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We’re in it together; nitzavim and yamim noraim

Written by d fine

Parshiyos Nitzavim-Vayelech; we’re all in it together!

These 2 sedras are almost definitely the shortest a double can get; and are indeed probably the 2 shortest parshiyos in the Torah individually, yet their shortness does not reflect itself as a lack of depth; one can see even at first glance that there is a lot of hidden depth in much of the sedras; particularly the end of Vayelech when HaShem reveals to Moshe future deeds of the Bnei Yisrael, and gives to him a ’shirah’ to accompany Bnei Yisrael through the difficult times. But we’ll discuss the opening few psukim of Nitzavim…

Moshe starts relaying to the Bnei Yisrael that ‘everyone is standing here today…’ and proceeds to list the people (your officers, your elders, etc) – Rashi explains (29;9) that the order is from the most important people downwards. Yet, the opening is that ’all of you’ are here ie a focus on the collective whole, so why does it then list the individuals? (this does not have to be a question, butI’m just bringing out the point.) The same question can be asked within the words themselves; it says ’your officers, your elders, etc’ Why add the part ‘your,’just say something like ‘[the] officers, elders, etc?’ Perhaps an answer lies it the very next phrase. In pasuk 12 we are told that the aim of the aforementioned bris between us and HaShem (pasuk 11) is ’so we shall be for Him as a nation, and Him as Elokim,’ which is also why we are referred to in the singular term in psukim 11 and 12, for the single whole of klal yisrael is being referred to. The point is that the individual greats of the nation are only individually great if they are working for the nation and are part of it – this is perhaps why the term your is used; for the individual greatness and positions of authority are dependent on and indeed a product of the degree of benefit derived to klal yisrael as a whole from their actions. The Or HaChaim comments that the bracha given to Avraham that his offspring (us!) will be like the stars and the sand is that we will shine individually and also as a collective single entity respectively. According to the above, the two facets are interlinked. Thus, let’s spend a little bit of time discussing the idea of klal yisrael and our responsibilities to the team…

In fact, this is the way it has always been. The bris at the start of Nitzavim is only given when every person of the nation is present, and the Torah was only given when we were “like one man with one heart.” (Rashi Shemos 19;2). In fact, I feel I must relate an incident that happened to me once in Manchester a few years ago. I was taking a group of kids on Shabbes afternoon, and posed the following question: Why is it that off all comparisons, the Bnei Yisrael are compared to a single person, why not to another form of bonding comparison like one team, or one house, etc? I cannot remember what I planned to answer, but I certainly did not expect any of the kids to give me an answer, since the age group was 5yrs old! The one cute boy (that does not really narrow it down; they were all cute – they were 5 yrs old after all) offered the following wonderful explanation. He said that the point is that just like when one small part of the body hurts – no matter how seemingly insignificant it is, eg a toenail – the entire body feels and functions differently, so too is it (and thus should it be) that when one Jew is hurting [physically or spiritually], every Jew must feel some pain. (And the gemara says that some vestiges of prophecy remain in children!). I have since found the same idea expressed in two other places.

Firstly, there is a story of a certain big Rav (I hear it on a Rav Krohn tape recently), in whose neighbourhood the father of a family passed away just before Pesach. The family did not know what they were going to do for seder night, and so this Rav told them ’do not worry – I will take care of things.’ That night – the night of seder night – the Rav came and led the seder in the orphaned family’s house, and did not rush whatsoever; he patiently listened to the divrei Torah and went through all the steps of the seder. After this seder, he returned home to his anxiously waiting family, who asked him where he was and why he made them wait so long to start seder? He told them exactly where he was, to which his wife told him that he was wrong to keep his own family waiting – family comes first before one‘s individual kind deeds. The Rav explained; I was doing you all a favour – it is not just I who have an obligation and responsibility to look after the orphaned family, but everyone does, and thus when you waited patiently for me, you were doing your part in the mitzvah of helping ease the pain of another Jew; especially an orphan.

So too does the Sokochover Rav (son-in-law of the Kotzker Rav) echo similar sentiments in his sefer Shem Mishmuel (parshas Bamidbar.) The gemarra (Rosh Hashanah 17b) explains that the difference between rabim to an individual is that whilst an individual cannot alter things once there has been a gzar din (I don‘t know what that means), a rabim can. The gemarra then proceeds to cite the case of the yordei hayam who, despite their prayers, were not answered, for it was after gzar din. The gemarra thus asks; surely this was a rabim and thus they should have been answered irrespective of gzar din? And it answers that these yordei hayam are considered not as a rabim but as individuals. The question remains, however, why indeed are they considered individuals if in numbers they should be a rabim? To this, the Sokochover answers that it was because they did not feel each other’s pain that turned them from a collective body into a number of individuals.

Thus, we daven in lashon rabim – we say slach lanu; that we should be forgiven, and not a personal request; and this is the make-up of the entire shmonah esrei; it’s all about the collective body. So too have HaShem’s promises to us been to the klal as opposed to the individual – the promise of survival being the obvious example. So too did HaShem fulfil His promise to Avraham that his descendents would leave Egypt despite 80% of them dieing in the plague of darkness, for the promise was never made regarding each individual but rather regarding the klal.

In fact, this is a reason for a well-known halacha. The gemarra (rosh Hashanah 29a) says that you can make Kiddush for another Jew who has not made Kiddush, despite the fact that you have already made your Kiddush for yourself beforehand. Why can you do that if you have already done the mitzvah? Because your mitzvah of Kiddush is somewhat incomplete if another Jew has not done that mitzvah of Kiddush yet.

In summary, therefore, it is the aspect of bein adam lechaveiro and the being part of one whole body that often gets left behind in the themes of yamim noraim. Rosh HaShanah is all about crowning HaShem as King, and that is the job of the entire nation as a whole; and HaShem does not forgive the bein adam lechaveiro sins on Yom Kippur if we do not ask mechila for them personally. And much of the avodah done in the beis hamikdash on yom kipur is heavily impacted upon by bein adam lechaveiro. For example, when the kohen gadol is in the holy of holies, one would expect him to say a long prayer – after all it is once a year he is there, and the place is so holy that there is death for misusing this opportunity. Yet we are told (mishnah yoma 52b) that he said just a short prayer in order not to scare the people that they might think he was dead. This shows the koach of caring for others’ feelings even at the holiest of moments.

Have a great Shabbes,

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