Thursday, September 29, 2016

Netzavim 76 - Rosh Hashana and the Power of Community

On the last day of his life, when Moses is about to hand over the leadership to Yehoshuah, the nation appears in its full presence, standing erect – 'nitzavim' committed and accountable to God and the mission of the Torah. Moses, on the one hand sees them all standing together and then emphasizes 10 subgroups and divisions in the nation.
You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers – Dev 29:9
 (ט) אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל: (י) טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ:
The question is - why mention the different social classes, strata, cultural levels, rank and status in the nation? Inequality and social divisions cause friction, poverty and crime and certainly do not promote a caring and unified society. The educational system perpetuates the inequality with the rich getting an engaging and rich education and the poor a ' test prep' education. John Dewey saw the possibility of ' vocational training ' doing the same. John Dewey said -' there is a danger that vocational education will be interpreted in theory and practice as trade education: as a means of securing technical efficiency in specialized future pursuits. Education would then become an instrument of perpetuating unchanged the existing industrial order of society, instead of operating as a means of its transformation. The desired transformation is not difficult to define in a formal way. It signifies a society in which every person shall be occupied in something which makes the lives of others better worth living, and which accordingly makes the ties which bind persons together more perceptible—which breaks down the barriers of distance between them. 'The barriers between people are broken down when people see others as contributing to the society they live in.
Moses gathered the people together to re-affirm and re-commit to the ' brit – covenant ' made at Sinai. But this covenant went further; it was based on mutual responsibility and accountability. People not only had a responsibility for their fellow men, but were now also accountable for the open and not hidden sins of others. –Dev 29:28 ' the hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah.
הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת
Members of society are bound together by the covenant which is based on mutual responsibility and caring and also being accountable for the failings of others. So Moses' list suggests that people are responsible and accountable according to their influence in society. Leaders whether political, spiritual, business and educational can affect many people, parents and teachers can impact on spouses, colleagues and children. Children and workers can impact on their peers.
In order to prevent a sense of arrogance Moses reminds the people, that they are all standing before God. They are all equal in the eyes of God. The Alshich says that this idea – that people need to be humble, and not be arrogant because of their status or achievements, is expressed in the following Halacha- legal point. If a great and wise sage is forced to kill a thief, the sage has to give up his own life as the Talmud says – The Sage cannot say that his blood is redder than the blood of the thief.
The Midrash commentary says that when the nation stands together erect – ' נצבים היום ככלכם ' they are unbreakable and can withstand and weather the greatest and most difficult challenges. A young child can break a reed, but when reeds are united in a bundle, they can withstand any force and are unbreakable. The Midrash adds that the nation is guaranteed redemption and survival if they are united.
We noted above that when people perceive the contribution of others, they are more able to bond with them. What about identifying and feeling empathic with people who don't make a contribution or even people who impact negatively on society. On Succoth we bind together and wave our Lulav - 4 species in all directions. The Kabbalists say that the four species of the Lulav represent four different types of Jews: The Etrog ( yellow citron) has a good taste and a good fragrance. It represents a person with both wisdom (Torah learning) and good deeds. The Hadas (myrtle) has a good fragrance, but is inedible. It represents a person who has good deeds, but lacks wisdom. The Lulav (date palm) is edible, but has no smell. This represents the person with wisdom, but without good deeds. The Aravah (willow) has neither taste nor smell. It represents a person with neither good deeds nor Torah learning. On Sukkot, we gather these four species, bind them, and wave them all together. The Lulav is only kosher if all four species are taken together. If one of the species is missing, the entire Lulav is invalid.
A similar principle is taught by the composition of the incense brought in the Holy Temple. There were 11 ingredients, of which one, the chelbanah spice, smelled terrible. Yet, the incense was only valid if all the ingredients were included together.
The ' community ' only has power to save and impact positively on people if everyone is included in the community. If the a'ravah- willow = the person with no good deeds or Torah learning, or the chelbonah – the person who makes a negative impact are excluded from the community, we don't have a community. When the a'ravah and chelbonah are included, they justify the existence and mystical powers of a community.
On Rosh Hashanah – New Year and Day of Judgment, our repentance – Teshuva begins when we stand erect, make a commitment and unite in a community to anoint God as the ruler over us. We pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life and that God should have pity on us as frail beings that are inclined to sin and grant us life. These additional prayers would not normally be permitted to be said in the first 3 blessings of the  'A'mida or 18 blessings prayer. They are reserved for the praise of God and not for requests. However, these additions of the repentance period are permitted because they plead for the entire nation.
The power of community depends on structures being in place that promote cooperation and pro-social behavior and certainly not competition. A school is also a community of learners. To create community, children need to be brought into the process; each level or grade in school should be involved in activities that benefit not only peers, but the whole school and beyond the school impacting on the wider community. Questions of discipline should not focus on the consequences for the individual child because of his inappropriate behavior, but help him reflect how his behavior impacts on others and the community. He should be asking and reflecting – what type of community do we want.

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