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COME ON BABY, LIGHT HIS FIRE

by Rabbi Shmuel Weiss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph creates an elaborate scenario to test his brothers' true character, to determine if they have repented for their cruel behavior towards him so many years ago.

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In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph creates an elaborate scenario to test his brothers' true character, to determine if they have repented for their cruel behavior towards him so many years ago.

As part of this plan, Joseph's goblet is planted in Benjamin's sack, and the brothers are accused of theft. The brothers -- sure that they have committed no crime -- offer to all become slaves if the goblet is found among them. Joseph's steward replies that only the thief will be imprisoned; the others will go free. Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, comments that Joseph was "going the extra mile" in letting the others go, for in reality all deserved to be punished.

This is a most puzzling comment by Rashi. Since when do we say that a whole group must pay for the actions of one person? Indeed, Jewish law specifies that, "Each man shall pay for his sin only." What is going on here?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leader of Torah Jewry of the past generation, answers that legally speaking, we may not believe in collective punishment. But in spiritual terms, there is a concept of everyone being responsible for everyone else. If someone in a group of friends decides to violate Shabbat, then those friends must ask themselves if perhaps they did not emphasize enough the sacred nature of Shabbat, such that no one would dare go against it. If individuals in a community are not giving enough charity, for example, then the whole community must search their actions, for maybe they are not sending the message that giving is a supreme value.

Once, at an youth convention I attended as adviser, a fight broke out among two boys. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of blessed memory tried to break up the fight, but in the melee, he was pushed to the floor. We were horrified to see this great sage treated so rudely. But the convention director stopped the convention and lectured to each of the 700 people in the room: "All of us, including myself, are responsible for this incident," he cried. "For somehow, we did not create the atmosphere in which such a thing could never happen. Each one of us must search his souls as to how he can do better, and ask forgiveness for his part in the matter."

We live in a world where observant and non-observant Jews mix together on a daily basis. Many people take a cavalier attitude towards the non-religious, shrugging their shoulders and assuming they have no part in their distance from Torah and mitzvot. But Rashi’s comment makes it clear that we are not entitled to divorce ourselves from the fate of our fellow Jew, for those who bear the torch of Judaism are required to light the spark of every fellow Jew.

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Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana’ana, Israel.

You are invited to read more Parshat Mikeitz and Chanukah articles.

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