Parshiyot Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5773: Mutual, Collective Responsibility as Jews & The Message of Hakhel — Keys to The Ge’ula?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Nitzavim opens 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 already 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 Parshat 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 in the first paragrah 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 with this author:

  1. 1/ At what point do aveirot (sins) done by individuals, while giving the appearance of having been done “in secret”, actually impact and affect the Kehal such that, while appearing to be “secret”, the aveirah actually occurs “openly” and thus impacts the Kehal?
  2. 2/ 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?
  3. 3/ What about the value of a marriage ketubah? Don’t we learn that parties in a get (divorce) proceeding, despite whatever strife and contention in the marriage which led them to a Get Beit Din, must act in accordance with Torah and not attempt to circumvent Halachot of Ketubah in a divorce with immunity? Don’t issues of marriage and divorce represent Bein Adam L’Chaveiro issues in terms of Divine retribution?
  4. 4/ And what about the “vigilante” criminal fringe of a certain sector who, on their own, strong-arm their communities while either ignoring or terrorizing their own leaders, and put upon others who they deem are not like them, or who end their Shabbos not according to Rabbeinu Tam time? One could go on and on here.
  5. 5/ And finally, isn’t it our collective Torah responsibility and mandate, each one of us both in our private lives and as part of B’nai Yisrael, to cleave, assert and act to possess This Land that Hashem has given us as Our Own? Even if it means supporting a referendum should a political, anti-Torah governance agree to hand over any piece of Jewish land to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication?

Undoubtedly, others could add many more issues and questions based on the above citings. And with Rosh Hashana near, is it not appropriate for each of us to ponder the myriads of such questions?

Parshat Vayeilech comes to speak at length about the Mitzvah of Hakhel — the communal gathering which took place every seven years; which is at the beginning of the year following the end of the Sh’mittah year and where Sefer Devarim is read through to the end of Shema, through 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 and 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 this author 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 (Artscroll Stone Chumash commentary on Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 12):

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…. Thus, for bringing their children to Hakhel, parents deserved to be rewarded, for they demonstrated that the Torah was precious to them.

Sefer L’lmod U’Lamed (page 168) 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?

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…”

How very much does this Torah Gems citing sound like modern-day Israel’s Torah-devoid governance? We can all fill in the blanks and the specifics.

Oh, that the current generation of political names would come to realize this as well as the rest of the above posuk (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 17);

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 leaders whose quaking fear and silence seem to denote resigned acquiescense to this criminal fringe element of several hundred within their constituency who have stoned and defamed young girls as they (the girls) enter or leave their school? Who have pounced upon and beaten boys and young men for carrying Israel’s national banner. Are these acts because this element claims that a certain institution, or neighborhood in Eretz Yisrael is exclusively “their turf” and NOT part of the rest of the Nation, or is it because of outright Sinat Chinam — viewing anyone not looking, thinking, davening 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 Parshat Nitzavim and Parshat Vayeilech are crucial both for the Kehal — the Am, as well as for Rabbanim to ponder now and during Asseret Yomei Teshuva.

Asserting and taking Mutual responsibility for each other and for our brethren, as well as internalizing the message of Hakhel — they may just be keys 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 brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and 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!

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.