Saturday, September 5, 2009


In the previous article about responsibility, we began discussion of the concept of Arvus - that all Jews are responsible for one another. Rav Aharon Kotler discusses this idea at length. He brings the Tomer Devorah in the name of early sources that all the souls of Israel are intrinsically bound together as one spiritual entity. We normally understand our obligation to rebuke our fellow Jew as a mitzvo like any other - if we fulfil the mitzvo we receive reward, and if we do not, we are punished. Rav Aharon writes that the factor of Arvus works on a much deeper level - if we help another Jew in his mitzvo observance, then our own merits increase, very much in the same way as if we in fact did the mitzvo ourselves. And if we do not prevent him from sinning when we could have, then we are damaged as if we sinned ourselves. (Mishnas Rebbe Aharon, Chelek 1, Ch.10, p.243-4). In a similar vein, Rav Chaim Vital writes on the mitzvo to love your fellow Jew, “you must realize that all Israel form a single body… every single Jew is like an individual limb. This is the (reason for the) responsibility that every Jew bears for every other Jew that sins.” (Likutey Torah, Taamey haMitzvos Vayikra 19:18).

This reality has come to the fore in Jewish history many times. The classic case of this is that of Achan. When Yehoshua conquered Jericho, he dedicated all the spoil to G-d. Achan, however, violated this dedication and took a few things from the spoil for himself. Even though only a single person had sinned, the Navi says, “the children of Israel committed a sin with regard to the devoted spoil. For Achan … took the devoted thing, and G-ds anger was kindled against Israel.” (Yehoshua 7:1) As a result of this misdeed, G-d’s protection was removed from Israel and they suffered their first defeat in the battle of Ai. The Medrash gives an analogy to help understand how a whole nation could suffer because of one person. “Rav Shimon bar Yochai gave an example. A number of people were sitting in a ship. One of them took a drill and began making holes in the hull. The others asked him, “what do you think you are doing?” The driller replied, “what business is it of yours? I am only drilling under my own seat.” They answered, “when water fills the ship, it will sink with all of us!” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6).

Another notable instance of Arvus is found in sefer Ezra. A small number of people had married gentiles, and nothing had been done to prevent them from this grave sin. When Ezra heard about his, he gathered everyone to the Temple to repent and pray for forgiveness. While there, Shechania ben Yechiel (who had not sinned) cried out saying, “we have sinned against our G-d and have taken in alien women.” (Ezra 10:2) The Malbim asks, why did he say “we” have sinned, when he and most of the people had not, indeed only a very small number of people were guilty? He answers that the intermarriage was considered a national sin, because it was committed in public and the leaders did not protest, therefore, “the sin was considered as if it came from the general populace, because of the reason of Arvus.” (Ibid.) Even though less than one percent of the people had actually intermarried, all of them were included in accepting guilt, to the extent that it was as if they had intermarried themselves.

This example from Ezra is an ominous message for our generation when more than fifty percent of all Jews are intermarrying. It teaches us that the rampant assimilation is not merely a problem that other Jews face. Rather it is our own problem, and we are responsible to do whatever we can to stem it. May we all merit to see the day when all Jews cling to the ways of their ancestors.

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