Mutual Responsibility by Avi Levinson


After recounting all the terrible things that will happen to Bnei Yisrael if they do not uphold the Torah, Moshe says (Devarim 28:69), “Eileh Divrei HaBerit Asher Tzivah Hashem Et Moshe Lichrot Et Bnei Yisrael BeEretz Moav MiLevad HaBerit Asher Karat Eetam BeChoreiv,” “These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe to seal with Bnei Yisrael in the land of Moav, besides for the covenant that He sealed with them at Choreiv (Har Sinai).”  Why was this second covenant necessary?  Why couldn’t the covenant sealed at Har Sinai suffice?

Before properly examining this issue, it is important to note that it is somewhat unclear which Brit is the covenant to which the Pasuk refers.  The Pasuk might refer to the previous section, which talked about the consequences of not following Hashem’s will, or it could refer to Parshat Nitzavim, the section which immediately follows this Pasuk.  Since the Pasuk in question is separated from both the preceding and following sections by paragraph breaks, we cannot definitively link it to either part textually.  The fact that the Pasuk is part of chapter 28 (the Tochecha) is also not of any significance because the Perakim were not divided by Jews; therefore, the location of the Pasuk within chapter 28 cannot shed any relevant light on the true association of the Pasuk.  Due to this and other unclear implications from the Pesukim, some suggest that the Brit actually refers to both of the adjacent sections.  Working with this explanation, Rav Hershel Schachter suggests a possible reason for the second Brit.  In Parshat Nitzavim (Devarim 29:13-14), Moshe makes it clear that “Lo Eetechem Levadechem Anochi Koreit Et HaBerit HaZot… Ki Et Asher Yeshno Po… VeEit Asher Einenu Po Eemanu HaYom,” “Not with you alone do I seal this (second) covenant… but with whomever is here… and with whomever is not here with us today.”  In other words, it is this Brit that binds all future generations to keep the Torah.  The Brit Sinai, on the other hand, only obligated the generation that heard it.  This leaves the question, why did Hashem have to wait until Bnei Yisrael had spent forty years in the desert to bind future generations?  Why couldn’t He have done so at the Brit Sinai?

Rav Schachter explains that when Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim, they were just a group of individuals.  Fresh out of the “iron crucible” (Devarim 4:20) of Egypt, it was difficult for them to shed the slave-mentality.  A slave does not have the time or energy to look out for others.  He can only afford to worry about himself.  In such a state, Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah and the Brit Sinai.  In line with this, the Tochecha at the end of Vayikra, which sealed this Brit, was said in plural.  Hashem was speaking to a group of individuals.  Such a group could not obligate future generations to keep the Torah - an individual who accepted the Torah upon himself does not bind a person who lives after him.  However, after forty years of wandering together in the desert, Bnei Yisrael had coalesced into a single cohesive unit.  They had become Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel.  Fittingly, the Tochecha which seals the second Brit is written in singular, because Moshe was addressing a single, complete unit.  Now that Bnei Yisrael had become a nation, they could bind future generations of that nation to keep the Torah, as it was now a national responsibility.  In fact, Chazal say that the principle of Arvut, mutual responsibility for each other, did not come into effect until the second Brit was sealed.  Mutual responsibility could not exist until there was a single unit to be responsible for.  Individuals with no common purpose have no reason to watch out for one another.

In its very sealing, this Brit promoted a sense of unity necessary for Arvut.  Moshe instructs the people that upon entering the land, they should formally ratify the Brit on Har Gerizim and Har Eival.  Six Shevatim were to stand on each mountain. Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Yosef and Binyamin would stand on Har Gerizim, while Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan and Naftali would stand on Har Eival.  The division of these Shevatim seems random.  One explanation for the mixing is that Moshe wanted to promote a sense of unity among the children of the different wives of Yaakov.  For this reason, he placed Reuven and Zevulun, children of Leah, on the mountain with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah.  The children of Leah might have had a tendency to look down upon the children of the maidservants, so Moshe placed them together to show that they are all on equal footing.  Only through this realization could there be Arvut.  If Bnei Leah would feel superior to the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, they might not feel any responsibility to help them.  Similarly, some of Bnei Leah were placed on Har Gerizim with Bnei Rachel.  Bnei Rachel had been the source of much strife (such as Mechirat Yosef).  Moshe was hinting to Bnei Leah that they had to cooperate with Bnei Rachel in forming a unified nation whose members would look out for each other.

Appropriately, this Brit was sealed in a place called Arvot Moav, the plains of Moav.  The letters of the word Arvot and Arvut (Ayin Reish Bet Vav Tav) are exactly the same.  The very location would serve as a reminder to Bnei Yisrael to maintain the feeling of Arvut that existed in Arvot Moav. 

Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching, a time for introspection and self-evaluation.  One thing that must be considered is how much we help our fellow Jews.  Do we take responsibility for them?  Do we pick up the slack if they are unable to continue?  Do we help them when they feel down?  Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh, we are all responsible for each other.  By internalizing this message, we can improve our performance of Bein Adam LaChaveiro, (between man and man) Mitzvot, and hopefully merit a Ketivah VaChatimah Tovah. 

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