A well-known Midrash compares the Four Species to four types of Jews. The esrog has both taste and fragrance, representing those Jew who possess both Torah and mitzvos; the lulav has taste but no fragrance, representing Jews who have Torah but are lacking in good deeds; hadassim are fragrant but lack taste, representing those Jews who are rich in good deeds but lack Torah; and the aravos lack both taste and fragrance, representing Jews who lack both Torah and good deeds.
Some spend hundreds of dollars to purchase the most beautiful esrog, lulav and hadassim. Yet if the lowly (and relatively cheap) aravos are halachically deficient, they have still failed to fulfill the mitzvah of the Dalet Minim. By analogy, Jews lacking Torah and mitzvos are still part of Klal Yisrael, and we cannot do without them.
The same theme runs throughout the month of teshuva in Tishrei. The Yom Kippur service begins with a formal proclamation prior to Kol Nidre by three elders of the congregation that all those whose sins are serious enough for them to have been banished from the congregation are granted permission to participate in the davening.
The presence of such serious transgressors is not just permissible but desirable. The furthest removed Jew is an essential part of the davening. Just as Chazal say, "Any public fast in which Jewish sinners do not take part is no fast."
Prior to the awesome judgment of Rosh HaShanah, we read the curses of Ki Savo. The following week we read Nitzavim, the first verse of which hints to the means by which we can both survive the curses of Ki Savo and prevail in the upcoming judgment: "You are standing today, all of you." By standing as one unified nation, each responsible for the others, we can avoid the full force of those curses. A few verses later, Moshe warns of the terrible end of any Jew who imagines that he can escape the collective fate of the Jewish people by excluding himself from the covenant.
The Altar of Kelm would emphasize the importance of identifying with the klal as a prerequisite to a successful judgment on Rosh HaShanah. Every year in Elul, a yellowing poster hung in the Talmud Torah of Kelm, on which was inscribed the main message that the Alter wanted to imprint upon his talmidim as Rosh HaShanah approached: "All the Rosh HaShanah prayers are designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, for our part, are called upon to crown Hashem as King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love for others and charitable acts, as Moshe said in his parting blessing: "There will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with the Tribes of Israel as one" (Devarim 33:5).
Harmony between Jews is both a pre-condition for recognizing Hashem's sovereignty, and an outgrowth of true love of G-d. If the servants of the King fully devote themselves to His service and His purposes, the Alter taught, there would be no room for conflict among them.
FOR MOST OF THE TWO MILLENIA of galus Jews needed no reminders that they share a common fate. Their Christian and Muslim neighbors were only too happy to remind them if they ever forgot. And to some extent, constant wars, terrorism, and the threat of a nuclear Iran help preserve recognition of that common fate, at least among the Jews of Israel.
But the fundamental relationship of all Jews, hinted to by the Four Species, goes much deeper than shared victimhood. The basis of the connection among all Jews lies in a common mission assigned to us at Sinai – to bring knowledge of Hashem to the entire world. The davening of the just-passed Yamim Noraim bids us over and over again to contemplate a world permeated with knowledge of Hashem, in which each created being acknowledges that Hashem is its Creator.
Because the Torah offers the deepest perspective on the interconnectedness of all Jews, ultimate responsibility for the preservation of the awareness of that connection falls upon Torah Jews. Not just because we know the midrashim and tefillos cited above, but because of our understanding of the common mission that binds us all and which none are free to cast off.
Unfortunately, the Klal Yisrael perspective has become attenuated among Torah Jews as well. That is most evident among groups who have been fighting a pitched battle against Zionism in Eretz Yisrael for well over a century. In war, it is easy to forget that those on the other side are also Jews, or at least that they are Jews who count. How else to explain tactics that often seem tailor-made to make the Torah and those who uphold it as alien as possible to the vast majority of world Jewry?
But the phenomenon is not limited to the precincts of Meah Shearim. In the more than two centuries since the ghetto walls began to fall, Torah communities have often had to fight to preserve themselves. Those that followed the principle of separation from larger communal frameworks were usually the most successful in preserving their Torah identity.
But that victory too came with a cost in terms of a diminished Klal Yisrael consciousness. To some extent, Jewish statehood, which inevitably pits groups against one another in the battle for larger pieces of the pie, has exacerbated the problem of exclusive identification with one's own small subgroup.
CIVIL WARS HAVE DIFFERENT RULES of engagement, and that is particularly so with wars among Jews. We cannot let ourselves forget that those whom we perceive to be on the other side are also our brothers, and what they think of Torah and its adherents is critical to our most cherished goal – a world filled with knowledge of Hashem.
Veteran Eidah leader Rabbi Shlomo Papenheim once quoted his teacher Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eidah HaChareidis, to the effect that the ultimate Redemption requires some spiritual awakening (though not necessarily full mitzvah observance) on the part of all Jews. When we act in such a way as to make that awakening less likely (Rabbi Papenheim was referring specifically to violent demonstrations) we therefore push away the Geulah.
And when we treat the impact of our actions on any group of Jews as irrelevant to us we do something worse than just making it harder, k'v'yachol, for Hashem to bring the Redemption: We act as if we do not really believe in Redemption.
We will all be redeemed – or none of us will. That is our common fate. To treat the spiritual arousal of the vast majority of the world's Jews as a matter of indifference, and to deny any responsibility for their relationship to Torah, is to give up hope in the coming of Mashiach, writes Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe.
The Chofetz Chaim in Chizuk HaDas quotes a terrifying Talmudic passage (Shabbos 55a) to stress how far our responsibility extends to our fellow Jews. The only time Hashem decreed a favorable judgment and then subsequently reversed that decision, the Talmud states, took place at the time of the First Temple.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu told the angel Gavriel to place a sign on the foreheads of all the tzaddikim (righteous ones) as a protection against the Destroying Angels. But the Quality of Strict Justice protested and asked HaKadosh Baruch Hu why one group should be saved and the other not. Nor was Strict Justice mollified by the straightforward answer: These are wholly righteous people and these are wholly wicked people. Strict Justice then accused the righteous: They could have protested the actions of the sinners and did not. HaKadosh Baruch Hu responded in defense of the tzaddikim: It is revealed before me that their protests would have been ineffective.
At that point, the Quality of Strict Justice delivered the coup de grace: While it may have been revealed to You, who revealed it to them? Since they had no way of knowing that their efforts to bring the wicked to repentance would be unsuccessful, they are guilty for not having tried to return the wicked to the proper path.
In short, we need to worry about the aravos, and how our actions either bring them needed moisture or cause them to dry out completely.
A First Lady Goes Silent
In the midst of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, Syria's elegant first lady Asma al-Assad went on CNN to deliver an impassioned denunciation of Israel's "barbaric assault" on Palestinian civilians. She spoke of 824 Palestinian dead, with the death total rising by the hour, and of 22,000 people internally displaced by the fighting.
Particularly affecting were Mrs. Assad's heartfelt pleas from the vantage point of a mother, who sends her children off to school to learn in the morning knowing they will be receiving a good education and tucks them into bed at night expecting to see them in the morning. "Mothers in Gaza can't do that," she averred. That this could be happening in the 21st century, she said, "is just beyond belief."
Well, according to the United Nations, the casualties of Syria's civil war already exceeded 100,000 in July, and millions have been internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries.
If Mrs. Assad has had any thoughts on the bombing of civilian neighborhoods on her husband's orders, or of the use of lethal chemical weapons by Syrian troops, she has not shared them with CNN. Did she find the photographs of dead children, their faces contorted by chemical poisoning, "just beyond belief" in the 21st century? We don't know. Beyond an insipid press release more than a year ago describing her as supporting her husband in his role of president of all Syrians and her own efforts to "comfort" the victims of the violence, she has gone completely silent.
None of us will ever approach Mrs. Assad's level of hypocrisy. But she can serve as an object lesson to us all of how easy it is to make a retroactive mockery of our own words. Let us take the warning and not do the same with all the protestations of regret and promises to do better we expressed over the last two weeks.