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Posted on February 11, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

You shall serve Hashem your G-d, and He will bless your bread and your water.[2]

In the Hebrew text, the first half of the verse uses the plural form of “you,” while the second half employs the singular. Why does the Torah switch from the collective to the individual?

In many group projects, an individual can slacken his effort relative to his coworkers. When the group successfully completes its project, he will get the same reward, the same honor, the same credit on his resume as those who worked much harder than him. This is just the way things work in Man’s world.

Things are quite different regarding spiritual matters. Unlike human beings who often cannot discern who deserves credit, and who went along for the ride, Hashem knows everything, including what is in a person’s heart. Therefore, in our pasuk He instructs the community as a whole to serve Him. There is much that only a united effort can accomplish; Hashem’s service calls for everyone pitching in. A person should not think, however, that as a member of the community he is entitled to a share equal to all his coworkers, even if he did not apply himself fully. The Torah promises “He will bless your bread,” and uses the singular. The blessing He bestows varies from individual to individual. He will respond to the purity of intention of each person, as well as the effort they committed to the task.

The Torah expresses a similar thought at the beginning of next week’s parshah. “Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and let them take for Me a portion. From each man whose heart motivates him, you shall take my portion.”[3] Constructing the mishkan was tasked to the entire community. The fulfillment of the mitzvah, however, will only be credited to and associated with those who performed with an uplifted heart.


Do We Really Need V’Nishma?

Moshe came and told the people all of Hashem’s words…and the entire people responded with one voice, and they said, “All the words that Hashem spoke, we will do.” …Moshe wrote all of Hashem’s words…He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, “Everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will listen.”[4]

When did “we will do” become inadequate, and require a “we will listen” as a follow-up?

Here is a thought. When Moshe “came and told the people all of Hashem’s words,” the upshot of all he related was, “Perform all the mitzvos as I commanded you.” Nothing more was implied than careful obedience, responding to instructions with meticulous observance.

That changed when Moshe wrote Hashem’s words as parts of the Torah. Once given a Torah text, people sensed that there were deep layers of meaning and significance in those words. To get to those layers, people would have to first perform all the mitzvos. Without that foundation, there was no chance at all of understanding the Torah’s penimiyus. But observance would not be enough either. To comprehend the deeper strata of Torah, people would have to listen to His words, and spend much time studying them.

  1. Based on Chidushei R. Yosef Nechemia (Kornitzer) (1880-1933), Rav of Krakow
  2. Shemos 23:25
  3. Shemos 25:2
  4. Shemos 24:3-4,7