Re'eh: Why should we be like the sand of the sea?

‘Who is Hashem speaking to? Is he speaking to me, to each single, individual Jewish person or is he speaking to the whole nation?’

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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis,

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
טוויטר

Is the Torah speaking directly to me?

This week’s Parasha commences with the words “Re’eh Anochi Noten Lifneichem Hayom Bracha U’klalah”, “See, (written in the singular) I am giving you (written in the plural), today a blessing and a curse”.

So, who is Hashem speaking to? Is he speaking to me, to each single, individual Jewish person or is he speaking to the whole nation?

Actually, the answer is both. And we have the very same phenomenon at the beginning of next week’s Parasha of Shoftim: “Shoftim Veshotrim Titen Lecha Bechol She’arecha”, “Judges and bailiffs, you shall place for you, (written in the singular), in all of your (written in the plural) gates…”

Actually, what we find here is a theme that runs right through the Book of Devarim. We all live with dual responsibility – I live by myself for myself and at the same time, I am an important cog within the wheel of Am Yisrael. When Hashem delivers his commandments, they are addressed to me personally, for my life, for the enhancement of my existence, and at the same time, what I do has a direct impact on the fate of the nation as a whole.

And we find this in Sefer Devarim, so beautifully put, through the two paragraphs of the Shema. They contain a lot of the same material. The Mitzvot, ‘To Love Hashem’, ‘To Study the Torah’, ‘Tefillin’ and ‘Mezuzah’, however there is a major difference: The first paragraph of the Shema is in the singular, addressed to the individual Jew, while the second paragraph of the Shema is in the plural, addressed to us all.

So, therefore I have that dual responsibility. For example, when it comes to Talmud Torah, I must learn and I must teach, but I also have a communal responsibility – I must guarantee that there are schools in my district, I must support all teaching initiatives for the sake of the nation.

And so to, when it comes to ‘Tefillin’ and to ‘Mezuzah’. I’ve come across some wonderful Gemachs, great charities which are there to provide Mezuzahs for people’s homes. Mezuzot cost a lot of money – they’re not cheap. And so, there are some wonderfully generous people who contribute towards Mezuzot for everybody’s homes, recognising that we have a responsibility for ourselves but also for all of the homes in our area.

And this very message is presented to us so beautifully by the Prophet Hoshea, who declared: “Vehaya Mispar Bnei Yisrael K’Chol Hayam”, “And the number of the Children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea”. Of course, Hoshea was speaking about the remarkable fact that over the years, through the generations, against the odds, we will have great numbers. But why didn’t he just talk about ‘Chol’, ‘sand’ – why ‘K’Chol Hayam’, ‘the sand of the sea’?

And the reason I believe is, because ‘the sand of the sea’ is tightly packed together when it’s wet, but at the same time, it’s made up of single grains of sand. And so too, we, each one of us, is responsible to ourselves, and at the same time, we must never forget our connection to our people and the responsibility that we have towards our society.