Mutual Responsibility

June 24, 2009

2 min read


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

This week's parsha records how Moses, on the last day of his life, gathered together the entire Jewish nation and introduced a new level of the Covenant with God: From now on, the people would not only be responsible for their own actions, but they'd be responsible for each others' actions as well.

This aspect of mutual responsibility is what makes us a nation and not just group of individuals.

Of course, the greatest degree of responsibility devolves upon those people who know better. If someone is bleeding in the street, and a doctor and a gardener walk by, who has the greater obligation to help? The doctor, of course. So, too, with spiritual issues.

The story is told of a very religious man who died and went before the heavenly court for judgment. The court proceeded to list the man's many merits, and then enumerated his transgressions, which included eating pork. "But I never ate pork in my entire life!" the man protested.

"You are correct," the heavenly court declared. "But your next door neighbor ate pork and you never tried reaching out to him. Therefore, you bear responsibility as if you ate pork."

Of course, such interactions have to be done in a way that won't make matters worse, or create tension and resentment.

Yet the implication of this is that someone can't go just about living a depraved life while saying, "Leave me alone! I'm not bothering anyone." Because the idea of mutual responsibility means that everyone's actions influence the spiritual health of everyone else.

This idea finds its clearest expression during the High Holidays, when each individual - and the entire world - stand in judgment. As Maimonides writes:

Each person needs to see himself as half-meritorious and half-guilty, and similarly to see the world as half-meritorious and half-guilty. Therefore, one good deed, or one transgression, can change the balance of the entire world.

Let's keep this in mind - and may we all be written and sealed for a good new year!

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