Arvut

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            Today's shiur has a somewhat different framework than usual, as we shall be discussing not a particular halakhic practice but rather a halakhic concept, one which underlies many mitzvot, and, to a certain extent, serves as the foundation for one of the most central of all institutions of Judaism, that of the unity of the Jewish people.

            Those mitzvot which consist of speech, such as prayer, have a unique mechanism whereby one can fulfill the obligation without actively saying anything. The halakha allows for one person to say the blessing or the prayer out loud, and all those who hear it fulfill their obligation as well. Hence, for instance, it is customary for only one person to recite kiddush on Shabbat, and the others present to listen. This is considered as though each and every one had recited kiddush himself. (This is called "shome'a ke-oneh" - one who listens is like one who recites.)

            There is however one caveat. The one who is reciting the blessing for the others must himself be obligated in that mitzva. For this reason, for those mitzvot which women are exempt, they cannot recite the prayer or blessing for men who are obligated. One who is obligated to recite the "ha-gomel" blessing (recited when one recovers from a serious illness or if saved from any other life-threatening situation) cannot have one who is not so obligated recite the blessing for him.

            What about someone who is in principle obligated but has already fulfilled his obligation. For instance, can I, after hearing the reading of the Scroll of Esther in the synagogue on Purim, go to a sick friend and read for him? After all, at the time of the second reading, I will not be in a state of "obligated." The halakha gives a curious answer to this question. "Kol yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh." All Israel are "areivim" to each other; hence, even though one has already fulfilled his obligation, he can repeat the utterances and fulfill the obligation for another. What does the word "areivim" mean?

            "Areiv" (the singular of areivim) is a legal term. The areiv is a guarantor of a loan. If you wish to borrow money from someone, who has doubts concerning your ability to pay, he may ask you to bring a friend as a co-signer. In that case, even though you have borrowed the money, if you do not pay, the "areiv" will have to, in your place.

            "Kol yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh," then, means that even if an obligation, properly speaking, applies to one individual, everyone else is a guarantor of that obligation; meaning that the rest of us, EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE ALREADY DISCHARGED OUR PERSONAL OBLIGATION, are nonetheless still "obligated" - obligated to ensure that his obligation will also be discharged. Therefore, even though I have already fulfilled my own obligation, my status is that of "obligated" so long as others have not fulfilled theirs, and I may fulfill the obligation for them by reciting it out loud, since, like the other, I too have not FULLY discharged my obligation.

            Now this concept of "arvut" is quite a frightening one. It is all very nice that I can recite kiddush for someone else even if I have already recited it for myself. But the reasoning behind this is that if there is anywhere a Jew who has not recited kiddush, I have not quite fully freed myself from the obligation of kiddush. This means that unless every single Jew has fulfilled all his obligations, none of us has. Since there are rumors that, in fact, not every Jew recites kiddush every week, this can be a rather depressing thought indeed, at least for those who will not be able to achieve peace of mind until they have fully discharged all their obligations.

            Why should I be obligated in the obligations of others? We have all been brought up in an extremely individualistic ethos, which pervades the western world today. Man is responsible for himself. Of course, most of us - and most western societies - accept that I should HELP my fellow man. This is called altruism, and serves to moderate extreme individualism to some extent. But altruism is very different from the ethos that lies behind arvut; in fact, it is almost the opposite. Arvut declares that I am responsible for others just as I am responsible for myself. It is not goodheartedness to help others, it is collective self-interest. The failure of my neighbor is not merely a lost opportunity for me to have practiced philanthropy, it is simply my own failure. What is the basis for such a sweeping denial of the ultimate individuality of members of our community?

            The answer to this question goes to the basic nature of the Jewish community, the Jewish people, the unit called in Hebrew "Knesset Yisrael." But for this we have to examine a section in the Torah.

            The Torah was given to the Jews in the first year that they left Egypt, fifty days after the exodus. The giving of the Torah is called, by the Torah itself, a "brit," a covenant, meaning a two sided agreement between God and the Jewish people. Forty years later, after a generation spent in the desert, the Jews are about to enter the Land of Israel.

You are standing, this day, all of you, before HaShem your God - the leaders of your tribes, your elders, your officers, every Jewish individual; your children, your wives, the strangers in the midst of your camp, from the hewers of wood to the drawers of water; to bring you into the covenant of HaShem your God and His oath, which God is making with you today.

In order to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He shall be your God, as He told you; and as He promised your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And not only with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath; but rather, with those that are here with us standing today before HaShem our God, and with those THAT ARE NOT HERE WITH US TODAY. (Deut. 29,9-11).

            After describing what will happen if they abandon the covenant, this section of the Torah concludes by saying: "The hidden things are for HaShem our God, but the revealed things are for us and our children forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah" (29, 29).

            This last verse is the source of the law of "arvut." The Sages interpret it to mean: That which is hidden - sins that are committed in secret - for those you are excused and have no responsibility. That will be between God and the individual. But the revealed acts of man, they are not only the responsibility of the individual, but of all of us and our children forever.

            What is the context of this statement? Why, to ask another question, is there a need for a second covenant forty years after the original one? The answer is in the text of the covenant that I quoted above - "In order to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He shall be your God." For the forty years in the desert each Jewish individual had a relationship with God based on the fact that he too had received the Torah. At this point, before entering the Land of Israel (i.e., before entering on the road of NATIONAL destiny), God molds these disparate individuals into a nation, a collective, a community. Each one of you stands before God and you will enter a covenant that will make you a nation. Hence the necessity to include, as it were, the future generations, for the Knesset Yisrael is not merely a group of individuals united by common interests, but a metaphysical entity transcending time and place - "those that are here with us standing today," and "those that are not here with us today." What is the basis for this metaphysical unity? - the covenant with God. The covenant is not between the individual and God, but between the metaphysical entity called Israel and God. The nation as a whole and as a unity is given the Torah this time; hence the conclusion of ARVUT - if the nation as a whole and as a unity does not keep the Torah, the covenant has not been fulfilled. We as individuals therefore are each charged with keeping the covenant of the whole, as it is a collective responsibility based on "in order to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He shall be your God." Therefore we are all co-signed on each others obligations towards God and towards each other.

            (It is worth noting that this reverses the usual relationship between group membership and responsibility. It is not that we have a measure of responsibility to each other because we belong to the same group. We belong to the same group because we are mutually responsible. The nation was formed by the act of covenant, by being unified in responsibility for the covenant. In other words, the Jewish people are a covenantal community, one formed because one covenant with God binds them.)

            Does this mean the Judaism places the group, the nation, before the individual? Does the worth of the individual derive only from his membership in the group? The answer is clearly no. The covenant we have read came only forty years after the Jews received the Torah. First they had to be free individuals in order to form the nation. The slaves who fled Egypt could not have entered a covenant of mutual responsibility. There are two covenants, one with the individuals, and one with the community as a whole. Each one complements the other. This is far more radical than what the general western liberal creed would allow. It does declare that an individual who has opted out of group membership has opted out of the covenant. The Jews could not enter the promised land until they had entered this second covenant. Think about it - what will happen when they enter the Land of Israel? Each one will get his own private plot of land. The Land of Israel is not held by the people in common. It is divided up. But to whom, to which individuals? To those who have entered the covenant of mutual responsibility before, to those who became a nation only when as one unified entity they entered into a covenant with God. Arik and Schmerl, Molly and Heather, do not inherit the Land of Israel - Israel does. The individual achieves, inherits - but only as a member of the group.

            The Rambam expresses this thought in a conclusion striking by its apparent extremism.

One who leaves the life of the community, even though he does not commit any transgression, but rather he separates himself from the community of Israel, and does not do mitzvot together with them, not feel part of their troubles, nor fast on their fasts but he goes about his way like one of the gentiles, as though he were not one of them - he has no portion in the world-to-come. (Hilkhot Teshuva 3,11)

Without membership in the covenantal community, one's mitzvot have no context, and no place in the fulfillment of individual destiny. A Jew without the Jewish people is simply lost.

            In the beginning of this week's shiur, I began with the application of "arvut" to a ritual matter, in order to demonstrate that the concept should be taken seriously and not merely as a sort of metaphor for a general obligation to look out for others. But of course, the concept has immediate applications in many other areas as well. My attitude towards other Jews is one of obligation - mutual obligation and responsibility. If another Jew is in trouble, I will go to help him, not merely because I think that helping others is an ethical imperative, and I am a generous and helpful soul, but because we both belong to a greater unit which binds us and defines my own identity. Were I not to help him, I would not only sin against him, but I would be untrue to myself, to my identity as a Jew. I do not mean to belittle generosity, not at all. Giving to others, "chesed," is itself a powerful and essential trait, one defined halakhically as basic to the image of God in which all of us are created (if you would like to know what that means - well, it will be next week's shiur). The concept of arvut is a parallel one, based not on love and giving, but on responsibility. Think of it as family - above and beyond, and totally separately from the obligations of giving and feelings of love, one takes care of one's children because one is responsible for them, because one belongs to a unit - the family - that is part of one's individual personality and identity. I think that if we knew a mother who took care of her children, in a perfectly wonderful manner, only out of the pity and love that one has for one's fellow man, or even out of the love that one naturally has for one's offspring, there would be something missing. The practical difference perhaps is what happens when one is tired or grouchy, or if the child is unworthy or unwilling, but I think the point is true even if there is no immediate practical difference at all. Arvut seeks to raise the responsibility of family to a higher level.

            To return to the halakha with which we began:

1. One who is obligated to recite something may fulfill the obligation of another by reciting it aloud in his presence.

Example: One person recites kiddush for all.

Example: A woman (who is not obligated to hear shofar) may not fulfill the mitzva for a male.

2. For this to succeed, both of them must have intention - the one to fulfill the obligation for the other, and the passive one, to listen and intend to fulfill his obligation by listening.

Example: If one overhears a blessing without the knowledge of the one reciting the blessing, one has not fulfilled the obligation.

3. This works even if the reciter has already fulfilled his own personal obligation.

Example: The one who blows the shofar goes to the homes of sick people to blow for them.

4. Prayer - the recitation of the "shemoneh esrei" - is an exception. Prayer, because of the personal nature, should be said personally. Only if one is incapable of praying should he fulfill his obligation through someone else.

5. The reciter must be not only obligated, but also obligated on the same level of obligation. Hence, one who is obligated only by rabbinic extension of a biblical mitzva cannot fulfill the mitzva for one who is obligated on the biblical level.

Example: A child below the age of bar-mitzva cannot recite the grace after meals for an adult.

            Next shiur we will discuss, as I promised above, those mitzvot concerned with helping others ("chesed") - charity, tending the sick, comforting mourners, etc.