By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

You all stand before Hashem…so that you may enter a covenant with Hashem…let there be any among you whose heart turns away from Hashem… to go and serve the gods of the nations. …Should he hear the words of this malediction and assure himself in his heart, saying, “lPeace will be with me”, (so that the sated will be added upon the thirsty!) Hashem will not deign to forgive him

Be’er Yosef: Commentators have a difficult time capturing the meaning of the parenthetical phrase. Rashi takes raveh to connote shogeg /unintentional sin, like the raveh, meaning one in a drunken stupor, who is unaware of all the conditions and background of his actions. The thirsty one acts deliberately to slake his thirst. The pasuk states that as a consequence of the outlier telling himself that he will be safe in his rebellion, Hashem will be stricter with him than most. Having gone over to the “other side,” Hashem will hold him fully responsible for even unintentional sins, something that He would ordinarily excuse for loyal Jews. Those unintentional sins will be added on to the intentional ones.

Ramban takes a very different approach. To him, the raveh is sated, and not beset by the power of inner lusts and desires for forbidden things. Having turned a deaf ear to the covenant, he will yield to an occasional bump in taavah. Capitulating to a small taavah will morph into new, larger taavos. He will find himself desirous of forbidden things that never attracted him before.

These are beautiful thoughts. We are perplexed, however, by their association with our pesukim, which clearly deal with avodah zarah and nothing else! Yet both of these approaches generalize the pesukim, applying the sated/ thirsty phrase to many other areas. (The gemara2

specifically refers the phrase to marrying off a daughter to a much older man; to marrying off a son to an old woman; to inappropriately returning a lost object when halacha would frown upon it.)

The key to understanding Chazal’s approach, perhaps, is noting that these pesukim do not speak so much of idolatry, as of a person’s decision to hold him- or herself aloof from the rest of the community. The sinner of our pesukim tells himself that he needn’t be concerned with the promises and oaths of the rest of the community. He will deal with life as a person standing apart. He will not enter the covenant with the others, and not consider himself bound by its strictures. He asserts his autonomy; by doing so, he abstracts himself from the tzibbur, turning his back on its religious norms. Moshe, in his final days on this earth, sought to gather the community together – “those who are here today, and those who are not” – i.e. even future generations. He wanted to create a community fully pledged to the Torah, with every person taking responsibility for himself, and for all others.

The outlier of our pesukim abstracts himself from this commitment. He will look out for himself and his interests, whether it is good for the community or not. While the pesukim deal specifically with avodah zarah, the consequences of walking out of the community apply to many areas. The gemara speaks of the poresh min ha-tzibbur, of the person who sees the pain of the community and does not join with the but rather tells himself, “I can retreat to my home, where I can eat and drink, and all will be well.” At times, he goes a good deal further, opportunistically capitalizing on the difficult straits of the rest of the community to make windfall profits. In the words of our pesukim, he provides for his own satiety, fullness, large profit from the hunger and thirst of his people.

This explains the intent of the Torah in writing, “Hashem will not deign to forgive him.” Why would He forgive him, if he has not repented? And why would He not, if he did proper teshuvah for his sins? Rambam3 writes that abstracting oneself from the tzibbur is one of a short list of failures that causes the doors of teshuvah to close in his face. Our pesukim mean that even if this person should succeed in teshuvah despite the difficulty, Hashem will not forgive him when he continues to stand apart and aside from his people.

The rasha of the Four Sons of the haggadah is called a heretic because he, too, removes himself from the community. The achdus of Klal Yisrael is entirely a function of all of us serving Hashem together. We now understand what we puzzled over previously. Why would our pesukim drift – without transition – from the avodah zarah they begin with to turn to the person who removes himself from the tzibbur? We can now appreciate that the two areas are closely related. Removing oneself from the concerns of the Jewish community is itself a from of avodah zarah, denying the essential oneness of the Jewish people that is a refraction of the Oneness of G-d. The gemara4 relates that Eliyahu, dressed as an Arab merchant, accosted a person who davened outside and behind the shul, with his back towards it. “You apparently believe in two deities!” Eliyahu told him, and then killed him.

Many find this passage difficult. Why should davening behind the shul be treated so strictly? We could explain that the gemara criticized his attitude, not his place of prayer. This person davened outside the shul because he was poresh min ha-tzibbur – he distanced himself from the concerns and needs of the community. He found no need to daven with them, because he was not affected by their crises, and found no reason to ask Hashem for what he did not lack. He therefore did not join them in prayer. To the contrary, he turned in an opposite direction. He prayed for the opposite of what they needed, because he had something to gain from this!

Eliyahu saw this as tantamount to a rejection of the One G-d, to an acceptance of multiple independent forces. He appeared to him specifically as an Arab merchant, because those who follow the nomadic lifestyle of Yishmael do not know the bonds of society and community. They live outside the framework of a tzibbur. When a Jew does that, he turns his back not only on his people, but on his G-d. Therefore, Eliyahu killed him.


1. Based on Be’er Yosef, Devarim 29:1-20
2. Sanhedrin 76B
3. Hilchos Teshuvah 4:2,6
4. Berachos 6B