Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Rosh Hashana: A Time to Think About Someone Else
Parshas Nitzavim is always read right before Rosh Hashana. At first glance, the connection between the two seems to be the fact that at the end of the parsha the Torah mentions the mitzvah of teshuva. The posuk says, "This mitzvah that I command you today is not difficult for you...it is in your mouth and your heart to do it (30:11, 14)." The Ramban explains that this refers to the mitzvah of teshuva. It seems logical that before the Day of Judgement we should read a parsha that mentions the concept of teshuva. But perhaps there is another connection between Parshas Nitzavim and Rosh Hashana.
In the beginning of the parsha, the Torah discusses the concept of arvus - that each member of Klal Yisrael is responsible for his fellow Jews. The posuk says, "The hidden aveiros are for Hashem, but the revealed ones are for us and our children forever (29:28)." Chazal explain that this means that if a Jew does an aveirah publicly, and others can stop him but they do not, then they are also held accountable. "Kol Yisrael avreivim zeh bazeh - all Jews are responsible for each other (Shavuos 39a)."
This is one application of the concept of arvus. But the concept of arvus extends far beyond this situation. In its ultimate sense, arvus means that every Jew must take responsibility for the welfare of every other Jew. The first example of arvus in the Torah is when Yehuda tells Yaakov Avinu that he will take responsibility for Binyamin. "I will personally guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him (Mikeitz, 43:9)." Yehuda was willing to risk his own future to protect Binyamin. That is what arvus means in the fullest sense of the word - to care about another Jew to the extent that one is even willing to sacrifice for him. The principle of arvus requires that a Jew should never see himself as just an individual. But rather, he should always view himself as part of Klal Yisrael.
This mindset - seeing oneself as part of the tzibbur - is the kind of perspective a person should have on Rosh Hashana. In Sefer Melachim II, the Navi describes how the Isha HaShunamis (the woman from Shuneim) provided for Elisha HaNavi"s needs. At one point, Elisha asked her if he could do her a favor in return. "Can I speak to the king on your behalf? (4:13)" The Zohar (Noach, Beshalach) explains that Elisha spoke to her on Rosh Hashana and he was asking if he could daven for her. He was saying, "Can I ask something of the Melech HaMishpat (the King of Judgement) on your behalf?" But the Isha HaShunamis responds, "No, please don't do anything special for me. I would just like to be amongst my people." Chazal praise the Isha HaShunamis for this statement, because it showed that she understood that in times of crisis, it is always better to be part of a tzibbur.
This idea is echoed by the Gemara (Brachos 30a), "A person should always join together with the community." The Gemara explains that for this reason, Chazal formulated tefilla in the plural form - "Remember us for life...inscribe us in the Book of Life...purify our hearts to serve You in truth." Chazal instituted that we use the plural form in tefilla so that a person should never stand alone.
Why is this so important? One answer is that when a person joins together with the community and expresses his tefilla as part of the community, he acquires the merits of the community. The Meshech Chochmah writes (Beshalach 14:24) that an individual is punished more than a tzibbur. Only an individual is subject to the punishment of kareis, not a tzibbur. When there is unity in a group, the individuals of that group can be saved from punishments they would have been worthy of as individuals. Similarly, when a person connects to a community, his individual faults are considered insignificant compared to the merits of the community. That makes it easier for him to merit a favorable judgement.
This is one goal of davening in the plural form - to put oneself together with the tzibbur. But there is another purpose as well. By formulating tefilla in the plural form, Chazal wanted to remind us that we should daven not only for ourselves, but for others as well. It is not enough to simply daven together with the tzibbur. To truly connect with the tzibbur, we must daven for other members of Klal Yisrael as well. That is why Chazal instituted that we conclude the Shemoneh Esrei during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva by saying, "We should be remembered and inscribed before You in the Book of Life, we and Your entire people, the House of Israel." We emphasize that we care not just about ourselves and our families. We care about all of Klal Yisrael.
This is the ultimate level of arvus - to empathize with another Jew, to care for him and to share his pain. When we daven for other Jews and we show that we care about them, we truly unite together with the tzibbur of Klal Yisrael, and that can help us tap into the merit of the tzibbur.
May each one of us be inscribed this Rosh Hashana - we and all of Klal Yisrael - for a year of health and happiness and much bracha.