“You are all standing today before Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 29:9).
On the last day of his life, Moshe Rabbeinu concluded his 36-day-long “last words” to the Jewish people by commanding them to enter into a new covenant. This covenant was one that made every Jew responsible for every other member of the Jewish people. Arvut — guarantee — was the nature of the promise.
When one enters into a contract and the party extending credit is not 100 percent sure of the creditworthiness of the other party, the lender may ask for guarantees. A third party co-signs the document, making him responsible should the party to the deal fail to fulfill his obligations. The people accepted responsibility for the actions of their fellow Jews.
Once there was a group of people travelling on an ocean liner. Suddenly the alarms began to ring. The crew scurried about, herding the passengers to the deck and the lifeboats that were hurriedly being lowered to safety. Other crew members searched for the cause of the trouble. As the ship slowly sank into the water, they found a steerage-class passenger in his cabin drilling holes in the bottom of the ship. “What are you doing? Are you crazy? Stop drilling or we will all go down under!” they exclaimed.
“It is none of your business,” replied the busy saboteur. “This is my cabin and I can do whatever I want to in here.”
The lesson is clear. No Jew stands alone; the actions of one affect all of his or her fellow Jews.
Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, said that this guarantor role is not merely a responsibility regarding reward and punishment. The Tomer Devorah, a classic written by Harav Moshe Cordovero, zt”l, says that the Jewish people are actually connected and each member of our nation is a part of one holy neshamah (soul). The joint responsibility of one Jew to another is based on the fact that each has a portion of the soul of all others actually inside his or her soul. Therefore, should one do a mitzvah, one enhances the other souls contained within oneself. Conversely, should one commit a transgression, one damages the souls of every other Jew.
The Gemara (Yoma 86b) says: “For the sake of one who does teshuvah, Heaven forgives the entire world.” How can this be? Could one’s repentance benefit those who have not repented? The explanation is that in the soul of the one who does repent are “portions” of all other Jews in the world, and those fragments of spirituality, at least, gain from the teshuvah of the penitent.
Today, more than ever, the Jews of the world need unity. Each one must feel that his or her actions are crucial to the results of the judgment of our people on this Rosh Hashanah. Each must feel responsible for the fate of all of us. May each of us do his or her share of repentance and good deeds in these crucial final days of the year to tilt the scale to the side of merit and mercy for the unified Jewish people.