Parshiyot Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5770: Mutual Responsibility — Key to The Ge’ula?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha Nitzavim sets the tone for the final doubleheader parshiyot by opening with Moshe Rabbeinu addressing the B’nai Yisrael on the final day of his life:

“Atem Nitzavim HaYom… You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G’d…. for you to pass into the convenant of Hashem, …that Hashem… seals with you today in order to establish you as a people to Him and that He be a G’d to you as He spoke to you and as He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov.” (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Devarim Perek 29, posukim 9-13)

But why is Moshe speaking here about entering into the Covenant of Hashem? Weren’t the B’nai Yisrael initiated into the Covenant back at Matan Torah when they gave this response?:

“Everything that Hashem has spoken we will do… (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Sh’mos. Perek 19, posuk 8 )

The Stone Chumash introduction to Parsha Nitzavim (page 1086) states on this question:

What is new about this Covenant was the concept of responsibility for one and another, under which every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah and to restrain them from violating it. This is why Moshe [as the Stone Chumash cites in Or HaChaim]… said that Hashem would not hold them [presumably the collective — the Kehal] responsible for sins that had been done secretly, but that they would be liable for transgressions committed openly. This…. explains why one may not be apathetic to the shortcomings of others and why public desecrations of the Torah are the concern of every Jew of good conscience.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch z’l notes in the Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Devarim, Parsha Nitzavim page 692:

…Scripture stresses the common Responsibility of all Israel for upholding the Torah and fulfilling its commandments. According to this principle, the individual does not fulfill his role if he is faithful to his duty in his personal life alone, but does not do his utmost to promote observance of the Law throughout his community.

The posukim cited above, as well as both the spirit expressed in the Stone Chumash’s introduction to Nitzavim and the citing from Rav Hirsch raise the following questions:

  • 1/ At what point do violations done by individuals, giving the appearance of having been done “in secret”, actually impact and affect the Kehal such that, while appearing to be “secret”, the violation actually occurs and impacts the Kehal “openly”?
  • 2/ Don’t violations such as physical and psychological domestic abuse or child abuse, theft whether from one’s spouse or from one’s fellow, forgery, solicitation of illicit or fraudulent loans, organized crime activities, serial illegal breaking-and-entering and more actually constitute “transgressions committed openly” even though, at first glance they appear as “having been done in secret”, and even though the Kehal may not, for whatever reason, be aware of the existence of such violations by such individual(s)?
  • 3/ Don’t we learn that the terms “in secret” and “openly” may actually be euphemisms for Bein Adam L’Mokom (between man and Hashem) and Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (between man and his fellow) respectively and that Divine punishment meted out for wrongs done by man against his fellow are actually more severe than those meted out for wrongs done by man against Hashem?
  • 4/ What about the value of a marriage ketubah? Why does it seem as if married women are lesser-class citizens in divorce proceedings, such that unscrupulous, disreputable husbands are seemingly able to circumvent Halachas of Ketubah in a divorce with immunity? Why must unfortunate wives of such unsavory characters be forced to go into debt for the rest of their lives to pay a “settlement” — which the recalcitrant husband deems as prerequisite to his giving her a Get? Don’t issues of marriage and divorce represent Bein Adam L’Chaveiro issues in terms of Divine retribution?
  • 5/ And finally, as some sectors of the religious world carry on a war against the “evils” of the internet out of fear for what their young may be exposed to through unsupervised or irresponsible online usage, what about the spectre of a Kehillah’s young and young adult Yeshiva bochurim being directly exposed in real-time, 1-on-1, in-person, upclose and personal to such an unsavory individual or individuals as described in question 2? Such individual or individuals slyly, cunningly, arrogantly assert “their turf” with immunity by appearing at shuls, at Kiddushes and engaging unknowing parents, their offspring and young Yeshiva bochurim in conversation. Isn’t this direct, in-person contact with such unsavory types at least as severe a direct threat to the young as whatever illicit scam or spam young people may encounter online?

Fortunately, there are organizations, such as See You on Shabbos, who seem to have begun to deal with some of the issues addressed here, perhaps particularly issues raised in #4 concerning safety and security issues regarding possible unsavory individuals.

It seems to this author that these questions and more are crucial both for the Kehal — the Am, as well as for Rabbanim to ponder as Rosh Hashana approaches.

Mutual responsibility — it may just be key to The Ge’ula!

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos! L’Shana Tova!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.