Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech (5770)
In this week’s Torah portion, we find a very cryptic verse in which Moses tells the Jewish people, “The hidden [sins] are for the Lord, our G-d, but the revealed [sins] are for us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28).
What does it mean that the hidden sins are for G-d? What exactly does He do with them? And what are all of us and our children supposed to do with the revealed sins? Sell them to People Magazine or Jerry Springer?
Rashi gives two interpretations for this strange verse, one in his commentary on the Torah, and the other in his commentary on the Book of Psalms – both of which contain powerful lessons for us to learn.
In Deuteronomy, Rashi explains that the Jewish people were afraid that, as a united nation with a very lofty spiritual mission, they would be held responsible even for sinners about whom they had no knowledge. So Moses reassured them that the ‘hidden’ sins are for G-d to take care of Himself, and He holds no one responsible but the sinners themselves. However, for those sins that are ‘revealed’, i.e. sins openly committed by others which we had the ability to prevent, we will be held responsible to make sure that the words of the Torah are carried out.
As the Talmud tells us in Shavuos 39a: It is written (Leviticus 26:27), “A man shall stumble for his brother” – (This means that each man shall stumble morally) because of the sin of his brother. From this we learn that, “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh – all Israel are ‘co-signers’ one for the other”.
What this means in plain English is that just as with a loan, if the borrower can’t repay the debt, the co-signer is responsible, so, too, did the Jewish people accept upon themselves and for all future generations when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai not only to observe the commandments themselves, but also to be co-signers for every other Jew. Therefore, if any Jew does not pay his ‘debt’ to G-d, every other Jew in the world bears a measure of responsibility for it.
This has important implications in Jewish law. There is a rule that you can say a blessing for another person (to exempt him of his obligation to make the blessing). In general, however, this is only true when you yourself have an obligation to say that blessing. Since you are fulfilling your own obligation, you can, at the same time, do so for the other person. So, for example, if you’re eating together with someone else, and for some reason he cannot say the blessing, then you can say it for him. All that he must do is have in mind that he is being included in your blessing, and, if possible, answer Amen. This is only true, however, if you are eating with him. If you do not eat, you yourself have no obligation to make a blessing and cannot say the blessing for the other person.
In the case of the blessing over a commandment, however, the law is different. There, you can say the blessing for another person, even if you have already fulfilled your obligation. This is because, as we mentioned earlier, each and every Jew is a co-signer for his fellow Jew. Therefore, even if you have fulfilled your obligation, as long as another Jew you know has not fulfilled it, your own fulfillment is also not complete. You can therefore recite the blessing again for the other person, since you are also included in it.
The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 4:6 gives an example to illustrate the mutual responsibility we Jews have for each other: There was a ship sailing in the ocean. One of the passengers took out his drill and started making holes in the hull. The others asked him, “What do you think you’re doing?” The guy replied, “What’s it your business? I am drilling under my own seat!” They answered, “When water fills the ship, we’ll all go down!”
The point is that we’re all in the same boat. And whenever any Jew does not keep the Torah, all are ultimately affected.
On a mystical level, the Jewish people are like one organic whole – like a great body encompassing all of its individuals – and when even one small part of the body is infected or in pain, the entire body feels it and suffers.
So if you thought until now that M.O.T.’s (Members of the Tribe) were connected to each other in a big way, you probably never realized just how tight we really are.
Which brings us to the other interpretation that Rashi offers to the above-mentioned verse, in his commentary on the Psalms.
The verse in Psalms 87:6 states: “G-d will select – when He inscribes nations – This one was born there, Selah.” There Rashi explains that the verse refers to a future time when G-d will judge those nations of the world who persecuted the Jewish people, and inscribe them in the Book of Death. At the same time, He will take note that throughout the long exile, many good Jews have been lost, some were forced to adopt other religions, while others assimilated. In the future, G-d will select and pick out these lost Jews and declare, “This one was born there [i.e. in Zion], and is not from the other nations”.
If you think about it, these two divergent commentaries of Rashi really talk to the important task that the Jewish nation faces today in the years before the Messiah arrives to take us all back to our true Homeland.
One the one hand, we Jews are all ‘co-signers’ one for the other. So that if many of our brothers and sisters are assimilating into the nations around them and disappearing from the Jewish people in a way that is ‘revealed’ and right in front of our eyes – and we have the ability to do something about it – we will be held responsible if we stand by and do nothing.
On the other hand, there is only so much we can do – even with the best efforts – and so many good Jews have been lost to our people already throughout the centuries and millennia. But we dare not despair. For as the verse in Psalms teaches us, when the Final Redemption comes, all those ‘hidden’ Jews known only to G-d will be reunited with the rest of the nation and be restored to the status of their forefathers.