The Individual and the Community
“ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה”
“Behold, I place before you today blessing and curse.”
The commentaries note a seeming discrepancy in this possuk. It begins in the singular tense with the word “ראה”, and then continues with the plural “לפניכם”. What is this meant to teach us?
Some explain this as a subtle hint towards the Gemara in Maseches Kiddushin:
לעולם יראה אדם עצמו כאילו חציו חייב וחציו זכאי עשה מצוה אחת אשריו שהכריע עצמו לכף זכות עבר עבירה אחת אוי לו שהכריע את עצמו לכף חובה שנאמר “וחוטא אחד יאבד טובה” … ר אלעזר בר’ שמעון אומר לפי שהעולם נידון אחר רובו והיחיד נידון אחר רובו עשה מצוה אחת אשריו שהכריע את עצמו ואת כל העולם לכף זכות עבר עבירה אחת אוי לו שהכריע את עצמו ואת כל העולם לכף חובה.
One must always view himself as if his merits and faults were equally balanced. If he performs even one mitzva, he is fortunate, since he tips the scales towards the side of merit. If he transgresses even one sin, woe to him, since he tips the scales towards the side of guilt, as the possuk states, “For one sin, much good is lost” …
R’ Elazar son of R’ Shimon said that the world is judged by the majority of its inhabitants, and the individual is judged by the majority of his deeds. Therefore, if he performs even one mitzva, he is fortunate, since he tips the scales towards merit for himself and for the entire world. If he transgresses even one sin, woe to him, since he tips the scales towards guilt for himself and for the entire world.
The blessings and curses of the entire community depend on each individual. Before every deed, we must consider how we will thereby influence the community as a whole. When a person sins in public, others will follow his example. He will then be held responsible not only for his own sin, but also for the deleterious influence he has had on his peers.
Leon Trotsky studied in a Torah school in his youth, but eventually threw off the yoke of Torah observance and caused inestimable damage to Klal Yisroel, in his role as one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. My rebbe, the Klausenberger Rav zt”l, was known to quote the Chafetz Chaim as saying that Trotsky’s melamed (Torah teacher) was responsible not only for Trotsky’s own fall, but for the millions of Jews who were torn away from Torah as a result of Communism. Had the melamed applied himself more seriously to Trotsky’s education, much evil could have been prevented.
Hashem rewards on a scale far greater than that with which He punishes. As such, the reward for bringing merit to the community is greater than the punishment for bringing guilt. We find an example of this in the commentary of the Or HaChaim on the pesukim, “Hashem was good to the midwives, and the nation multiplied and became very great. The midwives feared Hashem, and Hashem made for them houses”:
צריך לדעת מה היא ההטבה … הזמין לידם עשות מצות לאין קץ להרבות שכרם, והוא אומרו וייטב וגו’, ומה היא הטובה וירב העם שבזה יגדל זכותם כי כולם יחשבו להם כשלא הרגום.
What reward did Hashem give the midwives, in return for saving the Jewish babies? … He granted them an opportunity to perform a mitzva with infinite reward. As the nation multiplied and became very great, the reward of the midwives increased. They were credited for the birth of all future generations, since they saved the first generation from death.
Our Sages tell us that the wise man is he who can see the outcome of his deeds. One must consider his every action, to determine how it will influence the community around him, for better or for worse. This is the meaning of the possuk, “Behold (singular), I place before you (plural), blessing and curse.” The individual must realize that the blessings and curses of the community depend on him.
We can further explain the each individual must perform his share in tending to the needs of his community. We must be sensitive to the needs of our fellows, and try to help them carry their burdens. The Midrash states as follows:
“מלך במשפט יעמיד ארץ ואיש תרומות יהרסנה” מלכה של תורה במשפט שהוא עושה מעמיד את הארץ, ואיש תרומות יהרסנה אם משים אדם עצמו כתרומה הזו שמושלכת בזויות הבית ואומר מה לי בטורח הצבור מה לי בדיניהם מה לי לשמוע קולם שלום עליך נפשי הרי זה מחריב את העולם.
“With justice, the King maintains the earth; but the man of ‘terumos’ destroys it.” The King of the Torah (Hashem) maintains the earth with the justice that He metes out, but the man of ‘terumos’ destroys it.
If a person acts like the teruma tithe, which is left alone in the corner of the house [until the Kohen comes to claim it], saying, “Why should I trouble myself with the burdens of the community? Why should I get involved in their disputes? Why should I heed their voices? I will seek peace for myself,” such a person destroys the world.
The individual must not shirk his responsibility to assist the community in its burdens. If he seeks only peace and quiet for himself, and does not wish to involve himself in the difficulties of others, he destroys the world. The Midrash illustrates this point with the following incident:
מעשה ברבי אסי כשהיה מסתלק מן העולם נכנס בן אחותו אצלו מצאו בוכה, אמר לו רבי מפני מה אתה בוכה יש תורה שלא למדת ולימדת הרי תלמידיך יושבים לפניך יש גמילות חסדים שלא עשית ועל כל מדות שהיו בך היית מתרחק מן הדינין ולא נתת רשות על עצמך להתמנות על צרכי צבור. אמר לו בני עליה אני בוכה שמא אתן דין וחשבון על שהייתי יכול לעשות דיניהם של ישראל הוי ואיש תרומות יהרסנה.
As Rav Assi was about to pass away, his nephew visited him and found him crying. “Rebbe,” he said, “why are you crying? Are there Torah teachings that you did not learn or teach? Here, your students sit before you. Are there acts of kindness that you did not perform? Above all your other virtues, you always refrained from passing judgment, and you never sought to wield authority over the community.”
“My son, for this very reason I cry,” answered Rav Assi. “Perhaps I will be forced to give an accounting for having been able to serve the community as a judge, but having failed to do so.”
Before Yaakov Avinu died, he blessed his son Yissachar with the possuk, וירא מנוחה כי טוב ויט שכמו לסבול – “He saw peace, that it was good, and he tilted his shoulder to bear the burden.” The Seforno explains that Yissachar, who exemplified Torah study, bore two burdens – the burden of Torah study, and the burden of the community.
The Torah scholars and Gedolei Yisroel, who carry the burden of Torah, are the ones ultimately responsible for the burden of the community. This too is the meaning of the possuk, “Behold (singular), I place before you (plural), blessing and curse.” Each individual, and especially the Torah scholars, must feel himself personally responsible for the welfare of the community as a whole.
Compassion in Thought and Deed
There are two similar teachings of our Sages, which at first glance seem redundant. Yet on closer inspection, we see that each has its own unique and vital significance.
The first teaching is based on a possuk in this week’s parsha, אחרי ה’ אלוקיכם תלכו – “Follow after Hashem your G-d.” Our Sages comment on this possuk:
וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר “כי ה’ אלקיך אש אוכלה הוא” אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב “ויעש ה’ אלקים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם” אף אתה הלבש ערומים, הקדוש ברוך הוא ביקר חולים דכתיב “וירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא” אף אתה בקר חולים, הקדוש ברוך הוא ניחם אבלים דכתיב “ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו” אף אתה נחם אבלים, הקדוש ברוך הוא קבר מתים דכתיב “ויקבר אותו בגיא” אף אתה קבור מתים.
Can a person really follow after the Shechinah? It is written, “Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire.” Rather, we must figuratively walk after Him by emulating His virtues. Just as Hashem dresses the bare, as the possuk states, “Hashem Elokim made for Adam and his wife garments of leather and dressed them,” so must we dress the bare. Just as Hashem visited the sick, as the possuk states, “Hashem appeared to him (Avraham, after his Bris Mila) in Eilonei Mamrei,” so must we visit the sick. Just as Hashem consoled mourners, as the possuk states, “After the death of Avraham, Elokim blessed his son, Yitzchak,” so must we console mourners. Just as Hashem buried the dead, as the possuk states, “And He buried him (Moshe) in the valley,” so must we bury the dead.
The second teaching is based on the possuk in Az Yashir, זה קלי ואנוהו, which is generally translated to mean, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.” However, the Gemara offers an alternate explanation:
(זה קלי) ואנוהו, הוי דומה לו מה הוא חנון ורחום אף אתה היה חנון ורחום. רש”י – ולשון אנוהו: אני והוא, אעשה עצמי כמותו לדבק בדרכיו.
“(This is my G-d) and I will resemble Him.” Endeavor to resemble Him. Just as He is gracious and merciful, so must you be gracious and merciful. Rashi – the word אנוהו is interpreted here as a shortened version of the words אני והוא, “I and Him,” meaning that we must emulate Hashem and follow his ways.
Although these two teachings seem to convey the same message, there must be a subtle difference between the two, since they are based on different pesukim in the Torah. On closer inspection, they reveal themselves to be flip sides of the same coin.
Some people are naturally predisposed towards feelings of kindness and mercy. Upon hearing of the plights of others, their hearts are overcome with commiseration. However, for one reason or another, they do nothing of practical significance to help those who suffer. Perhaps they believe that they fulfill their moral obligation through Torah study alone, and are thus exempt from gemilus chassadim (acts of kindness). Perhaps they are just too lazy to do anything. Each seems to find his own excuses, to exempt himself from helping others.
Others feel no natural stirrings of compassion, yet they force themselves to fulfill the mitzvos of tzedaka and chessed, since they recognize the importance of these mitzvos. Worse than them are the people who give charity to further their own ulterior motives, making the sorrows of others into a “spade with which to plow their fields, or a crown to wear on their heads,” as they seek honor or material compensation for their acts of kindness. In either case, their acts of kindness do not flow from a compassionate heart.
The Ksav Sofer comments on the possuk, וכי ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך – “If your brother becomes impoverished, and his hand falters, with you…”. The most basic foundation of charity is the feeling of “impoverished with you.” One must feel the bitter plight of his impoverished brother, his hunger and the humiliation of his destitution, and empathize with it, as if he had experienced it himself. These should be the emotions that promote the continuation of the possuk, “… you must support him.”
The perfection of kindness is reached only by those who can feel the pain of others, to the point where they become sick over the misfortune of others, as our Sages tell us:
אמר רבה בר חיננא סבא משמיה דרב כל שאפשר לו לבקש רחמים על חבירו ואינו מבקש נקרא חוטא “גם אנכי חלילה לי מחטא לה’ מחדל להתפלל בעדכם.” אמר רבא אם תלמיד חכם הוא צריך שיחלה עצמו עליו.
Rabba bar Chinina Saba said in the name of Rav: Anyone who is able to pray for mercy on his friend’s behalf, but fails to do so, is considered a sinner, as the possuk states, “And I, chalila, that I should sin to Hashem, by failing to pray for you.” Rava said that for the sake of a Torah scholar, one must make himself sick with prayer.
Driven by a sentiment of true concern for the plight of the unfortunate, one must tilt his shoulder to help them carry their load, and rescue them from their misfortune.
We can now understand how the two teachings of our Sages complement one another. In the first teaching, we learn that one must do acts of kindness, just as Hashem does – dressing the bare, visiting the sick, and so on. In the second teaching, we learn that one must be gracious and merciful in his heart, to truly sympathize with the plight of the unfortunate, just as Hashem is so gracious and merciful towards His creations.