Do not separate From the community

September 5, 2004

3 min read


Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )

Today you are all standing before the Lord your God.(Deut. 29:9)

After the 98 curses that the Jewish people heard at the end of Parshas Ki Tavo, they were devastated and questioned whether they could possibly withstand such terrible punishments. Moses encouraged them with the opening words of this week's parsha: "Today you are all standing." Although you have sinned many times, all of you still stand today before God.

Was Moses trying to minimize the severity of the Divine reproof, or imply that it was only a threat that would not be carried out? Furthermore, how could Moses say that all were alive and well despite their sins, when in fact tens of thousands had perished in the Desert?

Rather, Moses' intention was to assure the Jewish people that the purpose of the curses was not to wreak vengeance on them for their sins, but to insure their survival as a nation. And, therefore he told them collectively - kulchem - you still stand today. After all the sins and all the punishments, the community is eternal. The concept of death does not exist with respect to the community. Those who perished died not as individuals, but as a part of the Jewish community, which is eternal, and therefore they still survive.

Conversely, one who separates himself from the community and says, "I will do as I see fit," will not be forgiven and will be utterly destroyed. Our relationship to God is only through the community. The Torah was not given to individuals; nor were the covenants made with individuals. Our relationship to God is as members of the Jewish community. Maimonides (Teshuva 3:24) classifies a heretic as one who keeps all the mitzvot but separates himself from the Jewish people. Without a link to the community, there can be no link to God and Torah.


Hillel taught (Avos 2:5): "Do not separate yourself from the community." The Mishnah then continues with what seems on the surface to be additional, unrelated teachings of Hillel. However, a deeper study of the Mishnah reveals that they are in fact the rebuttal of various arguments for cutting oneself off from the community.

"Do not believe in yourself until the day you die." Do not think that you are strong enough spiritually to function on your own without the supportive Jewish community. Do not rely on your apparent spiritual security, for it is never guaranteed.

"Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place." In your criticism of the other members of the community, don't convince yourself that you would be better off separated from them. Rather, judge them favorably and understand the circumstances that generate those actions which offend you. See their good points. Avoid what is negative without separating yourself entirely.

"Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood on the ground that it will be understood eventually." People are sometimes frustrated that their views and opinions are not accepted by the community, but one must realize that the fault may lie in his views and not in the community. Perhaps his opinions are not fit to be heard and accepted.

And finally, "Do not say, 'when I have time I will learn,' for perhaps you will never have time." There are those who feel that communal responsibilities infringe too greatly on their time and potential for personal development. They therefore conclude that disassociating themselves from communal involvement will give them more time to learn. Never reckon that time can be generated by avoiding a mitzvah. That time might never materialize. God will not permit one to benefit by neglecting his communal responsibilities.


One of the benefits of being part of the community is that as part of a united entity one's individual failings may be overlooked. The Jewish nation is eternal, pure, and holy, and one benefits by strengthening his connection to it. But he cannot reap the benefits from the community without accepting the concomitant responsibilities. Do not delude yourself that "Lema'an sfos harava es hatzeme'a" - that two adjacent fields are of necessity irrigated together, even though only one of them deserves the water. That is a fantasy.

Although each individual must be concerned with his personal judgment on Rosh Hashanah, as a community we dress up and eat as a sign of confidence that God will exonerate us as members of the community. The Ten Days of Repentance are days for intensifying our link to the community. For that reason, every individual during that period has the same assurance that his entreaties to God will be heard that the community does year round. During those days the individual and the community become one.

Thus, the cantor (shaliach tzibur) on Rosh Hashanah is granted a special power to represent every individual, even those who are proficient in prayer, and therefore not included in the shaliach tzibbur's prayers the rest of the year.

Elisha the prophet offered to pray for the childless Shunamite woman on Rosh Hashanah. But she responded, "I dwell amongst my nation." Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains her response: "Don't single me out, for the power of the community is greater even than the prayer of God's chosen prophet."

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