Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh Bazeh: All Israel Is Responsible for One Another
It used to be that the hardest thing to say was, “I’m sorry.” That’s apparently not the case anymore, since now we are all perfect we have nothing to be sorry about. Our new self-proclaimed perfection accompanied by its dastardly cohort, pride, now makes “I need you” and “Can you help me?” the hardest things to say. After all, we are the smarter one, the better one, the more deserving one, and since God mistakenly gave you what he should have really given me, I say, “Keep your favors; keep your advice; keep your money; keep your opinion.” And furthermore, “You may think you’re great and perfect, but it's not true, because really, I am.”
And that is why my beloved Jews, we will continue to cry and suffer as a Jewish nation: because we don’t know how to be brothers and sisters, friends and cousins, neighbors and fellow citizens. We begrudge seeing the value in the other, and as such we don’t know how to be mensches. When the ancient Israelites were counted in a national census they were tabulated by half shekels, not whole ones. One reason it was performed as such was to emphasize that we each are just fragments of a whole, single letters in a holy Torah that only have purpose and meaning when united.
When we come to the humbling realization that we do need each other and that you have something that makes me complete and I have something that makes you better-- all so by God’s design--then and only then can we begin to be sorry and hopefully embarrassed for thinking we are perfect. Only then, when there is humility and love and regard for others, can God’s blessings be upon us.
The English poet John Donne wrote in the 1600s that “no man is an island” and we’ve oft repeated it, after all, it sounds poetic and not “too Jewish.” However, over a thousand years before Donne’s popular phrase was inked, the Talmud told us that “all Jews are responsible for one another”—we simply can’t go it alone. Yet that Jewish obligation is not only relegated to tangible responsibilities, i.e., giving charity, offering a helping hand, it is true on a spiritual level as well. When one Jew sins, he or she not only affects his or her own fate, but that of every other Jew. In fact, when a Jew sins he or she brings down the entire creation. Okay, so here’s where you get turned off, right? Sounds too rabbinical and slightly too esoteric. Yet funny how even though there are few lepidopterists among us, no one ever dismisses the Butterfly Effect: the posit that the gentle flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world will precipitate a tornado in another part. Be on storm watch my beloved people, for if you flutter in the gutter, God will clip the wings of your fellow Jews and, as a result, we will all come crashing down. A nation meant to soar, will plummet.
The Talmud teaches that we are so connected as a people that the righteous among us suffer as atonement for the sins of his generation. And then Ari Fuld was murdered by an Arab terrorist. Yes, the killer perpetrated the lethal wound, but from all the reviews I’ve read, which echo my own heart-piercing emotions, Ari was a saint, a hero, a lion of Zion, a modern-day David and a national hero of the likes of Yonni Netanyahu. And yet, probably like me, most of you knew him only through social media and like me, you probably wept upon hearing the news as if he was your brother, your son, your friend. Then you searched online for hours seeking answers and also for ways to help. Why? Because all of Am Israel is ONE. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Once again as a people we became whole with one broken heart. Is this what it takes, again, to unite us? If it is, please don’t tell God and give Him any more ideas.
In Ari Fuld’s last live talk on the weekly parasha, less than 48 hours before he was murdered, he said that a leader is only as good as his followers. What does that make him? What does that make us?
His mind boggling fame around the world, the love he garnered which was more than he or we realized and also the time he was taken from us, in the shadow of Yom Kippur, compels us to ask ourselves a million questions and one among them must be, “What have we done wrong as a people that Ari Fuld is dead?” Many blame the terrorist; I do too. But the blame can’t begin and end there. If he was as righteous as we say he was-- and I believe he was-- then we must ask that very hard follow-up question. Did he die for our sins? I know in my heart losing him sure feels like a punishment.
“The righteous man has perished, but no one takes it to heart, and men of kindness are taken away, with no one understanding that because of the evil the righteous man has been taken away.” (Isaiah 57:1)
My fellow Jews, each year after we finish fasting and praying, we tend to return to our old ways. Don’t be so selfish. Realize we need each other. We hold each other's lives in our hands. Try just a little harder to add a new mitzvah to your life, whether it is Shabbat candles, or saying a prayer before you eat or after. Don't just be a "cardiac Jew," a Jew at heart, be a Jew in your words and in your deeds. And don't turn your back on my problems just because you have your own.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s former Chief Rabbi and a Holocaust survivor, reminds us in his autobiography that the German’s motto for their death camp, Buchenwald, was Jedem das seine--each man to his fate! That is the Nazi's way; it is not the Jewish way—our God is one, our land is one, our Torah is one and our fate is one! Don’t be so perfect. I need you. You need me. Our lives depend on it.