One for All and All for One
This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Ki Tavo, begins with chapter 26 in םפר דברים (sefer devarim). Only nine chapters remain before completing the yearly cycle of reading the entire Chumash, The Five Books of Moses. Yet it is in this week’s פרשה (parashah) of כי תבוא (ki tavo) that Moshe tells the people, “Today, this day, Hashem your God commands you to perform these decrees and statutes, and you shall observe and perform them with all your heart and with all your soul.” But weren’t בני ישראל (the Israelites) commanded 40 years earlier to perform the mitzvot? Didn’t they already accept the 613 commandments at Har Sinai, just 50 days after liberation from slavery in Egypt? So how could Moshe say to the people now, right before the conquest of Canaan, “Today, this day…”?
The answer is given at the end of the פרשה when the Torah states in chapter 28, verse 69, “These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe to seal with the children of Israel in the land of Moav, besides the covenant that He sealed with them in Horeb ( Har Sinai ).” But this verse just begs other questions. What is this second covenant? What is the difference between these two covenants? Isn’t one enough?!
To understand the answer we must postulate one premise. There are two different frameworks in which a Jewish person functions within the system of Judaism. The first is the personal/individual framework. Each member of the Children of Israel, each and every Jew, accepts to live his or her life in accordance to its precepts. Under this framework there are thousands of people all doing the same thing but unrelated to each other. It just so happens that they all are engaged in similar activities.
The second framework however, the one being initiated by Moshe just prior to going into the land of Israel, is the framework of national unity. Now when a person performs the mitzvot, it isn’t just for personal gain or benefit. Rather all of these individuals are now functioning under an additional rubric, the (nation) עם.
This new dimension creates a host of other responsibilities. The individual must now be concerned with the welfare of his fellow Jew. Many mitzvot are introduced in ספר דברים that pertain specifically to the running of a Jewish society. Special care for the poor, the widow and orphan stand out. As an individual, there would be no obligation for the welfare of another practitioner; but as a nation, one people unified as (the nation of Israel) עם ישראל, the individual’s vision and reach must extend beyond the self. What was that famous saying of the Three Musketeers, “One for all and all for one!”
The Rabbis tell us that the concept of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה (all of Israel are responsible for each other) was introduced at this time. It is via this principle of law that allows, for example, one person to say a blessing and another person to use it by answering אמן. It is also the reason why the Torah section of the blessings and curses was restated. Previously, they were individual. Now, since we are responsible one to the other, the blessings and curses devolve upon us collectively. Each individual Jewish life is now intertwined with the life of every other Jew. Another reflection of this concept of relationship and shared responsibility is the fact that our תפלות use the plural grammatical structure.
As we begin a new school year here at the David Posnack Jewish Day School, The Paul and Maggie Fischer High School, let us keep this idea at the forefront of our mind. Of course every student, with the unreserved commitment of his or her parents, is working diligently for success. But for Posnack to be the educational experience we all want for our children, we must commit ourselves to the good and welfare of the entire campus and student population. Our motto is ALL IN! כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה
Rabbi Robert Kaplan