Netzavim-Unity People

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There is a famous axiom in Jewish Law, that all Jews are responsible for each other, כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. This is based on a gemara in Shavuos 39a. The question is how far does this concept extend?

The Gemara in Kiddushin 40b states: “Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: Since the world is judged by its majority,and an individual isjudged by his majority,ifhe performs one mitzva he is praiseworthy, as he tiltsthe balance ofhimself and the entire world to the scale of merit.Ifhe transgresses one prohibition, woe to him, as he tiltsthe balancefor himself and the entire world to the scale of liability, as it is stated: “But one sindestroys much good,” i.e.,due to one sin that thisindividualcommits, he squanders much goodness from himself and from the entire world.” Interesting enough the Gilyonay HaShas says, based on a medrish, Jews and non-Jews are judged at two different times. Non-Jews by night and Jews during the day therefore when the gemara says “the world is judged” it is referring to the Jewish world which is all judged together and one person can make “a world of a difference!”  

In fact Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Derech Hashem tells us: “Those who cause others to partake in the World to Come will definitely be the foremost in that Community. They will be the leaders, while those who enter by virtue of their association with them will be beholden and dependent on them. In order for this to be possible, all people were originally bound to each other as our sages teach us ‘All Israel are responsible for one another’ (Shavuos 39a). As a result of this, each individual is bound to everyone else, and no person is counted separately. G-D’s attribute of good is the stronger, however, and if the guilt for sin is shared by others, this must certainly be true of the merit associated with good deeds” (Derech Hashem, Individual Providence 2:3:9)

There is a Medrish Tanchuma on the opening pesukim of this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim which elaborates on this point. The pesukim say: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers” (Devarim 29:9, 10).

The Medrish Tanchuma says: “Everyone is responsible for each other, even one righteous person amongst you, all of you are alive in his merit. Not only you, but even if one righteous person is amongst you, the whole entire world, in his merit keeps on existing, as it says, ‘And a righteous person who is the foundation of the world’ (Mishlei 10:25). And when one of you sins, the entire generation can be smitten, and so you find by Achan, ‘Behold Achan son of Zerach profaned the bounty etc.’ (Yehoshua, perek 7). The Attribute of punishment is less, and still the generation was grabbed by it, all the more so the attribute of good which is much greater. For this reason it writes ‘Every man of Israel,’ not only the great people amongst you but even your children and your wives, and your convert (The Etz Yosef points out that this terminology is emphasized to teach us that every Jew is responsible or are grabbed in the sin of even one person. But as we will see this is also true about mitzvos and reward.) This is why it says ‘every man of Israel’ since human beings tend to be more merciful on males more so than females, however Hashem isn’t like that, He is merciful on His entire creation, on the females and males, on the righteous and the wicked, as it says, ‘both your woodcutters and your water drawers’.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Biur HaAmarim on the Medrish Tanchuma points out that in Parshas Re’eh the medrish (paragraph 3) says that since the acceptance of the Torah on Har Sinai a generation will not be punished for one person’s sin. Therefore it must be that it is talking about if no one knew about it; but if people knew about it and were quiet, then everyone is responsible because that was part of the covenant. The extent of ‘all Jews responsible for one another’ is to the point that we are rewarded or punished in a global way for even one mitzvah, or G-D forbid, one sin, a person does. The consequences hit everyone, young or old, male or female, righteous, or wicked, and indeed Jews from all backgrounds; we are all connected as one and affect each other in everything we do.

The medrish points out that the Torah goes out of its way to mention that Hashem also includes women in the reward for a good deed of the righteous, because people think differently based on an attitude throughout history that women aren’t equal. In fact the Biur HaAmarim says “there are those who are more merciful on males but there is also the opposite.” But why should that be? Every human was created in the image of Hashem, with free will and the ability, for the most part, of everyone to be able to speak on an intellectual level; why then should there be gender inequality?

It must be that because people are different then it causes others to look at them as unequal. But Hashem purposefully created men and women to be different in order that the ultimate purpose of the world will be fulfilled in the most optimum way, with each half focusing on their own specialties. That is why men and women have different responsibilities in serving Hashem, though many of the responsibilities still overlap.

Therefore, Hashem, who doesn’t see differences as inequalities, of course will treat everyone equally. But in order for humans, with our frailties, to comprehend that, Hashem had to go out of his way to point that out in these pesukim.

Natural human instinct seems to equate difference with inequality. It takes Divine precision to realize we are all deserving to be responsible of each other and share to a lesser extent in our punishment, and more of an extent in our reward.