In the past few months we have discussed the damage to Kavod Shamayim caused by the secularization of the majority of Jews in the world. We saw the need to strive to increase the Kavod Shamayim by bringing unaffiliated Jews back to their roots. There is another aspect of our Avodas Hashem that relates to helping our fellow Jew: That related to taking responsibility for others.
The Mishna in Sanhedrin (37a) says “every person is obligated to say ‘the world was created for me’”. On superficial analysis it would seem that the Mishna is preaching a self-centered approach to life, ‘the world was created for me, therefore I can do whatever I like with it’. Of course this is not the case; it is true that every person should realize that he is of great intrinsic value and that everything in the world is there for his benefit. However, the Mishna is also teaching us that one must tell himself ‘since the world was created for me, I am responsible for that world. The Jewish people in particular have been designated with this awesome task - Hashem calls us a “Kingdom of Priests” and “a Light unto the nations.” It is our job to bring the world to an awareness of Hashem and His Greatness.
It is within the Jewish people itself that the sense of mutual responsibility really comes to the fore. “You are all standing here today” (Devarim 29:9) - all of you are guarantors for each other… when one of you sins, the whole generation is damaged.” (Medrash Tanchuma, Parshas Nitzavim). Chazal tell us that at Mount Gerizim every individual Jew accepted with forty-eight covenants the responsibility for the fulfilment of mitzvos both with regards himself and all of the Jewish people. As a result every single Jew is spiritually bound up with every other Jew, and every action we take, whether positive or negative, directly effects everyone else. This concept is known as Arvus, (translated as mutual responsibility) it is not merely an idea in Aggadah and Mussar, rather it has numerous ramifications in our daily lives.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 29b) informs us of a fascinating halacha. When a person is obligated in a mitzvo, for example, kiddush on Shabbos, he must do the mitzvo with the bracho and then he has fulfilled his obligation. To say kiddush again with another bracho would constitute saying Hashem’s name in vain. However, the Gemara tells us, if Reuven needs to fulfil kiddush himself but is unable to, then Shimon is allowed to make kiddush again with the bracho, thereby exempting Reuven from his obligation! How can this be? The Ran explains, “because every Jew is a guarantor for each other in mitzvos, and since his friend has not fulfilled his obligation, it is as if he did not fulfil the mitzvo himself.” (ibid.) It is thus very apparent that Arvus is a halachic reality- my friend’s avodas Hashem is a part of my own. We often discuss responsibility to oneself and responsibility to others as two separate, perhaps even conflicting factors. This seems to be an inaccurate assessment - rather the two are not separate at all, they go hand in hand - the benefit of my friend is my benefit as well, his pain is my pain, and his mistakes are my mistakes. In fact, it would seem that to consider my spiritual well-being as separate from that of others is fundamentally incorrect. This concept of Arvus is the foundation upon which collective responsibility is based - in the coming months we will discuss how vital it is to our Avodas Hashem.