Mutual Responsibility 1

לשכנו תדרשו

Seeking the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land 


אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל בעבר הירדן, במדבר, בערבה


“Make us return, HaShem, to You, and we shall return, renew our days as of old.”

With these words we supplicate before HaShem at the culmination of the book of Eicha on Tisha Bav, and with these words we express our realization too that one of the primary purposes of our suffering is to make us return to HaShem in repentance. Thus, it is not for naught that we begin the book of Dvarim, opening with Moshe’s rebuke and call to repentance, in concurrence with Tisha Bav, the day of HaShem’s awakening blow in the past, which thereby (through this awakening) turns into a day of rejoice in the future. Both at the beginning and at the end of this book we find a common theme in the call to repentance, the centrality of returning to the Land of Israel in the return to God.

The first and foremost rebuke of Moshe upon Israel is on the ‘sin of the spies’, saying:  ‘and on this matter (Rashi – that HaShem promises to bring you to the Land), you do not have faith in HaShem Your God.’  Towards the end of this book we find the famous ‘section of repentace’ (parshat hatshuva) which ties the return to HaShem with the return to His Land and HaShem’s ‘return’ to Israel. If so, what is the connection between rebuke and repentance to the Land of Israel?

In the past we have pointed to the fact apparent both in halachic and aggadic literature that the People of Israel are only considered ‘one People in the (Holy) Land’ (Chr. I, 17). The conception of our People as one organism ultimately leads to the conclusion that we are mutually responsible for each other. In halachic literature we find that the concept of ‘mutual responsibility’ in Israel is rooted to the commandment of rebuke, as the Torah says ‘you shall surely rebuke your fellowman and not bare upon him guilt’, thus implying that if one is obligated to rebuke and does not do so he carries a certain level of guilt  on behalf of his fellow Jew, that is ‘mutual responsibility’.

Conversely, there are halachic sources that point to ‘mutual responsibility’ as being the source of the obligation to rebuke, this meaning that the more people are mutually connected (e.g. more susceptible to listen to each other) the greater is the obligation to help correct each other’s paths. Therefore, we can conclude that when there is less ‘oneness’ or unity in the People, especially when the People are not in the Land, then there is less mutual responsibility, thereby lessening the obligation of rebuke, thereby further lessening the level of mutual responsibility (rooted to rebuke as above).

Translating this psychologically, this means that the more we feel like one being, the more effective is the rebuke of another, since the other is not viewed as an external attacker, but rather an aid in harmony with oneself, because we are ultimately one. Indeed, the Yerushalmi points to the fact that when the Sanhedrin moved to Yavneh, the beginning of Exile from the Land just after the 2nd Temple Destruction, mutual responsibility on sins unknown publicly, ‘ceased’. According to what we just explained, it seems that this cessation of mutual responsibility is clearly rooted to the Exile of Israel from the Land. (Perhaps because of this, R. Elazar b. Azarya, living after the Destruction, was ‘surprised if someone in his generation could rebuke’). Similarly, in the Holy Land we are also more united with HaShem and His Holy Presence.

Therefore, HaShem’s ‘rebuke’ upon us in this Land is more readily seen by us as an aid to correction and repentance. In this way, the Hurban  (destruction) can communicate to us that we must work on Hebron (same letters), building unity (hibur) among our People through our common roots, our uniting Land, and through connection to our One God, Whose Presence rests therein.

Note: ‘Mutual Responsibility’ applies not only in regard to guilt, but also, primarily, in regard to (sharing) virtue, such as the halachic ability to exempt one’s fellow Jew in a bracha etc. as brought by the poskim.




Real Stories from the Holy Land #81:


“One Shabbos I was telling the people sitting at the table about a spiritual lesson I learned from the dogs of Kiryat Arba. Just after that I planned to learn mishnayot Shabbat as is customary on Shabbat. However, I had then an unexplainable urge to learn specifically from Perek Shira. I opened Perek Shira randomly, and the first think my eyes struck was the song of the dogs…”



Sources:Sanhedrin 43b, see Rosh on Brachot ch. 3, Yerushalmi Sota 7, 5, Erchin 16b

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