A Jew doesn’t act as an individual, but as part of the klal
“Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem and they died.” (Vayikra 16:1)
There are several opinions in Chazal regarding the actual sin of Bnei Aharon. (Rav Dessler actually brings 15 opinions.) But whatever their sin was, the pasuk emphasizes that it was “when they approached before Hashem.” They weren’t distanced from Hashem, but the opposite. It was only due to their extreme closeness to Hashem that He saw fit to punish them. Hashem deals more strictly with those close to Him. Why?
Picture a pile of scrap metal. Do we care if there are scratches or deficiencies? In contrast, when dealing with gold, aren’t we exact to the slightest gram? Hashem doesn’t deal strictly with the wicked because they’re like scrap metal. The tzaddikim, on the other hand, are precious (Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl).
I was driving down an unfamiliar street in Yerushalayim when suddenly my lane disappeared. Drivers in Israel are used to this and I quickly glanced in my rearview mirror and managed to get into the next lane. A loud horn blasted me from behind.
Sorry. But hey, this is standard practice over here. You don’t count on lanes continuing. Nor do you count on the car next to you staying in its lane.
Shrugging it off, I continued driving until I reached a traffic light. (We do stop at red here… for now.)
During Sefirah, we mourn the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s students. Here, too, the reason they were judged so harshly was because they were students of Rabi Akiva. But what exactly was their sin? Did they physically harm or curse each other? No! Rather, they didn’t act with mutual respect.
Suppose one of the chairs in your home didn’t stand completely upright? It would be of little concern. Imagine what would happen, though, if a spaceship left its launchpad at the slightest wrong angle.
The tzaddikim are a “ladder set earthward with its top reaching heavenward.” The slightest blemish at the bottom has great ramifications at the top.
To my surprise, a car pulled up on my right, and the driver began screaming at me through her open window. While my window was closed and I couldn’t hear every word, her finger circling her temple in the classic gesture for “Nuts!” made it clear she thought I was at fault for cutting her off earlier.
Had I swerved too fast? Did I actually cut her off? I made a peace gesture, but she wasn’t having it. When the light turned green she continued driving next to me, screaming. And at the next light she continued her furious harangue.
Whoa. This was getting out of hand. I was sorry if I’d cut her off. Sorry, too, that whoever designed this road had decided that the left lane had to go suddenly.
But nothing had actually happened. I get cut off constantly when driving. It’s part of life. Why was she so bent out of shape?
We, too, must learn from this as we approach Matan Torah. Rashi tells us the Jews camped at Sinai with unity. The Torah wasn’t given to individuals, but to a united nation. All Jews are responsible for one another. In unison, “We will do and we will hear” — in plural.
Matan Torah is referred to as “the day of the congregation.” We became a “congregation” — not a collection of individuals, not even twelve separate tribes, but one nation, one unit. A Jew doesn’t act as an individual, but as part of the klal.
Fast forward three more lights, and I was still under attack. When it was finally time for me to turn off, I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief. But I couldn’t, because this exchange had really gotten to me. I’d gotten someone else, a fellow Jew, so angry at me that she needed to spew for a few miles. And she probably didn’t miraculously calm down the minute she couldn’t see me anymore.
It bothered me that I’d been the cause of such anger. I wished I’d had the guts to roll down my window and apologize properly. Although it probably wouldn’t have appeased her, maybe I’d have felt better.
What else could I do? Arriving home, I thought of an idea. Opening my Tehillim, I said a kapitel for this woman, this stranger, whose path I crossed today. May she always be zocheh to life in the calm lane.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 840)
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