Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Group Benefits

The last two of the forty-one mitzvos contained in parshas Shoftim concern the mitzvah of eglah arufah. If the corpse of a murder victim is found in the Land of Israel, the elders of the city closest to the corpse participate in a ritual whereby a cow that has not yet reached its second birthday is brought to a valley whose land is too harsh to have been worked. The cow is killed by someone axing the back of its neck. The elders then recite "ya-deinu lo shofchu ha-dam hazeh - our hands have not spilled this blood" (Devarim 21:7).

The Talmud (Sotah 46b) asks the obvious question: Would we really suspect that the leaders of the Jewish community actually committed the murder, such that our suspicion necessitates this declaration? No. Rather, they declare that they did not allow the murdered individual to leave the community without provisions and without a l'vaya (an escort).

What is the significance of l'vaya? The Maharal in his commentary on the above gemara explains that there are two distinct entities: the individual and the klal (the group). The protection and Divine providence that a klal experiences is much greater than that experienced by an individual. Thus, the act of l'vaya transforms the status of the individual to that of a member of the klal. Hashem notes this change of status and affords additional protection. It is thus understandable that R' Yochanan teaches that when one neglects to escort his guest, it is akin to spilling his blood, as he deprived him of the additional protection.

The following examples demonstrate the superiority of the klal over the individual. Firstly, the Talmud (Brachos 8a) teaches that Hashem does not reject the prayers of the congregation (tefilas ha-tzibur). Their prayer has a different status than that of the individual. It is for this reason that we recite a public mi-sheberachon behalf of the sick, elevating the level of prayer on their behalf to that of communal prayer. Secondly, the kaparah (atonement) that is attained via the sa-ir hamishtaleach - the he-goat to Azazel on Yom Hakippurim, did not relate to any individual members of the nation, but to the klal (the nation as a whole). It is thus understandable that the sacrifice is affective even without teshuva (Rambam, Hil. Teshuva 1:2). If an individual brought an offering without repenting, it is inaffective as "zevach reshaim to'evah - the sacrifice of a wicked man is an abomination" (Proverbs 21:27). The sa-ir is the offering of the klal, and it relates to whoever is part of the klal.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 581) notes the unique behavior of the Jewish nation. Usually one on trial for his life will don black garb, go unshaven, paying no attention to his personal grooming as the uncertainty of the outcome looms over him constantly. Klal Yisroel, in sharp contrast, dons holiday clothes, take haircuts and eat and drink a yom tov meal on their day of judgment, as they know that Hashem will affect a miracle on their behalf.

The Alter of Kelm explains this Tur in the following way. Each individual must experience fear and trepidation, and dare not rely upon a miracle being performed on their behalf. However, the klal can be assured that the Jewish nation will survive and will reach its ultimate destiny. Therefore he recommends that each individual, to the best of his ability, connect himself to the klal. Commensurate with one's affiliation with the klal will be their assurance and insurance for their personal success. The manner in which one joins the klal may vary from teaching Torah to the not-yet learned, participating in public shiurim, to supporting klal institutions and involvement in klal chessed.

The Maharal's understanding of l'vaya is that the individual attains the additional merit of the klal, thereby affording him greater protection. Perhaps, one can say that in addition the individual becomes part of the klal by yielding his stance - showing flexibility for the benefit of the klal.

This summer with the disengagement of the twenty one communities of Gush Katif we witnessed an additional understanding of ya-deinu lo shafchu ha-dam hazeh - our hands did not spill this blood. With tensions and emotions especially high, the fifty thousand supporters who gathered in Kfar Maimon demonstrated incredible restraint. Instead of physical confrontation and violence, they responded to the twenty thousand soldiers and police officers by singing "chayal-shoter - ani ohaiv oscha - soldier policeman, I love you." The member families of Gush Katif realized that there was a higher goal to be attained, by keeping the integrity of the klal even over their holy rights.

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