This week’s Torah portion is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20. We’re all in this together


Rabbi Corey Helfand | Special to JT

Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh (19th-century Ukraine), the grandson of the great Chassidic master the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught: “The whole of the community is greater than the sum of its parts. Each individual may be flawed and imperfect, but when all of them join together, the strengths and good qualities are each reinforced and magnified. This also teaches that no one should say, ‘It is not my responsibility.’ Everyone must do their share.”

I find this teaching particularly meaningful as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I love the idea of a community as a collection of individuals, talents, backgrounds and stories, where when we come together our greatness and holiness truly shines.

Moreover, Reb Boruch puts the onus of responsibility on each of us to care for each other. Perhaps this is what’s meant by the famous talmudic teaching, “All of Israel is responsible for one another” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shevuot 39a).

This story made me think of the opening line of Parshat Nitzavim: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God, your tribal heads, your elders and officials, all the people of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camps…to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God…so that God may establish you this day as God’s people and be your God as was promised to your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 29: 9-14).

These verses emphasize the plural: Every individual is a part of the same communal call to enter God’s covenant. And to do so requires a collective responsibility and accountability for one another, the same principle described in the Talmud as Areviut.

The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (16th-century Poland), said that coming together was not simply about entering a covenant with God. Rather, it was about creating a new covenant with God. For the Kli Yakar, this moment served as a symbolic act of God taking back the Jewish people, who had transgressed earlier in the Torah by molding a Golden Calf. Why does God decide to give us a second chance? Rabbi Shlomo teaches that God sought to bring the Jewish people into a tradition of Areivut, the concept of communal responsibility, so that we may learn to support and strengthen each other when we lose our way.

Just as God models for us that we can be given another opportunity to be in relationship with God, so, too, we can renew our relationships with each other. Being in community provides a place where we can help raise each other up in times of struggle — a space where we can nurture each other and a supportive framework so we can grow stronger together if one of us falters. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, therefore, serve as our annual reminder that such renewal is possible.

Let’s enter the gates of the New Year together, as a collective, renewing our commitment to caring about and being responsible for one another and our world. For in doing so, our potential is limitless.

Rabbi Corey Helfand is rabbi of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase.

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