I Am Because I Am Not
Last week's Rabbi's Notebook explained how the nation and the individual
are intertwined regarding Teshuva (repentance). The individual can only do
Teshuva for the component of the sin that relates to his or her personal
relationship with G-d. To accomplish Teshuva for the national component of
sin the individual must have help from the Bais Hamikdash (Temple) and the
Kedusha (sanctity), like Teshuva is an entity that intertwines the
individual and the nation. The focus of this week's Parsha is the Kedusha
of the individual and the Kedusha of the nation.
Kedusha of the individual is accomplished by doing those things that make
the Jew different from the rest of his or her society and not doing those
things that would make the Jew similar to his or her society.
Kedusha of the nation is the product of two components.
- The nation as a whole doing those things that make it different from
the other nations and not doing those things that would make it similar to
the other nations.
(Example of those things that make the nation different: Kornonos Tzibur
(public sacrifice), the Bais Hamikdash, the manner in which the public
relates to the designation of the tribe of Layvie, the land of Israel as a
whole, and not practicing or worshiping as the other nations worship and
- The sum total of the Kedusha of all the individuals
comprising the nation.
From this perspective, the active or passive removal of the differences
between ourselves and the other nations is termed "sinning." Active
sinning is doing that which makes us similar to everyone else and passive
sinning is not doing the many Mitzvos that make us different from everyone
(Please note that being different as a nation and as an individual is
dictated and circumscribed by the Mitzvos and the rabbinic enactments.
More so than that is a matter of personal preference and not halachik
Individual sinning and national sinning are closely linked to each other.
The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva explains that G-d judges the individual and
G-d judges the public. The individual is judged by weighing the merits and
sins of his personal record. The public is judged by first calculating and
then weighing the sum total of the merits and sins of all the individuals
making up the public.
As mentioned in last week's Rabbi's Notebook, G-d gave the Torah to the
nation and specifically did not give it to an individual. The Mitzvos that
the Forefathers and Mothers kept were revealed to them through prophecy
and passed on to their children as personal commandments and traditions.
Those Mitzvos were then regiven to Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish People at
Matan Torah (Revelation).
Matan Torah established the primacy of the nation over the individual.
Matan Torah proved that as important as individual effort is for the
individual it is even more important as a component of the national whole.
As important as personal Teshuva, sinning, and Kedusha are to the
individual’s relationship with G-d they are even more important to the
nation's relationship with G-d.
G-d defined our national essence before giving us the Torah as "A kingdom
of priests and a holy nation." He did not define us as individuals who are
priestly and holy. G-d did not say to us, "Each of you become priestly and
holy." G-d defined us in the plural and the collective whole.
In the Dayenu we say, "Had You brought us to Har Sinai and not given us
the Torah - that would have been enough!" Why? For what purpose and
reason? The whole reason for going to Egypt and leaving Egypt was to
receive the Torah! How could it have been enough to just gather at the
foot of Har Sinai?
We are told that the prerequisite for receiving the Torah was our becoming
a unified nation, "As one individual with one purpose (heart).” That was
the Dayenu! Becoming a single entity, becoming a kingdom of priests and a
holy nation was paramount. Of course, becoming “as one” required
individual and personal commitment; however, the focus was clearly the
primacy of the nation more than the perfection of the individual.
In many regards perfection of the individual is for the purpose of
perfecting the nation. This concept can be extended across the expanses of
the past and the future. Individual efforts toward perfection contribute
to confirming all of the past as well as preparing for the eventual
completion of the future.
A note about Moshe:
The reason G-d gave the Torah to Moshe was because the nation asked Him to
do so. (Shemos 20:16) "You (Moshe) speak to us, not G-d? and we will not
This is confirmed in Sefer Bamidbar (Book of Numbers) when Miriam and
Aharon criticized Moshe for being "less than sensitive" in his
relationship with his wife Tziporah. What Aharon and Miriam failed to
appreciate about Moshe was the single-minded devotion the position
of "Rabbeinu" demanded. It was a position from which there was no reprieve
or vacation. The position left no room for self or selfishness. There was
no room for family. There was only room for G-d and His people. Moshe did
not behave like everyone else because he was no longer "Moshe the Man." He
had become Moshe Rabbeinu, the Teacher of the nation.
The position of Kohain Gadol was almost as restrictive. The unique
responsibilities of the Kohain Gadol were daily. It meant that he had to
always be there to serve in the Temple. He could not go on vacation or
travel very far. There was no reprieve from the duties of the position. He
had to maintain his level of Taharah. He could not marry certain women. In
preparation for entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur he had to
separate from his wife for one week. He was even restricted from attending
the funerals of his closest relatives.
Getting back to Kedusha.
Kedusha manifests itself in three dimensions: time, space, and person. The
Bais Hamikdash represented the sanctity of place. The Kohanim represented
the sanctity of person, and Shabbos and the holidays detailed in this
week's Parsha represent the sanctity of time.
As with sinning and Teshuva there is a national and a personal component
to the three manifestations of Kedusha. The persons of the Kohanim, and
especially the person of the Kohain Gadol, manifested the Kedusha of
person. Their sanctity was unique. Their Kedusha was more intense. The
laws governing their behavior were more restrictive and detailed. They
represented both themselves and they represented the entire nation. To the
extent that the Kohanim maintained their personal levels of Kedusha was
the extent to which they could properly represent the nation. Therefore,
the person of the Kohain was secondary to the being of the nation. The
Kohain, in his capacity as a Kohain, had to become nondescript and
indistinguishable. Similar to Matan Torah, the nation was paramount, not
Even the physical selves of the Kohanim had to be non-descript. This
week's Parsha restricts a Kohain who is disfigured or deformed in some way
from serving the nation. The Kohain could not be distinguished physically
or else he would not be nondescript in his service to G-d and the nation.
As mentioned last week, the Kohain had to be able to disappear beneath the
folds of his Talis and become a reflection of the congregation he served.
He had to symbolically loose himself and his self. Physical disfigurement
or deformities made it impossible for the Kohain to symbolically disappear.
Like the Kohain, members of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) could not be
deformed or disfigured. They too represented the wholeness of the nation's
subjugation to G-d and the Torah. They too could not be distinguished from
the whole by physical deformity and disfigurement.
At the end of this week's Parsha, the Torah recorded the incident of the
M'Kallel - the Blasphemer. In essence, the Blasphemer refused to accept
Moshe's ruling regarding his personal status and cursed G-d. He refused to
subjugate his self and himself to the dictates of G-d's law as ruled by
Moshe Rabbeinu the servant of G-d. The punishment for his blasphemy was
death by stoning. (24:14, 16, 23)
Verse (24:14) says, "...and the whole congregation should stone him."
Rashi comments, "In the presence of the entire congregation. From here we
derive that a person's messenger (proxy) is like himself."
The function of the Shaliach Bais Din, (agent of the court), was to
represent the court and thereby represent the entire nation. The critics
who gleefully reference this incident as proof of the early Bnai Yisroel's
bloodthirsty barbarism (shades of "The Harvest") never took the time to
learn the true meaning of these verses. Yes, the nation did stone (not in
the manner of the "Harvest but involving the placing of a stone on the
chest of the "sinner" after he had been killed in a swift and "humane"
fashion.) the Blasphemer because the agents of Bais Din, like the members
of Sanhedrin, the Kohanim, the Kohain Gadol, Moshe Rabbeinu, and the
entire nation at the time of Matan Torah, had no self other than their
subjugation to G-d, Torah, and the nation. The death penalty was never
executed by a mob of people. It was always done with the greatest concern
for the dignity due a human created in the image of G-d. However, in being
carried out by the court the death penalty was done "by the People."
The sanctification of self can only be realized in the humility of
nationhood. The sanctity of nationhood can only be realized in the
realization of individual devotion. We are more because we are less and in
the loss of self we become far more than we are. So it was with Moshe. So
it was with Aharon. So it should be reflected in the institution of
Priesthood. So it should be reflected in the halls of justice.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.