Communal Reward by Pinny Rapp


Parashat Eikev includes the second Parashah of Keriat Shema. Rashi explains (Devarim 11:13 s.v. BeChol Levavechem UVechol Nafshechem) that the Torah repeats "BeChol Levavechem UVechol Nafshechem," “with all of your heart and with all of your soul” to teach us that Moshe Rabbeinu commanded each Jew to love Hashem with all of his heart and soul. However, there is a question that must be asked. We are already told in the first Parashah of Shema that we must love Hashem with all of our hearts and souls. Why must this directive be repeated here?

 The Ramban (ad loc. s.v. BeChol LeVavchem UVechol Nafshechem), in an effort to answer our question, focuses on an omission rather than a repetition. He asks why the Torah describes the bountiful rewards for Ahavat Hashem and Mitzvah observance in the second Parashah of the Shema, when all mention of reward and punishment is omitted from the first Parashah. Both of these questions can be answered using the following observation. The first Parashah of the Shema is written in the singular form, as if the Torah is speaking to each one of us individually. The second Parashah, on the other hand, is written in the plural, as if the nation as a whole is being addressed.

 Of the 613 Mitzvot, most of them are incumbent upon each and every individual, such as Shabbat, Kashrut, Lulav and Shofar. There are others, however, which can only be performed by the nation as a whole, such as Kiddush HaChodesh and the various Korbanot Tzibur. Rashi, as understood by Maharal, explains that the first Parashah warns each individual to perform his or her personal Mitzvot “with all of your heart and with all of your soul" (ad loc.). The repetition of this phrase in the second Parashah is to stress that this level of commitment and feeling is equally important for Mitzvot done by the community as a whole. The concept of a communal "heart" and a communal "soul" is not something that is immediately apparent, yet, it not only exists, but it is absolutely vital when performing those Mitzvot that are of a communal nature.

 In answer to his question, Ramban further explains that the abundant rewards described in the second Parashah are miraculous benefits that the community merits in this world. These rewards are only guaranteed in the event of Mitzvah observance by all, or at least most, of the community. For the individual, on the other hand, there is no guarantee that his or her Mitzvah observance will yield rewards in this world. Therefore, these same rewards are omitted in the first Parashah, which speaks to the individual only.

 Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains Ramban's interpretation in greater depth. We recognize that sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa. We rationalize these contradictions by realizing that, for the individual, true reward and punishment can only be realized in the World to Come. Sometimes good people suffer in this world as a punishment for a relatively small amount of sins so that their experience in Olam HaBa will be more rewarding. On the other hand, evil people are often rewarded for a few good deeds, and therefore prosper in this world, only to receive the full measure of punishment in the next world—where it truly counts. This formula can only work for individuals, whose reward and punishment are ultimately in Olam HaBa. There is, however, no concept of reward and punishment in Olam HaBa when it comes to the nation as a whole. Therefore, explains Rav Wasserman, when dealing with the community, everything happens in this world; in essence, “what you see is what you get.” If a community is good, it merits tremendous reward immediately. When it comes to the individual, this is not always the case. A person's success or failure in this world may bear no correlation to his level of Mitzvah performance. For this reason, the Torah only makes promises reward in the second Parashah, where it speaks to the nation as a whole. These promises are omitted in the first Parashah, when the individual is being spoken to.

 We have to commit ourselves to serving Hashem no matter how things seem to be turning out. The lesson of this Parashah is that we can’t tell how a person is doing merely based on their circumstances. All we can do is have faith in Hashem and continue to do the best that we can.

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