The power of one – Nitzavim
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹקֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל. טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ. לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית ה' אֱ-לֹקֶיךָ וּבְאָלָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹקֶיךָ כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם. לְמַעַן הָקִים אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לְּךָ לֵא-לֹקִים כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב. וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם לְבַדְּכֶם אָנֹכִי כֹּרֵת אֶת הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת וְאֶת הָאָלָה הַזֹּאת. כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם. (דברים כט, ט-יד)
Following the klalot in last week’s parsha Ki Tavo, Am Yisrael were in shock, “How can we possibly survive such terrible curses?” Moshe reassured them “Despite the curses, you are all still standing (נִצָּבִים) here today” (Rashi). Even though you have sinned, HKB”H invoked His attribute of mercy and forgave you. The Zohar Hakadosh says that wherever the word היום appears in the Tanach, it is referring to Rosh Hashana – היום הרת עולם. As we approach Rosh Hashana this year, these words are as pertinent now as they were then.
Last week’s parsha signaled a major turning point in the history of Am Yisrael, such a fundamental and monumental metamorphosis, that by all rights it should have been blazoned in headlines and glittering lights. However, if one were not paying close attention, it could easily be missed.
In Ki Tavo HKB”H renewed His covenant with Am Yisrael just prior to us entering the Promised Land. As explained in last week’s shiur, it was tantamount to a reenactment of Har Sinai. At Har Sinai, Am Yisrael were perfectly united – ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר: כאיש אחד בלב אחד. In this frame of mind they collectively declared נעשה ונשמע, uncontested allegiance to HKB”H and the Torah.
What is less obvious and we need to rely on Chazal to point it out to us, at Har Grizim and Har Eival, in addition to the above, Am Yisrael for the first time in history (and forever more) declared their uncontested allegiance – to one another. It was here that the fundamental principle of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה was born (Sanhedrin 43b).
The practical ramification of such a groundbreaking undertaking was that even if one individual in Am Yisrael sinned, all of Am Yisrael would be held accountable. Such a prospect was no less terrifying than the curses. Am Yisrael asked Moshe “Even if someone sins in secret we will be held accountable. How can we even know if someone sins in secret?” Moshe’s reply was –
הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַה' אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת. (דברים כט, כח).
If an individual sins in secret, HKB”H will expose these sins and make them public. The Gemara (above) brings the example of עכן in the time of Yehoshua, who stole from the חרם of Yericho.
I would like to explore the concept of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה in more depth and hopefully learn an important musar haskel for Rosh Hashana which is fast approaching.
This premise of mutual responsibility sets Am Yisrael apart from the other nations. The other nations are individuals sharing a mutual heritage, whereas Am Yisrael are a collective sharing a mutual heritage. With the other nations it is every man/woman for him/herself, with Am Yisrael, the acts of the individual affect the whole. Chazal bring a mashal of people in a boat. One of the people begins to drill a hole under his seat. The others cry out in alarm “What are you doing, you will sink the boat!” The person drilling replies “But I am only drilling under my seat, it does not affect anyone else”. With the other nations it doesn’t affect anyone else, with Am Yisrael it does.
The concept of the Twelve Tribes and כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה is a “collective” concept, in which the individual appears to be secondary, however the opposite is the case. The power of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה begins with the individual.
An individual, one solitary person, has tremendous power. We often mislead ourselves into thinking “What can I do to change anything, I am just one person!” History has proven to us that the most powerful force in our world is the “one person”, the individual.
I learned this firsthand when I became a professional baker. I had been baking as a hobby since bar mitzvah and decided midlife to turn it into a profession. I always dreamed of becoming a small village baker, lovingly baking bread for the people in his community on a close, personal level – the way it was 150 years ago and before that. Those were the days before the Industrial Revolution and big industry did not exist. In every neighborhood you had the local baker, greengrocer, butcher, etc. That is the way I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the bakery around the corner, the butcher, the fish shop, the greengrocer, etc. Then slowly these nostalgic figures began to disappear to be replaced by large supermarkets and one-stop-shopping. It was in this new reality that I opened my “old fashioned” bakery.
Today, there are no small village bakeries that bake their own bread in Israel (and in most of the world for that matter). They have been replaced by the “bread department” in supermarkets who bake frozen doughs manufactured in enormous, production line factories owned by huge, monopolistic conglomerates. About 90% or more of the bread baked daily is not made from scratch on the day, it is made from defrosting a frozen piece of dough and baking it in a turbo oven in a supermarket.
Obviously the huge conglomerates who manufacture these frozen doughs desire a monopoly, so they arrange powerful, influential lobbies in the seats of power to legislate laws to perpetuate their control. They “market” this legislature to the public on the premise that “it is more sanitary”, “higher quality”, “standardized”, etc. This monopolistic oriented legislature is designed with one and only one motive – to prevent the individual from opening a small “village bakery”. That kind of individual presents the greatest threat to their monopoly, not another monolithic competitor making the same denatured, “excuse for bread” that they are, but the “little guy”, like me. So they legislate draconian laws like – “If you want to open a bakery that mixes dough you need a minimum floor space of 200 square meters”, "It has to be located in an industrial zone”, etc. This is not a “bakery” it is a “factory”.
These huge economic concerns have realized that the real, true power (and threat) resides not with the huge companies and monopolies, but with the “little guy” who must be stopped at all costs. The individual is the most powerful competitor for them because it starts with one “little guy” and then another …. and very soon you have a few hundred thousand little guys, all baking bread in a small little neighborhood bakery, bread of a much higher quality than their frozen dough could ever aspire to, with the same sanitation and hygiene of a production line, perhaps even higher – and nobody is going to buy their “recycled”, reheated, frozen dough that is pumped so full of chemical and additives to facilitate its lengthy storage, ever again!
Another example of the power of the “one”, the individual, is evident in one of the most “monstrous”, profitable companies in the world, a name that is on the tip of everybody’s tongue. It has become a word in the English dictionary, both as a noun and as a verb – Facebook! What gives Facebook the multibillion dollar revenue it generates every year? The individual – billions and billions of them!
The power of the individual is not prevalent only in economics, but also in politics. Dictatorial regimes (such as Iran, or the USA – there it is a much more subtle form, but no less dictatorial) have long recognized that their true threat is not the enemy dictatorial regime, but the individual. Lone individuals (like Ghandi) have brought mighty empires to their knees and regimes will do anything in their power to repress them because one individual grows into a group, into a movement, into a multitude.
It is not surprising therefore that the true power of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה lies with the individual, with you and me. When the individual operates under the mindset of “What am I doing? How am I affecting כלל ישראל by what I am doing?” instead of constantly looking for fault with others - that is the foundation of mutual responsibility.
You and your actions are of paramount importance. If each of us follows our personal Ruach Hakodesh (see shiur on Re’ei), fulfills our intended purpose in life and stops focusing on what their neighbor is doing – that is where mutual responsibility begins.
This is what the passuk הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַה' אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם comes to teach us (Rashi, ibid.). This passuk is one of ten psukkim in the Torah that have dots above the letters. The words לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינו have a dot above each letter and also the letter ע of the word עַד. If you take the gematriya of the dotted letters, it is the same gematriya as מה טבו אהליך יעקב. When did Bilam give this bracha? (he intended it to be a curse but HKB”H flipped it around) - when he saw the Twelve Tribes encamped around the Mishkan, each under their own flag, each performing their designated role in Am Yisrael, each of them ערבים זה לזה, all together comprising a single collective, a single body made of different parts.
How absurd would it be if your left arm felt superior to your right leg, or your heart felt superior to your brain, or your ears superior to your eyes! You have heard the expression “cutting off your arm to spite your face!” Such a notion is ludicrous, simply because we understand that all these parts make up our body and they all have their specific, essential role to play in the smooth running of the organism.
This is how Am Yisrael is structured and this is the essence of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה.
עכן said to Yehoshua “Why does it bother you that I stole from the loot? What it is your business? It is between me and G-d!” What עכן failed to understand was that by doing so he was “cutting off his arm to spite his face”, he was affecting the entire Am Yisrael by his actions.
A secular Jew in Tel Aviv may say “What do you care what I do in my city, whether I keep Shabbat or not? You stay in Bnei Brak and do what you want there and leave me alone!” A charedi Jew in Bnei Brak may say “What do I care what they do in Tel Aviv, as long as we are here studying Torah, we are all set – our olam habah is certain!”
If your brain is aware that your hand is about to be burned in the flame, it does not say “I’m up here, far away from the flame, what do I care if the hand is burned?” The brain makes sure that the hand is jerked back to save it from disaster. If the leg sees that the head is teetering over a cliff, the leg doesn’t say “What do I care, I am here firmly on the ground, the head will fall, not me!” The leg takes a step away from the edge to save the rest of the body (and itself) from disaster.
If we take a look at the state of Am Yisrael at this point in time, a few days before Rosh Hashana, we don’t look so good. We appear far off from the ideal described above.
As we get closer to the time of the Geulah, בעיתה – the allotted time HKB”H set at the time of Creation - all the forces of טומאה are being recruited to prevent us from hastening the Geulah so that it will not come באחישנה. The ס"מ is pulling out all the stops and working overtime to divide us from one another, to divide us from our true selves, within ourselves. If we take a step back for a moment and look at ourselves, as if we were someone else looking in from the outside, what we see will appear surreal to us, we will be shocked to the core – “How could we possibly have reached this stage?”
This is how Am Yisrael felt after hearing the klalot in Ki Tavo!
We must take comfort today from the way Moshe placated us back then אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם – “It is true, you don’t look so good right now – חטא העגל, the מרגלים, the episode of בעל פעור, etc. But look around you. You are still here, HKB”H has not wiped you off the face of the earth.”
Yes we sinned with עבודה זרה, שפיכות דמים, גילוי עריות that made HKB”H destroy Bayit Rishon. Yes we sinned with שנאת חינם that made HKB”H destroy Bayit Sheini and exile us for over 1952 years! Yes we have not completely corrected that flaw! But look around, here we are at the end of תשפ"ב, almost at the beginning of a new year …. and we are still here! The galut is drawing to an end, HKB”H is bringing us home to our land and home to ourselves, to our neshama. The מידת הרחמים of HKB”H has no bounds! Yes the ס"מ is up to his old tricks and is working overtime, but we are still standing!
All we have to do is reach out, to take one step closer to who we really are, to אבינו שבשמים and to Am Yisrael. “I am only one person – what can I possibly do that will change anything?” What you do will change everything – you each have enormous power, all it takes is just one small step – to be better people, to respect each other a little more, to help each other a little more, to learn Torah a little more – even if it is “baby steps”. Taking upon ourselves to have a little more kavanah when we say brachot, when we daven, to learn one more “something” every day – another halacha, another mishna. Do one extra chessed every week, every month. Baby steps….. This is the power of the individual and the power of the “little guy”. Water has the power to shatter rock, dripping one drop at a time. Similarly “baby steps” in edging closer to HKB”H have the power to shatter a heart of rock.
It is difficult to talk about the subject of teshuva in a general way and expect everyone to relate to it. Every individual is at a specific point in their relationship with HKB”H, some are more attuned, some are less, some are so far gone that what you are saying sounds like a foreign language to them and they switch off. How does one give a shiur on teshuva that everyone can relate to, regardless of where they are on the scale?
It begins by explaining how important the individual is, how much each and every one of us matter. Each and every one of us is a ben or bat Melech, an עולם ומלואו and has a unique purpose to fulfill in this life that is not more or less important than our neighbor’s.
We are not like the other nations (although many amongst us would like us to be). Whether we like it or not HKB”H expects and holds us to a different standard. He expects the leg to watch out for the head and the head to watch out for the arm. None of us have the luxury of “doing whatever we like” without it affecting everyone else.
We have to be דבקים in our personal purpose in life, whatever it may be and we also have to be tolerant and respectful of others and their purpose.
We have to have the honesty and integrity to be able to ask ourselves “What am I doing?” “Am I building or destroying, by what I am doing?” “How am I affecting כלל ישראל by what I am doing?”
This is the root of teshuva. This is the basis of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה.
Part of our mutual responsibility is protecting our fellow Jews. If we see someone in trouble we have to help them. If we see someone doing an עבירה that will harm both them and the rest of Am Yisrael, we are obligated by the mitzva of הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך, to rebuke them.
How does one rebuke a fellow Jew? What is the right way?
The way Aharon HaKohen did it. Firstly, he rebuked by example, he embodied the rebuke without having to utter a word. You just had to see him and, if you were a sinner, you felt guilt - “Look at how holy Aharon is and what a sinner I am!” Secondly he would always smile at you and treat you with respect and friendship, regardless of who you were. If you were a sinner, that would spur you on, even more, to do teshuva – “Aharon just greeted me like I was a big tzaddik. If he only knew who I really am …..”
Yehoshua learned from Aharon HaKohen. When he confronted עכן regarding the sin of taking from the חרם (Chazal say that was the least of his sins, he had many more serious ones), Yehoshua addressed him as בני. This spurred עכן on to do teshuva.
This is the only way to rebuke – בסבר פנים יפות, anything else is a חילול ה'. You certainly do not throw stones at female joggers who are not sufficiently modestly dressed when they run near your neighborhood. You certainly do not call Jews who are not on your madrega derogatory names - in shiurim, in newspapers, or on pashkevilim. That is not the way of the Torah which is דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.
This is also the way to confuse the ס"מ who is trying to trip us up – to up our level of simcha and not walk around angry and depressed all the time, but rather to seek out the good that exists in each other – there is a LOT of it – and focus on that. Yes we need to feel guilt חרטה for our sins – that is a fundamental of teshuva, but it must not be a debilitating guilt that brings us to despair – that there is no way we can ever repent or fix. Despair is a tool of the ס"מ.
If we apply the above, we will merit תשפ"ג – תהיה שנת פג. A פג is a premature birth. May תשפ"ג be the year that Am Yisrael merits “Premature” Geulah באחישנה and may it be a year of פלאים גדולים, a year where we each feel ourselves to be פלגא גופא, half a body - that can only be whole when it is together and in harmony with another fellow Jew.
Shabbat shalom and ketiva vechatima tova le’altar lechayim tovim uleshalom.