Parshiyot Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5771: Asserting and Taking Mutual Responsibility — Key to The Ge’ula?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha Nitzavim sets the tone for this 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 from 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”? Is this not so 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 Halachot of Ketubah in a divorce withimmunity? 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, 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 situations, 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 which can be found online, 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 question #5 concerning safety and security issues regarding possible unsavory individuals.

Parsha Vayeilech comes to speak at length about the Mitzvah of Hakhel — the communal gathering which took place every seven years; that is at the beginning of the year following the end of the Sh’mittah year and where Sefer Devarim is read through to the ens of Shema, the second paragraph and through to Perek 28, posuk 69 which is in Parshat Ki Tavo.

The Hakhel is a Mitzvah dating back to Moshe Rabbeinu’s mussar talk on the last day of his life when he convened the entire nation; men, women and children — from the wealthiest to the most itinerant woodchopper, to the Ger;

…So that they may hear and so that they may learn and fear Hashem and guard to do all the words of Torah. (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 12)

The concept of the Hakhel which I learned back in Philadelphia, back in the “Old Country,” was that even infants, those not even yet cognizant of language would be touched by this communal gathering and be affected by the enunciation of Halachot. The Artscroll Stone Chumash notes on Hakhel:

The time to inculcate values in children is from their earliest youth, and especially by the example of the parents and others who sincerely strive for the ideals they preach.

Sefer L’lmod U’Lamed notes that the Hakhel is meant;

To emphasize the need for parents to maintain close watch on their children’s development… To set the proper example for their children, especially during the early years when they are their children’s primary role models.

We learn in our Parsha (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 16);

Hashem said to Moshe. “When you go and lie with your ancestors this nation will rise up and stray after the [false deities] of the land into which they are coming. They will thus abandon Me and violate the covenant that I have made with them.”

Torah Gems, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 314) cites a Mikra MeForash which notes;

Torah refers to this as “rising up”, when it would seem more proper to use a verb such as “to descend.” Rather, what this teaches us is that the people will rise up. They, rather than their leaders, will be the rulers, and that will result in their falling to the lowest depths.

The “people”, rather than their [Torah] leaders, will be the rulers resulting in the nation’s fall to the depths?

How very much does this Torah Gems citing sound like modern-day Israeli Torah-devoid governance, even amongst the alleged “religious sectors”? And how very much this citing sounds like the great rhetorical noise, i.e., which Israel’s so-called “leaders” make — about the advent of Iranian nukes, or after terror attacks, such as in Eilat — rhetorical noise (boasts) which translate to zero action? These same so-called “leaders,” these big, brave Shotrim who arrest and persecute Jews who fight for Eretz Yisrael and for the Torah way against internal ruling subversion? How very much these so-called big, brave “leaders” and their Shabaknikim and Yassamnikim Shotrim fit the descriptions of the above citings as they smash Jewish heads and abuse women and babies in Migron?

Then, in the very next posuk (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 17);

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles will befall them…”

Oh, that the Netanyahus, Baraks and Livnis come to realize this and that;

They will say on that day, “Have not these evils come upon us because Hashem is not within me?”

And how very much the above Torah Gems citing sounds like certain Rabbanim whose fear and silence denote acquiescense to the criminal element of several hundred within their constituency who stone and defame young girls as they (the girls) enter or leave their Beis Yaakov? Is it because this elelment claims that a certain Beis Yaakov institution is on “their turf”, or is it because of outright Sinat Chinam — viewing anyone not looking or dressing EXACTLY like them as being goyim, as shiksas to be insulted, stoned or physically accosted and attacked?

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

Asserting and taking 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 — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, 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 and strength to physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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: May all who read this be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, happy and prosperous 5772 and every year thereafter to at least 120!!

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.