Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 28 September 2019 / 28 Elul 5779

Parshat Nitzavim

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Duty of Solidarity

One of the words used to refer to the Jewish community, eidah, stems from the root ya-ad, meaning destination. This root is phonetically related to yachad, meaning togetherness. Thus, the word eidah denotes people who have joined together for a common calling, and who are united by the solidarity of that calling: a community.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the duty of solidarity, arvut. The extent of responsibility for our brethren is necessarily limited. Only that which is revealed — public acts of commission or omission — are the subject of this obligation of solidarity. By contrast, those sins committed in secret are left to G-d’s governance alone. The unusual dots that appear over the words in this verse teach another limitation: the responsibility of solidarity takes effect only after the entry into the Land.

As long as Israel was journeying to the land of its independence, everyone’s existence depended equally on the power of the Almighty. In essence, the exodus from Egypt still continued. Israel was still within the process of the redemption, and the consciousness of solidarity of belonging to G-d was felt by all members of the nation.

However, when the last traces of the Egyptian exile would disappear, when the land that now-promised independence and prosperity would become theirs, the danger would then arise that the individual families and homes would become absorbed in their own interests. They might lose their sense of unity and purpose of a common Divine mission.

Thus, right before their entry into the Land, which will mark the beginning of an ordinary life of striving after livelihood and property, the people are commanded with the duty of solidarity. This ensures that each individual member of the community takes responsibility for the nation’s eternal mission: solidarity of all for all, to ensure the faithful fulfillment of Torah.

Sources: Commentary, Devarim 29:28; Shemot 13:11, Bamidbar 3

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