“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.”
“There is a dot placed above each letter of the words “lanu u’l’vaneinu” (to us and to our children) to teach that even for open sins (God) did not punish the whole community until Israel crossed the Jordan and they accepted upon themselves the oath at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and thereby became responsible for one another (arevut).”
[Rashi, quoting Sanhedrin 43b]
We raise two basic questions on the comment of the Gemara/Rashi:
1) Why did the Israelites’ mutual responsibility begin only upon entering Eretz Yisrael? What is the distinction between the nation’s being on the western side of the River Jordan versus the eastern side?
2) Why was mutual responsibility not initiated at Mount Sinai, where “Am Yisrael encamped opposite the mountain” [Shemot 19:2], “as one person with a single heart”? [Rashi, based on Mechilta]
In order to answer these questions, we shall expand upon the meaning of “arevut,” which is hinted at in our posuk (verse) and stated explicitly by the Gemara/Rashi. Arevut is the responsibility of every individual Israelite to all other Israelites; to try to ensure that everyone will fulfill Torah in its entirety and to accept responsibility if an individual Israelite fails to fulfill God’s commands. In Talmudic terms, “arev” is a guarantor of a loan, who is responsible for repayment of the loan should the borrower himself not do so. The expression of the responsibility which every individual Israelite bears for the entire community is quite amazing – what is it about Eretz Yisrael which creates such a bond not only between Israelites and the Land, but between each and every Israelite?
First Answer – the Full Existence of the Nation of Israel Depends Upon Eretz Yisrael
One of the central verses which Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l quoted with great frequency is “Who is like Your nation Israel, one nation in the Land” [I Chronicles 17:21], it is specifically within Eretz Yisrael that Israel can be a united nation, to the exclusion of all other lands. This posuk is the key to understanding the concept of the unity of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) and the factors which create that unity, and necessarily the deep connection which Eretz Yisrael creates between individuals Israelites and their connection to the collective Israel and to fulfillment of Torah.
In order to explain the matter, it is necessary to understand the importance of Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael. Maharal of Prague [Netzacḥ Yisrael, chapter 1] explains the meaning of “makom” (place) as being related to “kiyum” (existence), that is, one’s place maintains him. Thus, Chazal (our Sages) comment “The grace of the place is upon its inhabitants,” [Gemara Sota 47a] meaning that one’s place of residence influences the person, both in outward traits and internally.
This is certainly true for Am Yisrael, whose life source is Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael is the conduit for the physical and spiritual existence of Am Yisrael within the world. Even more so, Rambam has written that we have a Divine promise that Eretz Yisrael will never be bereft of Jews, as he we read in his Sefer HaMitzvot [Positive Mitzva 153]:
Suppose we were to assume, for example, that the inhabitants of the Land of Israel disappeared – which God forbid, since He has promised that He will not altogether wipe out and uproot the remnant of the nation.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook z”tl used to comment that the air of Eretz Yisrael, in addition to conveying wisdom, as Chazal taught [Gemara Bava Batra 158b], also heals the bodies of Jews. His intention was that just as humans must live on land and not in the sea, and in places neither too cold nor too hot, so Eretz Yisrael is the natural habitat of each and every Jew.
We can learn the close connection to the Land also from Avraham Avinu, the founder of our nation. The first Divine command Avraham received was “lech l’cha, go to the Land I will show you” [Bereishit 12:1] because this is the basis of Am Yisrael’s national life.
It is therefore clear that the national body of Am Yisrael can be complete only within Eretz Yisrael, and this helps explain the connection between the Land and mutual responsibility. It is specifically when the body is healthy that its various organs can influence and “take responsibility” for other parts of the body. When the body is ill, each organ, as it were, must be concerned for itself and its own survival and cannot contribute to the vitality of other body parts. The parable is the nation of Israel as a body composed of many organs, with Eretz Yisrael representing the healthy body.
We must still explain the distinction between Am Yisrael’s entry into the Land and the revelation at Sinai, where the nation was “as one person with a single heart.”
Second Answer – Eretz Yisrael and Complete Fulfillment of Torah
In order to answer the above question, it is necessary to understand the importance of Eretz Yisrael in the Am Yisrael’s observance of mitzvot. The well-known phrase “mitzvot which depend upon the Land” reveals the lofty level of Eretz Yisrael. We do not say “the Land is dependent upon mitzvot,” rather the mitzvot themselves depend upon the Land. That is, the Land is greater and the lesser thing is dependent upon the greater – thus the mitzvot depend upon the Land. Eretz Yisrael has the quality of being the spiritual foundation of the mitzvot, indicating her unique sanctity in relation to mitzvot as well.
Midrash Sifrei states “Even though I exile you from the Land, be diligent in mitzvot, so they will not be novel to you when you return to the Land. The parable is of one who is angered by his wife and sends her to her father’s home, but says to her ‘Adorn yourself with jewelry. So wearing jewelry will not be novel when you return home.’ And so Yirmiyahu said [31:20] ‘Set up markers (tziyunim) for yourself,’ these are the mitzvot which Israel is diligent about (metzuyanim, a play on words).” Sifrei refers to mitzvot which are personal obligations and yet it states explicitly that they are to be fulfilled abroad only that they are not novel upon returning to the Land. This is so because the essential fulfillment of all mitzvot is for those who dwell in the Land of God.
Sifrei/Ramban assert that fulfillment of mitzvot in the Diaspora is merely a “marker,” only a means of remembering how to observe them when we return to Eretz Yisrael; mitzva observance outside the Land lacks the inherent significance and meaning of observance within the Land. This obviously stresses the greatness of fulfillment of mitzvot within the Land. Why is it that mitzva observance is complete only within Eretz Yisrael? The Ramban’s words indicate that Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for all of the Torah.
We are familiar with the trilogy – the Nation of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel. It is written that the Torah depends upon the nation and the Nation of Israel is dependent upon Torah, and the same is true of Eretz Yisrael, which is weighted as equal to all the mitzvot of Torah, since the Land is the foundation and root of Torah observance. More pointedly, the essential fulfillment of Torah is specifically within the Land, as Ramban eloquently explains.
We now understand that when Torah was given at Sinai it was not possible to institute mutual responsibility; only upon reaching Eretz Yisrael, the prime locale for complete fulfillment of mitzvot, with the Nation of Israel achieving the highest level of unity, was it possible to begin national mutual responsibility.
“Arevut” also means “sweetness;” it is not simply a dry responsibility or a burden which rests upon us – rather it is a sign of the lofty and unique level of Torah and of the wonderful unity of the Nation of Israel within its Land. It is a sign that we are privileged to breathe the air of our Holy Land. “Arevut” is an indication of the sweetness of Israel’s mutual responsibility.
In our days, we are privileged to live and settle all parts of our Holy Land and to encounter the laws of mutual responsibility in a glorious manner. We are privileged to study Torah together, to serve the state in the army and to contribute in all ways to the state’s development. We are able to connect with communities which had been distanced and scattered for two thousand years in a manner unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
We asked why the Children of Israel were obligated in mutual responsibility only upon entering the Land. In our first answer, we learned of the strong and significant connection between Eretz Yisrael and the Nation of Israel and how this connection contributed to the nation’s full development. In our second answer, we learned of the Land’s influence on Torah, which can achieve its ideal realization only in Eretz Yisrael. We saw that arevut, which is a sign of Israel’s unity, depends upon national unity and complete fulfillment of Torah, each of which is related to the Land, and therefore Israel’s mutual responsibility began only upon entering Eretz Yisrael.
May it be God’s will that we realize our mutual responsibility within Eretz Yisrael, being responsible one for another out of true love friendship and peace.