Nitzavim: Minding My Business

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

“Lest there be a man or a women or a family or tribe...when they hear this curse, they will bless themselves, saying peace will be to me, and I will walk as my heart sees fit” (Devarim 29:28). How comfortable it must be to be able to ignore the world around us, joyfully minding our own business! Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?), life does not work that way. The actions of others have an impact on us, whether we like it or not. Trying to escape from the world around us is bound to be ineffective; moreover, it is an abdication of our moral responsibility to others. Judaism does not take kindly to those who can effect change but choose not to.

“The hidden belongs to the Lord our G-d, but the revealed is for us and our children forever” (Devarim 29:28). While G-d will not hold us responsible for that which is hidden, we will be punished for ignoring wrongs that are, or should be, well known.

The Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 3:11), in listing those who have no share in the World to Come, has a special category for those who separate themselves from the community. He is referring not to the assimilated Jew, but to the otherwise pious one who meticulously observes the mitzvot and studies Torah. If such a one is unconcerned about the broader community, that person loses their portion in the World to Come.

When facing intractable challenges, we often throw up our hands and don’t even try to solve the issue at hand. Why try if we won’t succeed? While we may or may not succeed if we try, if we don’t try, we will definitely fail[1]. Our task is to put in the effort; only G-d determines the result.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah deals with the family of Avraham and Sarah and not, as we might have thought, the creation of man. Avraham, the founder of Judaism, the paragon of kindness, the military man, lawyer, philosopher, peacemaker (and more), was relatively unsuccessful with his own family. While he and Sarah raised Yitzchak, his seven other children were lost to the Jewish people. And one of them, Yishmael, founded nations that have been a thorn in our sides for millennia.

Yet we understand that, despite our best efforts, so much is beyond our control. All G-d asks is that we make our best effort. Even with a success rate of only 12.5%, Avraham changed the course of history.

This notion of kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, that we are morally responsible for the actions of others, only took effect once the Jewish people crossed the Jordan and settled in the Land of Israel. Becoming a nation means we are in the same boat together—and if one drills a hole in the boat, we all sink. If we have learned anything from Jewish history, it is that the fate of all Jews is intertwined.

Our responsibility for others is an awesome task, but at the same time a great opportunity. Let us take advantage of it.

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[1] As Wayne Gretzky noted, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.