During the Tochachah, the rebuke given to Bnei Yisrael, in Parashat BeChukotai, the Torah states, “VeChashlu Ish BeAchiv,” “And they shall stumble over one another” (VaYikra 26:37). Rashi (ad loc. s.v.VeChashlu Ish BeAchiv) explains that the simple understanding of this phrase is that when the Jewish people are being chased by their enemies, they will stumble over each other as they are running for their lives. Rashi also points out based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 27b) that this phrase refers to Jews “falling” over another Jew’s sins, because every Jew is responsible for each other. The Gemara explains that this means that a Jew can be held responsible and even punished for the sin of another Jew. Therefore, if someone sees their fellow Jew speak Lashon HaRa or violate Shabbat, then the witness can be punished for that sin, even though he himself did not commit the sin.
The Torah Temimah poses a question on this Gemara, as it expresses an extremely difficult concept. Why would Hashem punish someone for another’s sin even when the person committed no sin of his own? The Torah Temimah explains that this concept of Areivut, of responsibility for every Jew, means that all Jews must try to prevent other Jews from doing sins. All Jews must make a sincere effort to do this, and if we do so, we will not be punished. Only if we had the opportunity to correct our sinning brothers and we neglected to do so will we be held responsible.
We must ask what prompted the Gemara to give a Midrashic, not-literal, explanation to the phrase “VeChaslu Ish BeAchiv;” was the simple explanation not satisfying? The Gur Aryeh explains that if the Torah simply wanted to teach about a Jew stumbling over another Jew while he is running away from his enemies, it would have used the singular form of “VeChasheil Ish BeAchiv,” “and one man will stumble over his fellow man.” However, the text contains the plural form of “VeChashlu,” meaning that many Jews will fall over another Jew. The Gur Aryeh explains that this plural form of “stumbling” does not refer to many Jews physically falling over one Jew. Rather, it must mean that many Jews can be held responsible for even a single Jew’s sin. The Siftei Chachamim explains that the Gemara focuses on the particular word “Achiv,” “his brother,” to refer to a fellow Jew. This means that all Jews have a family-like responsibility to prevent others from sinning.
We are currently in the middle of Sefirat HaOmer, when we mourn the loss of Rabi Akiva’s 24,000 students who died. It is an especially suitable time to read the Tochachah this Shabbat in order to realize that Rabi Akiva’s students were killed because these great men disrespected each other and could have corrected each other’s misdeeds. Each one had that power, yet none of them prevented their fellow Jew from being disrespectful. We are told about these students that, “Lo Nahagu Kavod Zeh BaZeh,” “They did not act respectfully one to another” (Yevamot 62b). Perhaps this is another way of saying that they did not live up to the phrase, “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh,” “All Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavu’ot 39a). In other words, we are our brother’s keeper and must ensure that they do not sin. We should all take this lesson to heart and make sure to take responsibility for our fellow Jews and make sure that they do not sin. If we properly fulfill this very serious obligation, then we will leave the state of mourning and celebrate the upcoming Shavu’ot as a community.