By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the double parsha of Nitzavim/Vayelech. "A'tem nitzavim
ha'yom kulchem lifnei Hashem - You are all standing today before Hashem...
L'avr'cha bivris - For you to enter the covenant... Asher Hashem koreis
imcha ha'yom - that Hashem is making with you today. (29:9-11)"
What was unique about this covenant? Why did the pasuk change from the
plural ( a'tem -you are all) to the singular (l'avr'cha, imcha - you)? The
Kli Yakar writes that the original covenant had been broken by the sin of
the golden calf. We had not been bound to one another and therefore didn't
feel the responsibility to stop others from erring. As long as I'm okay I
needn't worry. In order to remedy that, a new covenant needed to be made. A
covenant of 'arvus' - of collective responsibility - of being guarantors
for one another. A covenant of the plural being transformed into the
singular. "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh" - the destiny of every member of
Klal Yisroel is inextricably connected to the destiny of each and every one
We are able to watch someone else make a poor investment. It's his money -
it's his decision. When we know it is borrowed money, we might find it a
little harder to watch, but we'd manage to stay silent. He's a big boy -
it's not for me to interfere. If, however, we were the personal guarantors
on the loan... FORGET IT!!! There's NO WAY I'm going to let you throw your
money into that sinkhole! Once we stand to lose from the venture, we'll do
everything in our power to stop him. "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh!"
The Tanna Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai depicts it even more graphically. It can
be compared to people travelling together on a boat. One passenger takes
out a drill and begins to pierce the wood beneath his seat. "What do you
care?", he asks his incredulous co-travelers, "I'm only drilling under my
It is not enough for us as individuals to be doing the right thing. We must
look around, see who might need some help and recognize that we are
responsible for all those that we are able to reach. If we don't help them,
then we are lacking. "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh."
This concept takes on halachic (Jewish law) significance. Even if I have
already made kiddush (the sanctification of the Sabbath that is pronounced
over wine) and have thereby fulfilled my obligation, I can make kiddush
again in order to allow someone else to fulfill his mitzva along with me.
The basis of this being that if someone has not yet fulfilled his mitzva,
then my fulfillment is considered to be lacking. "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh
The whole Jewish world was in a state of panic-stricken terror as the trial
of Mendel Bialus was taking place in Russia. He was being tried for
allegedly murdering a Christian child and using the blood for the baking of
matzos. The prosecution was claiming that the Talmud incites the Jews to
murder Christians. Their 'clear proof' was a statement made by Rabi Shimon
Bar Yochai: "You (the Jewish nation) are called 'adam' (a person) and the
gentiles are not called 'adam' (a person)". If the Talmud teaches that
gentiles are not considered people, it is no wonder that they murder our
children without any feeling of conscience!
Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin sent to Rav Mazeh, the Chief Rabbi of Russia,
the correct explanation of that gemara in order to silence the prosecution.
"Kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh." The fate of Mendel Bialus affects the
whole Jewish nation. All of the Jews throughout the world are helping in
every possible way as they breathlessly await the outcome of the trial.
What would be the reaction of the gentiles if a gentile was being tried for
an offense in a far away land? Those in the actual neighborhood would be
somewhat actively involved in trying to help the accused. The other members
of that country would be very minimally involved, if at all. Those outside
the country would have no interest whatsoever.
That is the difference between the Jewish nation and the other nations. "We
are called 'adam' - we are likened to a single individual - when one part
of the body is in pain the entire body endures that agony. The nations are
not called 'adam' - they are not likened to a single individual. When one
member is in pain, the others don't experience the suffering. They are
'anashim' - people; not 'adam' - a person. "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh."
Parshas Nitzavim, the parsha read the shabbos before Rosh Hashana is
intimately connected to Rosh Hashana. "R'eh nasati l'fanecha ha'yom es
ha'chaim v'es ha'tov, v'es ha'mavess v'es ha'ra" - see, I have placed
before you today life and good, and death and evil. (30:15)" Which day is
Rosh Hashana is the day that Adam Harishon was created. Once there were
free-will subjects in the world, the Kingdom of Hashem was initiated. Every
year, on Rosh Hashana, that kingdom is renewed. Man's task in life is to
accept upon himself this malchus shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven) - the
acceptance that we must (for our own benefit) follow the rules, and to
accept that everything that occurs in this world has been directed by
Hashem. The Ohr Gedalyahu explains that the judgment of Rosh Hashana is
based on the degree that a person has accepted that majestic rule in the
past, and his degree of willingness to accept this rule in the present and
the future. This judgment determines the role he will play in this kingdom
in the future.
Today refers to Rosh Hashana! On this holy day I have placed before you the
choice of life or death, good or evil. Choose a life of closeness to
Hashem! Choose a life which recognizes that we are living under His
watchful and loving supervision! Choose life!
The Maharam of Ruttenberg was falsely accused of spying and was thrown into
prison. The Jews were warned that anyone even inquiring about his welfare
would also be imprisoned. Nevertheless, some Jews managed to secretly
broker a deal to release their Rebbe in exchange for a phenomenal sum of
money. The Maharam, upon hearing of the plan, refused to have them go
against the halacha and pay more than his value. This, he felt, would only
encourage further such imprisonments in the future. Ultimately, the Maharam
remained there until his death, and even then, the authorities didn't allow
him to be removed for burial.
Some time later, with the body of the Maharam still in its unburied state,
a wealthy Jew managed to bribe the officials there to allow him to be
removed for burial. The day after the burial, that wealthy Jew died. The
matter was a cause of great curiosity until a few days later.
The rich man appeared in a dream to a close friend of his and told him that
the night of the burial the Maharam had appeared to him in a dream. He had
thanked him for enabling there to be a burial and had offered him a choice.
You can either have fabulous wealth for all generations or you can come
immediately and join me on my level of olam habah (the world to come). "I
chose the second choice and left the physical world the next day."
Paradoxically, by choosing death he chose life.
May we merit to help others throughout our lives, recognizing the
collective responsibilities that we all carry. Choosing to have our lives
serve as examples of the dedication that loyal subjects must show to their
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).