The Collective vs. the Individual

The relationship between the individual and the collective is seen in this week's Torah reading.

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Michael Linetsky,

Michael Linetsky
Michael Linetsky

The Torah states that if a High Priest commits a sin it is because of the fault of the people and he must bring a sacrifice as an atonement (Lev 4:3).  If  the saintly High Priest sins it is because he was brought down by the degraded religious and ethical condition of the Jewish People.

No doubt God judges the individual and weighs his or her merits against his or her demerits. However, in describing the attitude of the Jewish People on the Rosh Hashanah, the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael states: “But Israel wears white ,eat, drink,  are merry and trim their beards because they know that God will do miracles for them.” (Rosh Hashanah 1:3, 7b)

God also judges the Jewish People as a whole, by their collective and is keen on finding their merits. He tends not only to forgive the Jewish People for their iniquity but also clears their slate to the point that He is ready to do miracles for them

The message of the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael is that the iniquitous individual merits God’s grace because of the righteous collective. By the same token the righteous individual incurs God’s wrath because of the iniquitous collective. 

Along these lines the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael teaches us: Rabbi Ze’ira in the name of Rabbi Haninah said: What should the great people of the generation do? For the congregation (tsibbur) is judged by its majority for we find that all thirty years that the Jewish People were like excommunicated God did not speak to Moses as its says:  “And it was when all the Men of Battle ceased to die from amidst the People” (Deut. 2:16). What does it say right after that? “And God spoke to me saying etc.” ( ibid 17). (Ta’anith 3:4)

God closed Himself to the Jewish People for thirty years and during that time He would not even speak to the righteous prophet Moses, the very same man who God would speak with face to face.

The significance and implications of these passages are far reaching. A person’s fortunes (or misfortunes) in life are not all his or her own, but are effected by the condition and standing of the Jewish People as a whole.

Michael Linetsky is the director of the Torat Eretz Yisrael Institute ( Visit us on OU Torah ( ->Lessons from Eretz Yisrael) for our supplementary series.