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THE UNITED WAY

by Ben Prero    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Five seconds left, and the home team is down by one. The ball is in-bounded. The shot is fired, and it misses the basket. Do the teammates help recover the ball, or should they forget about it because it wasn’t their mistake?

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Five seconds left, and the home team is down by one. The ball is in-bounded. The shot is fired, and it misses the basket. Do the teammates help recover the ball, or should they forget about it because it wasn’t their mistake?

In Parshat Emor, the Torah commands us to take the four species – the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadassim (myrtle branches), and aravot (willow branches). The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) states that the four species are representative of four different types of people. The etrog, which has taste and a pleasant smell, represents the person who possesses both Torah and good deeds. The lulav has taste and no smell, symbolizing the person with Torah, but lacking good deeds. The hadassim have smell but no taste, symbolizing those with only good deeds. The aravot, with neither, portrays the Jew bereft of both good deeds and Torah.

Hashem does not want the people of this last category to be lost from the world for their lackings. As such, He gave the mitzvah of the four species to show us what to do. Just as we must join all four species together to perform the mitzvah, Hashem wants us to bring all four types of Jews together, and as a group they will complement each other’s deficiencies.

The Yafeh To’ar, a classic commentary on the Midrash, comments that one might fear how we could ever be assured of salvation and forgiveness. There are many people who are missing good deeds or Torah, or even both of them. Our lackings may be so great that one may feel it impossible to correct or atone for them. To answer this fear, the four species come bound together to assure us that when we have achdut — unity with each other — then the righteousness of one person will be a pardon for the sins of the next.

The Da’as Zekeinim, a commentary by the Tosafist school of the 12th and 13th centuries, makes similar comparisons, and states that we bind the four species together as a sign that Hashem only comes to a special closeness with the Jewish people when they are all together in one group. Only then will the nations of the world observe Hashem’s people united, causing Hashem’s glory to become exalted to higher levels. Only when we are all united together, both the righteous and the not-so-righteous, do we get this extra close relationship with Hashem. This is why we recite on Rosh Hashanah, “Hashem should bring us all together to form one assembly,” so that we can achieve this closeness at this auspicious time of year.

We see that achdut is necessary for true closeness with Hashem, a relationship that brings forgiveness to all those involved. However, our responsibility as a group goes further than this, as is illustrated in Parshat Nitzavim. On the last day of Moses’ life, he gathered together every member of the Jewish people to initiate them one last time into the covenant of Hashem. Moses concludes the warning against idolatry saying that the hidden sins, those buried in Man’s heart which others do not know about, are for Hashem alone to deal with. However, those that we know about are our own and our children’s responsibility to remove the evil from our midst.

Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that the burden of responsibility was not placed on the community for the sins of individuals until the Jewish people crossed the Jordan. Then they accepted upon themselves the oath at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eival, at which time they became obligated to help others observe the Torah and restrain them from violating it.

The Da’as Zekeinim quotes the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 43b) that states the reason for the Torah’s punctuation marks on top of the words “lanu ulvaneinu — for us and our children” and on the letter ayin in the phrase “ad olam — forever” (Deuteronomy 29:28). The Jewish people were not punished for the hidden sins until they crossed the Jordan, because only then did they accept the Torah as one and therefore become responsible for each other. At that point the hidden sins also became everyone’s responsibility. It was the accepting of the Torah as one united people that created a new bond, one that placed upon them a higher level of responsibility for one another. They were much more accountable for each other than before due to their bonding together as a group.

The lesson here is powerful. We often belong to many groups, some communal such as a synagogue or school, others more diverse like the workplace, and others very close like a family. Each of these groups places extra responsibility upon its members above that of normal interpersonal relationships. This includes the obligation to correct each other when something is awry in the group. The group members have the responsibility to work together, sharing the added responsibilities of the group, and helping when one member errs or when something goes wrong.

Now, back to the game. Of course the teammates help recover the ball. To refrain from doing so is to hurt themselves as much as they hurt their teammate. Only by working together and helping each other can they possibly hope to succeed. To not help a teammate is equivalent to cutting off one’s own hand because it hurt him. Just because one’s hand slipped and cut the other hand with a knife is not a reason to chop off the offending hand, because they are all part of one body. Like the hand is a part of the person and the player is a part of the team, every Jew is a part of the Jewish nation. We cannot possibly hope to have Hashem forgive us and listen to our prayers if we ignore our brethren who need our help. We must join with all our fellow Jews, whoever they are and wherever they may be, and by working together with them may we all come closer to Hashem and have our heartfelt prayers heard.

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Ben Prero does not hail from, live in, attend school in, or have any form of relationship with the city of Atlanta. However, he did learn with Mendel Starkman (a Torah from Dixie writer), who hails from Atlanta, and so he has had much exposure to Torah from Dixie.

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