Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's Your Responsibility Too

“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisroel…”(1:1)

Sefer Devarim begins with Bnei Yisroel at the threshold of Eretz Yisroel. The entire Sefer spans the last five weeks of Moshe’s life and records the rebuke that Moshe gave to Bnei Yisroel prior to his death. Parshas Devarim enumerates a list of places where Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisroel{1}. The Midrash notes that there is no historical basis upon which to substantiate the existence of these places, rather their names are veiled allusions to all of the transgressions perpetrated by Bnei Yisroel while they were in the desert{2}. Rashi comments that Moshe only alluded to the transgressions, rather than mentioning them explicitly because of the dignity of Bnei Yisroel{3}. Throughout the earlier sections of the Torah we find Bnei Yisroel harshly castigated for these inappropriate actions and their transgressions magnified. Why is this rebuke different than those delivered in earlier parshios?

The verse emphasizes that Moshe spoke “to the entire nation of Israel” – “el Kol Yisroel{4}.” Rashi cites the Sifri who explains that everyone had to be present, for if Moshe had only rebuked some of Bnei Yisroel, those who were not present would have claimed that had they been there, they would have been able to defend themselves from Moshe’s accusations. Therefore, it was necessary for the entire Bnei Yisroel to be present, so that no one could exclude himself from Moshe’s critique{5}. Again we find an element of this rebuke which does not exist in any prior castigation.

In order to explain the aforementioned difficulty, it is first necessary to address another problem. The Midrash interprets the names of the places where Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisroel as an allusion to their sins. Among the sins recorded are the complaints which occurred immediately after leaving Egypt, the spies’ evil speech, the golden calf, dissatisfaction with the manna, and Korach’s rebellion. Almost all of these transgressions were not committed by the people who stood before Moshe, rather by the “dor hamidbar”, the generation of people in the desert who were no longer living. Why did Moshe castigate the people for the sins of the earlier generation?

According to Torah law, an individual can be held accountable for the sins of his parents only if he continues in their evil path. If he does not follow in the evil ways of his parents, he is not held accountable for their behavior{6}. However, this law is only true on an individual level. On a national level, responsibility for the transgressions of earlier generations is always borne by the citizens of the nation, even if the citizens have no connection to the misdeeds of their ancestors. The reason for this is that a citizen of a nation is part of the same constant entity as that to which his predecessors belonged. He is a shareholder in the unchanging corporate entity which defines the nation, and as such, is responsible for any transgressions or atrocities perpetrated by the national entity. Culpability is not dependent upon whether or not the individual was involved in the misdeed.

Moshe was teaching the generation entering Eretz Yisroel that it was their responsibility to rectify the damage caused by their predecessors. They could not disassociate themselves from the actions of their ancestors by claiming that they were not pursuing the misdeeds of the earlier generations. Moshe was addressing them as the inheritors of the corporate entity of Israel, not as the children of the generation that left Egypt. Consequently, since they were not the perpetrators of these acts, they were not subject to the same harsh castigation as the earlier generation, and these acts were not magnified as they were in earlier sections of the Torah which addressed the perpetrators directly.

It is specifically this form of rebuke which required the presence of the entire nation. Since they did not perpetuate the acts for which Moshe was criticizing them, they could have had the misconception that as long as they themselves did not engage in the same grievous behavior, they could not be held accountable for those sins. Therefore, Moshe required that all of Bnei Yisroel be present so that he could explain to them that their culpability stemmed from their national responsibility, and as such, they were required to rectify the wrongdoings of their ancestors.

1.1:1 2.Avos D’Rav Nosson 34:1 
6.Berachos 7a, Rashi Shemos 34:7