June 15, 2024
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Do Not Separate Yourself From the Community

After the 98 curses that Bnei Yisrael heard at the end of Ki Tavo, they were devastated and questioned whether they could possibly withstand such terrible punishments. Moshe Rabbeinu encouraged them with the opening words of this week’s parsha: “Atem nitzavim hayom—Today you are all standing.” Although you have sinned many times, all of you still stand today before Hashem.

Was Moshe trying to minimize the severity of the divine reproof or imply that it was only a threat that would not be carried out? Furthermore, how could Moshe say that all were alive and well despite their sins, when in fact tens of thousands had perished in the desert?

Moshe’s intention was to assure the Jewish people that the purpose of the curses was not to wreak vengeance on them for their sins, but to ensure their survival as a nation. Therefore, he told them after all the sins and all the punishments, the tzibbur (community) is eternal. The concept of death does not exist with respect to the community. Those who perished died as individuals, but as a part of knesset Yisrael—which is eternal—they still survive.

Conversely, one who separates himself from the community and says, “I will do as I see fit,” will not be forgiven and will be utterly destroyed. Our relationship to Hashem is only through the tzibbur. The Torah was not given to individuals. Our relationship to Hashem is as members of knesset Yisrael. Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:24) classifies an apikores (heretic) as one who keeps all the mitzvot, but separates himself from the Jewish people. Without a link to klal Yisrael, there can be no link to Hashem and Torah.

Hillel taught (Pirkei Avot 2:5): “Do not separate yourself from the tzibbur.” He then went on to relate four additional seemingly unrelated teachings. However, a deeper study of the mishna reveals that they are in fact the rebuttal of various arguments for cutting oneself off from the community.

“Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.” Do not think that you are strong enough spiritually to function on your own without the supportive community of Torah observers.

“Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.” In your criticism of the other members of the community, don’t convince yourself that you would be better off separated from them. Rather judge them favorably and understand the circumstances that generate those actions which offend you. See their good points.

“Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood on the ground that it will be understood eventually.” People are, sometimes, frustrated that their views and opinions are not accepted by the tzibbur, but one must realize that the fault may lie in his views and not in the tzibbur. Perhaps his opinions are not fit to be heard and accepted.

And finally: “Do not say, ‘when I have time I will learn,’ for, perhaps, you will never have time.” There are those who feel that the community responsibilities infringe too greatly on their time and potential for personal development. They, therefore, conclude that disassociating themselves from communal involvement will give them more time to learn. Never reckon that spare time can be generated by avoiding a mitzvah. Hashem will not permit one to benefit by neglecting his communal responsibilities.

The concept of tzibbur is most complete in Eretz Yisrael where we are “goy echad baaretz—one nation in the land,” as opposed to chutz la’aretz where we are “mefuzar umeforad bein hagoyim—scattered and divided amongst the nations.”

May we all merit being brought back to Eretz Yisrael—to be one totally united nation—with the coming of Mashiach, soon in this new year.


Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

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