return. The message, explains the Tosher Rebbe, is that while I am working on my own path back to Hashem, I must also seek out ways to help the collective, perhaps through praying for sick individuals, acts of chesed, or community service. But in the process of serving the kllal, we must not lose sight of our own path, of working on our own leaving our evil ways before we can embark on doing good, writes Rabbi Tuvyah Weiss. The way we live our life impacts others in everything we do. One act can change and impact the entire collective.

Before enumerating individual segments of the society, the Torah begins with kulchem, notes Rabbi Weinberger in Shemen Hatov. Rabbi Weinberger suggests that the Torah begins with that which is greater, the national entity rather than with the individual. [After all, the sum is always greater than the total of its parts. Any project begins with the completed vision before listing all the necessary components. CKS] Kulchem, insists the Maharal, denotes Knesset Yisroel, a term that denotes the collective and eternal soul of Bnei Yisroel. That is why Hashem can establish this covenant with future generations, as yet unborn, for Knesset Yisroel, the collective soul of Yisroel, never changes even if the individuals change, explains the Maharal. [Are we not the same "soul" even as our cells have changed millions of times over the course of our lives? CKS]

It is because of this collective that one can recite the Kiddush, for example, to fulfill the obligation of another Jew, even if he himself has already recited Kiddush. Each individual Jew is part of the other's collective. We are all standing up for one another, responsible for each other. [We are co-signers for each other on this national contract. CKS] This sense of community unity and responsibility was Moshe's intention by beginning with kulchem, continues the Maharal. Therefore, we cannot be blind to the situation of others, whether spiritually or physically. We each have circles of human interaction, with our families, with our colleagues at work, within our community. Just as Moshe listed many subgroups, we must realize we also have influence on many social circles, and we carry some responsibility for each of them.

It is true that not everyone has the ability, strengths or skills to influence others, writes the Mishneh Yosef. Citing the Chozeh of Lublin, the Mishneh Yosef suggests an alternate path, extrapolated from the verse in Tehillim: " Praiseworthy is the man whose (s.) strength is in You, whose hearts (pl) focus on the paths leading upward." This individual can still impact the collective by putting his energy into devout prayer and Torah study. That holy energy will not remain contained within the shul or Beit Medrash, but will escape and ignite a spark in others, especially if you are praying on their behalf.

Rabbi Reiss points out that our actions impact others in ways we may not realize. We are always under observation. How we act is observed by family, friends, even strangers, and often changes their perspectives and influences their own actions.

Perhaps we can't influence them, observes Rabbi Pincus in the name of Rav Hutner. Are we then to ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Because the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" We can feel for the other as our brother. We can at least cry for them and pray for them. That is our responsibility.

In Ohel Moshe, Rav Scheinerman asks when will you be able to stand, to be nitzavim? When you are kulchem, all united together. Then we can stand before Hakodosh Boruch Hu. as we do when we bless Rosh Chodesh, and ask Hashem to redeem us soon. because all Yisroel is chaverim. comrades.

It is with this mindset that we pray for our necessities and blessings in the plural, for Hashem's mercy comes down to the group more than to the individual. And it is only united together, as one nation, that we can coronate Hashem as King over us; the Tribes of Israel must be yachad, all together, for the King to rule. This is especially so on Rosh Hashanah, the day regularly referred to as Hayom, the [special] day. Therefore, on the Day of Judgment we must especially focus on ואהבת לרעך כמוך, loving your comrade as yourself, for that is how we form the nation that has the King.

But this can't be just words about loving each other. We must rid ourselves of inner grudges and animosity toward one another. We must believe, as Rabbi Yosef Salant writes, that we are all part of one soul, hewn from the same stone. Therefore, we must live a community oriented life, connected to others.

Rav Dovid Feinstein zt"l gives a beautiful interpretation to this verse. "You are all standing... before Hashem," you are all of equal stature before Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Each of you has the obligation to serve Hashem according to the capacity He has given you. You, who may not be a great scholar, but who uses your skills to keep the shul functioning well, or your talents to keep children safe and happy are just as valuable in Hashem's eyes as the learned scholar. You, too, stand erect before Him. Although the groups seem to be listed according to their importance, the elders before the lowly laborers, before Hashem, you are all equal, adds Vayovenu Bamikra.

This equality before Hashem explains why the Torah sometimes lists Aharon before Moshe while at other times lists Moshe before Aharon, Although clearly Moshe was the greatest of all Jews, past, present and future, Aharon performed his service with as deep devotion and perfection as did Moshe. In that respect, they were indeed equal, writes Rav Moshe Feinstein. [Indeed, the motto says, "From Moshe [Rabbenu] to Moshe [ben Maimon/Rambam] to Moshe [Feinstein], no one arose like Moshe. CKS] In this world, we tend to judge people by the professional, social or financial status they have reached; in the world of truth, each is judged according to how far he actualized his spiritual potential. In that scenario, the prominent person on earth may indeed be on a lowly station in Olam Haba.

The day Bnei Yisroel were standing before Hashem was indeed that special day, Rosh Hashanah, the day Hashem created the world. As Be'er Hachayim explains, it was on that first Rosh Hashanah that Hashem contracted Himself to make space for the world He was creating, a world with which He wanted a relationship. Hashem gave the world life force for one year at that time, and every year Hashem must renew the world. [If He doesn't plug the world into the recharger, it will die. CKS] Each year, Hashem comes down to decide whether to constrict Himself or expand fully. Every Rosh Hashanah, we choose to make Hashem King again. By our decision, the year has received a worthy status all its own, and Hashem gives the world another year of life.

When two people need to work together but can't agree, or have a dispute, they seek out a greater presence to resolve the issue. Before that presence, they stand humble but equal, submitting to his authority. This is the case with a bride and groom under the wedding canopy. Certainly two distinct individuals, growing up with different families, will find it hard to agree on everything. But under the bridal canopy, representing Hashem's presence, their own egos shrink and they can live together peacefully, continues Be'er Hachayim.

Today, too, you are standing before Hashem. Under this tremendous light and energy of Rosh Hashanah, we are all humbled by His presence. Nevertheless, we are all equal, irrespective of our individual jobs or specific missions. The ego gets pushed aside, as it does under the chuppah. This diminishment of ego creates the unity that allows me to submit my will to His will. I am indeed unique and special, but I am also a unique and special part of the collective community, of Knesset Yisroel. This day Hashem judges us on both criteria. We pray that all of us, as individuals, as a community, and as Kllal Yisroel successfully meet the mark.