Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Individual and the Community in Yisrael and in the Other Nations

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

In our article for the Torah portion of Tetzaveh (Issue 1664) we discussed the paradoxical phrase, “There is one nation, scattered and dispersed” [Esther 3:8], and the explanation by Rav Kook – that externally the nation appears to bescattered, but that in reality it is one nation internally. In this article, we will discuss how Rav Kook views the essence of the unity of our nation.

Peace is an exalted value even in the eyes of the other nations, but the concept as seen by the nations is very different from our own idea. Rav Kook writes, “Peace is not an independent objective but it is rather a means to achieve what every person desires in his heart.” That is, it is a way to improve the conditions of a person’s life. However, for Yisrael peace has an intrinsic value of its own. We yearn for the appearance of the Shechina, “and G-d will not send the Shechina unless there is peace within Yisrael.” This implies another important difference: For the other nations the concept of peace is mainly relevant in the world of action, while for Yisrael it also refers to thought processes. “Every person must feel love for his brothers in his heart and in his soul.”

And this is the principle that is involved with collecting the Shekalim. A census of the nation was performed by taking half a Shekel from each person. This teaches us about the unity which is typical of Yisrael. In other nations, when individuals gather in the interests of unity, in essence their personal interest remains. When all is said and done, the final goal is to improve the lot of the individual, while the community acts as a “large group of mutual responsibility,” which can be thought of as a large national insurance company. Since it is impossible for every person to directly supply all of his own needs, it is necessary for his own comfort to gather into unified groups. All of this is not true for Yisrael, which in the end does everything it can for the benefit of the nation as a whole. “With respect to all the sanctity of the mitzvot and the service of the Holy One, Blessed be He, performed by Yisrael, the main objective of their labor is to generate justice and praise for the nation as a whole.”

And that is how Rav Kook analyzed the contents of the Grace After Meals. The first blessing was written by Moshe in thanks for the manna, food which gave nourishment to the individual bodies of the people. The second blessing was written by Yehoshua for Eretz Yisrael, based on nationalistic feelings. The third blessing was written by David and Shlomo. David had Jerusalem in mind, the nationalistic spiritual form, while Shlomo thought of the Temple, which has the ability to repair the bad ways of humanity. As Shlomo said in his dedication of the Temple: “... so that all the nations of the world will know that G-d is the Lord” [Melachim I 8:60].

“The common thread throughout all the pathways of the Torah is to connect the whole of humanity to all the individuals, so that the individuals will find their happiness within the whole... Therefore it is fitting that every person in Yisrael must recognize the value of his personal food, which lays down a single stone in the edifice of the world in general.” Even though the act of eating is in essence selfish, when a person from Yisrael starts to eat he sees before him the general need – and by this personal act he contributes his part in building up the edifice of nationalism and humanity in general.

And that is why every person in Yisrael donates the same amount, and that these coins were used to make the sockets in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is an indication of the sanctity of the whole, and the sockets are placed at its foundation, showing that “the desired root of all the individual service of G-d in Yisrael is the success of the whole nation.” Therefore it was established that the foundation of the service of the whole nation would be made up from the half Shekel that every individual from Yisrael contributed.

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