In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, we read how Moshe tells the Jewish People that they are gathered together to enter into a covenant with HaShem. “If,” Moshe warns them, “there is amongst you someone whose heart is turned away from HaShem to serve other gods, and this person says to himself, ‘everything will be fine with me, because I’ll follow my heart as I see fit.’ “Regarding such a person,” Moshe tells the Jewish People, “HaShem will not forgive him. HaShem will erase his name from under the heaven and HaShem will set him aside for evil from going all the tribes of Israel. When people in subsequent generations inquire as to the destruction of the land, the response will be, ‘because they forsook the covenant of HaShem and they went and served other gods and prostrated themselves to them.’”
Rashi raises the obvious question regarding this narrative. Why does the Torah punish the multitudes for the sinful thoughts of the individuals? How can one person know what’s going on in someone else’s heart? Rashi answers that HaShem will not punish the masses for the thoughts of the individual, as these are concealed matters that Hashem will only punish the individual for. However, regarding revealed sins, it is incumbent upon us to eradicate evil from our midst, and if we don’t meet out justice, then the multitudes will be punished.
Rashi’s answer is perplexing, as it does not seem to answer the question. The difficulty with the narrative is that HaShem punishes the masses for the individual’s sins and Rashi seems to be saying that HaShem will not punish the masses for the individual’s sinful thoughts. Why, then, do the masses receive punishment?
On a simple level we can suggest that there is something missing from the Torah’s description of the individual’s sin, and the Torah is essentially saying that for the thoughts alone the masses will not be punished, but if the thoughts lead to action and the masses are aware of the sinful action, then they will be punished. Nonetheless, this explanation is lacking, because it does not seem fair that one person sins, and even if he worshipped idolatry, he should be the cause for punishing an entire nation. It is true that when Achan took from the spoils of Yericho, the entire nation was punished, but that incident was isolated in that Yehoshua had declared a ban, and a ban is more severe than a regular sin. This being the case, how are we to understand Rashi’s explanation?
In order to understand Rashi’s answer, we must take a broader look at the context of the parasha. It is said (Devarim 29:9) אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְ-הֹ-וָ-ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d; the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel. The commentators write that this verse alludes to Rosh HaShanah, when we all stand before HaShem and proclaim Him as our King. The word נִצָּבִים, standing, is indicative of what our status should be. Rashi (Shemos 19:21) writes regarding the Jewish People receiving the Torah that no one was allowed to ascend the Mountain, because if one person separates from the מצב, from the group, then the entire edifice crumbles. On Rosh HaShanah, the entire universe is begging judged. In fact, on Rosh HaShanah night we take various foods to elevate all of creation: the inanimate, the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom. Furthermore, we find that Dasan and Aviram are referred to as נִצָּבִים, because when they separated from the Jewish People, Moshe was concerned that their behavior would be the ruination of the Jewish People. In Egypt they threaten to slander Moshe and Moshe wondered if their slandering was enough of a reason to prevent the redemption for the entire people. In the Wilderness, when Dasan and Aviram collaborated with Korach, Moshe sought to squelch the fire of dissent because he was concerened that the fabric of society would be destroyed. On Rosh HaShanah we must be conbagznjnt of the fact that every individual is part of a cohesive group. It is not sufficient for one to control his actions. One must even safeguard his thoughts, as any stray thought or deviant act can be the catalyst for destruction. We must approach the Yomim Noraim as one unit, with joy and ecstasy, as HaShem is granting us the opportunity to serve Him, united.
Similarly, Rashi is teaching us that while HaShem will deal with the individual for his concealed sins, when those sins begin to affect the masses, then everyone is responsible, and HaShem will, Heaven forbid, punish everyone for the sins of the individual, as we are all united and responsible for each other.
I read this week on my friend Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz’s blog the following which I feel is a worthwhile lesson for all of us to absorb:
“You know every year I just like to share a thought with you that has been running through my brain during this season. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible diversity of our people. It struck me as I started this week’s Torah portion and read about how all of us our standing before HaShem today. The judges, the elders, the water carriers and wood choppers. I thought about this as I looked out at my daily street cleaner and thought about what a tremendous merit he has, each day with a broom and a trash can he makes HaShem’s country a little bit cleaner. Imagine the tremendous merit he has when he comes up to heaven. How beautiful that is. I wish I could have a piece of that. I don’t mean actually cleaning the streets, of course, but just the merits to have such an incredible opportunity.
Every single person has such a different role in life. It’s so easy to look at somebody else’s life and think I wish I could have that, do that, be that. But there are two things that are important to realize. One, Hashem has created each of us because he wants and even needs each and every one of us to become and excel to the best we can as we are. The world needs, Hashem needs, street cleaners, rabbis, teachers, leaders, doctors, travel agents, clothing salesman, pizza shopkeepers and even lawyers. As we stand before HaShem on Rosh HaShana we need to contemplate our own lives, the things and opportunities we have, we have been given and to ask HaShem for the ability to find an even deeper meaning and all that we need to become the best versions of ourselves that He wants us to.
But even deeper our Sages tell us that we are connected to one another. I may not be a doctor but the next best things is that I have a brother that is one. I may not know how to fix my car or even which way to hold a screwdriver but I have a brother that can, I can’t cook for anything but my closest relative makes heavenly food and a great chulent. If we are able to view each other as our family, as our brothers, as our sisters, as the people that we are all connected with, than the truth is we can share in the merits that each of us has and work together at so that the whole world is one big symphony singing out Hashem’s greatest masterpiece.
The way to feel that connection is by trying to have everyone that you interact with in your prayers. To daven for them, for their needs, for their success, for their greatness to shine as much as your own does. If we can appreciate each other’s greatness and our own and HaShem’s dependency on each of us fulfilling our divine mandate than we will be all connected. HaShem, our King, will be One as we will as well.”
Let us enter into Rosh HaShanah with words of gratitude for everything that HaShem does for us, and to extend that gratitude towards every single Jew, and then HaShem will grant us a year of Gezuent, Nachas, Parnassah, Shalom Bayis and all good things, and the Ultimate Redemption with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Have a Ksiva Vachasima Tova and a Gut Gebentched Yohr, and a FANTASTICALLY UNITED SHABBOS!
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777 Inspiration
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