The Individual and the Community

חידושי הריטב"א ראש השנה כט.

כל ברכות המצות אע"פ שיצא מוציא שאע"פ שהמצות מוטלות על כל אחד הרי כל ישראל ערבין זה לזה וכולם כגוף אחד וכערב הפורע חוב חבירו.

Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 29a

All blessings over commandments, even though one already fulfilled the obligation, he may still fulfill another’s obligation. For even though the commandments are placed on each individual, behold all Jews are guarantors for one another, and they are all as a single body, and as a guarantor who repays his friend’s obligation.

According to Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 29a, why do all Jews need community?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith

If God had not joined the community of Adam and Eve, they would have never been able and would never have cared to make the paradoxical leap over the gap, indeed abyss, separating two individuals...

Only when God emerged from the transcendent darkness... did Adam and Eve, while revealing themselves to God in prayer and in unqualified commitment, (they) also reveal themselves to each other in sympathy and love on the one hand and common action on the other...(p. 45)

According to Soloveitchik, why was a community necessary for Adam and Eve?

What elements are necessary for a Jewish community as expressed in the example about Adam and Eve?

Which of the elements do you think is most important? Why?

שלש שנים נחלקו ב"ש וב"ה הללו אומרים הלכה כמותנו והללו אומרים הלכה כמותנו יצאה בת קול ואמרה אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן והלכה כב"ה וכי מאחר שאלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים מפני מה זכו ב"ה לקבוע הלכה כמותן מפני שנוחין ועלובין היו ושונין דבריהן ודברי ב"ש

For three years, the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai argued. One said, 'The halakha is like us,' and the other said, 'The halakha is like us.' A heavenly voice spoke: "These and these are the words of the living God, and the halakha is like the House of Hillel." A question was raised: Since the heavenly voice declared: "Both these and those are the words of the Living God," why was the halacha established to follow the opinion of Hillel? It is because the students of Hillel were kind and gracious. They taught their own ideas as well as the ideas from the students of Shammai.

The House of Hillel and the House of Shammai represent two opposing views on a variety of topics throughout Rabbinic literature. What is the debate presented in this text?

Whose interpretation of the text and thus, Jewish practice, did the law follow in the end? Why?

What can we learn from this text about how to interact within our community when we disagree about something?

הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר,...וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרָךְ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ, וְאַל תֹּאמַר דָּבָר שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לִשְׁמוֹעַ שֶׁסּוֹפוֹ לְהִשָּׁמַע. וְאַל תֹּאמַר לִכְשֶׁאֶפָּנֶה אֶשְׁנֶה, שֶׁמָּא לֹא תִפָּנֶה:

... Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community...Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place. Do not say something that cannot be heard, for in the end it will be heard. Do not say, "When I will be available I will study [Torah]," lest you never become available.

What are three different suggestions for dealing with challenges that arise in a community (or how to avoid them in the first place)?

Why is the last suggestion related to studying Torah? How is this connected with building a strong community?

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot

The relationship between the Jewish people and its individual members is different than the relationship between any other national group and its members. All other national groups only bestow upon their individual members the external aspect of their essence (a title such as American). But the essence itself each person draws from the all-inclusive soul, from the soul of God, without the intermediation of the group... This is not the case regarding Israel. The soul of the individuals is drawn from ... the community, the community bestowing a soul upon the individuals. One who considers severing himself from the people must sever his soul from the source of its vitality. Therefore each individual Jew is greatly in need of the community. He will always offer his life so that he should not be torn from the people, because his soul and self-perfection require that of him. (p. 144)

Why is our Jewish community different than any other community? What makes us unique according to Rav Kook?

Whose responsibility is it to build a strong Jewish community? How do you know?

Take notes on these final questions:

  • What challenges do we face and how can we overcome them?
  • How can we build community through prayer?
  • What do we need to consider when praying together?

I have a responsibility to participate in and to build community in order to fulfill the Jewish call to create connections between people and systems for responding to people in times of need.