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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

The Arvut (Mutual Guarantee)

(Continued from “Matan Torah”)

All of Israel are responsible for one another

(Sanhedrin, 27b, Shavuot 39)


This is to speak of the Arvut (Mutual Guarantee), when all of Israel became responsible for one another. Because the Torah was not given to them before each and every one from Israel was asked if he agreed to take upon himself the Mitzva (precept) of loving others in the full measure, expressed in the words: “Love thy friend as thyself” (as explained in Items 2 and 3, examine it thoroughly there). This means that each and every one in Israel would take it upon himself to care and work for each member of the nation, and to satisfy all their every needs, no less than the measure imprinted in him to care for his own needs.

And once the whole nation unanimously agreed and said, “We shall do and we shall hear,” each member of Israel became responsible that nothing shall be missing from any other member of the nation. Only then did they become worthy of receiving the Torah, and not before.

With this collective responsibility, each member of the nation was liberated from worrying about the needs of his own body and could keep the Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself” in the fullest measure, and give all that he had to any needy person, since he no longer cared for the existence of his own body, as he knew for certain that he was surrounded by six hundred thousand loyal lovers, who were standing ready to provide for him.

For this reason, they were not ready to receive the Torah at the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but only when they came out of Egypt and became a complete nation. Only then was there a possibility to guarantee everyone’s needs without any care and concern.

However, while they were still mingled with the Egyptians, a portion of their needs was necessarily given into the hands of these savages, permeated with self-love. Thus, the portion that is given into the hands of foreigners will not be secured for any person from Israel because his friends will not be able to provide for those needs, as they will not be in possession of them. Consequently, as long as the individual is troubled with concerns for himself, he is unfit to even begin to keep the Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself.”

And you evidently find that the giving of the Torah had to be delayed until they came out of Egypt and became a nation of their own, so that all their needs were provided for by themselves, without dependence on others. This qualified them to receive the above Arvut, and then they were given the Torah. It turns out that even after the reception of the Torah, if a handful from Israel betray and return to the filth of self-love, without consideration of their friends, that same amount of need that is put in the hands of those few would burden Israel with the need to provide for it themselves.

This is because those few will not pity them at all; hence, the fulfillment of the Mitzva of loving one’s friend will be prevented from the whole of Israel. Thus, these rebels cause those who keep the Torah to remain in their filth of self-love, for they will not be able to engage in the Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself,” and complete their love for others without their help.

As a result, all of Israel are responsible for one another, both on the positive side and on the negative side. On the positive side, if they keep the Arvut until each cares and satisfies the needs of his friends, they can fully keep the Torah and Mitzvot, meaning bring contentment to their Maker (Item 13). And on the negative side, if a part of the nation does not want to keep the Arvut, but rather chooses to wallow in self-love, they cause the rest of the nation to remain immersed in their filth and lowliness without ever finding a way out of their filth.

18) Therefore, the Tana (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) described the Arvut as two people on a boat, when one of them began to drill a hole in the boat. His friend asked, “Why are you drilling?” He replied, “What business is it of yours? I am drilling under me, not under you.” So he replied, “Fool! We will both drown together!” (VaYikra Rabba, Chapter 4).

From this we learn that since those rebels wallow in self-love, by their actions they build an iron wall that prevents the observers of the Torah from even beginning to fully keep the Torah and Mitzvot in the measure of “Love thy friend as thyself,” which is the ladder for reaching Dvekut (adhesion) with Him. And how right were the words of the proverb that said, “Fool, we shall both drown together!”

19) Rabbi Elazar, son of Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai), clarifies this concept of Arvut even further. It is not enough for him that all of Israel be responsible for one another, but the whole world is included in that Arvut. Indeed, there is no dispute here, for everyone admits that to begin with, it is enough to start with one nation for the observance of the Torah for the beginning of the correction of the world. It was impossible to begin with all the nations at once, as they said that the Creator went with the Torah to every nation and tongue, and they did not want to receive it. In other words, they were immersed in the filth of self-love up to their necks, some with adultery, some with robbery and murder and so on, until it was impossible to conceive, in those days, to even ask if they agreed to retire from self-love.

Therefore, the Creator did not find a nation or a tongue qualified to receive the Torah, except for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose ancestral merit reflected upon them, as our sages said, “The Patriarchs observed the whole Torah even before it was given.” This means that because of the exaltedness of their souls, they had the ability to attain all the ways of the Creator with respect to the spirituality of the Torah, which stems from their Dvekut, without first needing the ladder of the practical part of the Torah, which they had no possibility of observing at all, as written in “Matan Torah,” Item 16.

Undoubtedly, both the physical purity and the mental exaltedness of our Holy Fathers greatly influenced their sons and their sons’ sons, and their righteousness reflected upon that generation, whose members all assumed that sublime work, and each and every one stated clearly, “We shall do and we shall hear.” Because of that, we were chosen, out of necessity, to be a chosen people from among all the nations. Hence, only the members of the Israeli nation were admitted into the required Arvut, and not the nations of the world at all, because they did not participate in it. And this is the plain reality, and how could Rabbi Elazar disagree with it?

20) But the end of the correction of the world will only be by bringing all the people in the world under His work, as it is written, “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One, and His name one” (Zechariah, 14:9). And the text specifies, “on that day,” and not before. And there are several more verses, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord…” (Isaiah, 11:9) “…and all the nations shall flow on to him” (Isaiah, 2:2).

But the role of Israel towards the rest of the world resembles the role of our Holy Fathers towards the Israeli nation: just as the righteousness of our fathers helped us develop and cleanse until we became worthy of receiving the Torah, were it not for our fathers, who observed the whole of Torah before it was given, we would certainly not be any better than the rest of the nations (Item 12).

Also, it is upon the Israeli nation to qualify itself and all the people of the world through Torah and Mitzvot, to develop until they take upon themselves that sublime work of the love of others, which is the ladder to the purpose of Creation, which is Dvekut with Him.

Thus, each and every Mitzva that each person from Israel performs in order to bring contentment to one’s Maker, and not for any self gratification, helps, to some extent, with the development of all the people of the world. This is because it is not done at once, but by slow, gradual development, until it increases to such a degree that it can bring all the people in the world to the desired purity. And this is what our sages call “shifting the balance to virtue,” meaning that the necessary weight of purity has been reached. And they compare it to weighing on a scale, where the shifting of the balance is the attainment of the desired weight.

21) These are the words of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, who said that the world is judged by its majority. He was referring to the role of the Israeli nation to qualify the world for a certain measure of purity, until they are worthy of taking upon themselves His work, no less than Israel were worthy at the time they received the Torah. In the words of our sages, it is considered that they had attained enough virtues to overcome the scale of sin, which is the filthy self-love.

Of course, if the scale of virtues, which is the sublime attainment of the benefit of loving others, transcends the filthy scale of sin, they become qualified for the decision and the agreement to say, “We shall do and we shall hear,” as Israel said. But before that, before they obtained sufficient virtues, self-love would certainly prevail and sentence that they will refuse to assume His burden.

Our sages said, “Who performs one Mitzva is happy, for he has sentenced himself and the whole world to a scale of merit.” This means that an individual from Israel finally adds his own part to the final decision, as one who weighs sesame seeds and adds them one by one to the scale, until the balance shifts. Certainly, everyone takes part in this shifting, and without him, the sentencing would never be completed. Similarly, it is said about the acts of an individual from Israel that he sentences the whole world to a scale of merit. This is because when the matter ends and the whole world has been sentenced to a scale of merit, each and every one will have a share in this shifting, for were it not for his actions, the shifting would have been deficient.

Thus you find that Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, does not dispute the words of our sages that all of Israel is responsible for one another. Rather, Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon, speaks of the correction of the whole world at the time of the end of correction, whereas our sages speak of the present, when only Israel has assumed the Torah.

22) And this is what Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, quotes from the writings: “One sinner destroyeth much good.” This is because it has already been explained (Item 20) that the impression that comes to a person when engaging in Mitzvot between man and God is completely the same as the impression he gets when engaging in Mitzvot between man and man. He is obliged to perform all the Mitzvot Lishma (for Her name), without any hope for self-love, meaning that no light or hope returns to him through his trouble in the form of reward or honor, etc. Here, in this exalted point, the love of the Creator and the love of his friend unite and actually become one (see Item 15).

Thus he affects a certain measure of advancement on the ladder of love for others in all the people of the world in general. This is because that degree, which that individual caused by his actions, whether large or small, ultimately joins the future in shifting the world to a scale of merit, since his share has been added and joins the shift (as written in Item 20 in the allegory about the sesame seeds).

And one who commits one sin, which means that he cannot overcome and conquer his filthy self-love, and hence steals or does something of the sort, sentences himself and the whole world to the scale of sin. This is because with the disclosure of the filth of self-love, the lowly nature of Creation is reinforced. Thus, he subtracts a certain amount from the sentencing to the final scale of merit. This is similar to a person removing from the scale that single sesame seed his friend had put there.

Thus, to that extent, he slightly elevates the scale of sin. It turns out that he regresses the world, as they said, “One sinner destroyeth much good.” Because he could not overcome his petty lust, he pushed the spirituality of the whole world backwards.

23) With these words, we clearly understand what we said above (Item 5), about the Torah being given specifically to the Israeli nation, because it is certain and unequivocal, that the purpose of Creation lies on the shoulders of the whole of the human race, black, white or yellow, without any essential difference.

But because of the descent of human nature to the lowest degree, which is the self-love that unrestrictedly rules over all of humanity, there was no way to negotiate with them and persuade them to agree to take upon themselves, even as an empty promise, to exit their narrow world into the wide spaces of the love of others. The exception was the Israeli nation because they were enslaved in the savage kingdom of Egypt four hundred years in horrible torments.

Our sages said, “As salt sweetens meat, agony polishes man’s sins.” This means that they bring to the body great purification. And in addition, the purification of their Holy Fathers assisted them (see Item 16), which is the most important, as some of the verses of the Torah testify.

Because of these two forewords, they were qualified for it. And this is why the text refers to them in singular form, as it is written, “and there Israel camped before the mountain,” which our sages interpret as “one man in one heart.”

This is because each and every person from the nation completely detached himself from self-love, and wanted only to benefit his friend, as we have shown above (Item 16) regarding the meaning of the Mitzva, “Love thy friend and thyself.” It turns out that all the individuals in the nation have come together and become one heart and one man, for only then were they qualified to receive the Torah.

24) Thus, because of the above necessity, the Torah was given specifically to the Israeli nation, solely to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for it was inconceivable that any stranger would take part in it. Because of that, the Israeli nation had been constructed as a sort of gateway by which the sparks of purity would shine upon the whole of the human race the world over.

And these sparks multiply daily, like one who gives to the treasurer, until they are filled sufficiently, that is, until they develop to such an extent that they can understand the pleasantness and tranquility that are found in the kernel of love of others. For then they will know how to shift the balance to the right, and will place themselves under His burden, and the scale of sin will be eradicated from the world.

25) Now there remains to complete what we have said above (Item 16) about the reason why the Torah was not given to our fathers, because the Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself,” the axis of the whole Torah and around which all the Mitzvot revolve, so as to clarify and interpret it, cannot be observed by an individual, but only through the consent of an entire nation.

And this is why it took until they came out of Egypt, when they became worthy of observing it. And then they were first asked if each and every one of the nation agreed to take that Mitzva upon himself. And once they agreed to it, they were given the Torah. However, there still remains to clarify where we find in the Torah that the children of Israel were asked that question, and that they all agreed to it prior to receiving the Torah.

26) Bear in mind that these things are evident to every educated person in the invitation that the Creator had sent to Israel through Moses, prior to the reception of the Torah. It is as it is written (Exodus, 19:5), “‘Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’ And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said: ‘All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do.’ And Moses reported the words of the people unto the Lord.”

These words do not seem to fit their role, because common sense dictates that if one offers one’s friend to do some work, and he wants him to agree, he should give him an example of the nature of that work and its reward. Only then can the receiver examine it, whether to decline or to accept.

But here, in these two verses, we seem to find neither an example of the work nor its reward, because he says, “If ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant,” and he does not interpret the voice or the covenant and what they apply to. And then he says, “Then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine.”

It is not clear whether He commands us to labor to be a treasure [12] from among all peoples, or whether this is a promise of good to us.

We must also understand the connection to the words, “for all the earth is Mine.” All three interpreters – Unkalus, Yonatan Ben Uziel, and The Yerushalmi – and all the interpreters – Rashi, Ramban, etc. – try to correct the literal meaning of this writing. Even Ezra says, in the name of Rabbi Marinos, that the word “for” means “although,” and he interprets, “then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; although all the earth is Mine.” Even Ezra himself tends to agree with it, but that interpretation does not coincide with our sages, who said that “for” serves for four meanings: “either,” “lest,” “but,” and “that.”

And he even adds a fifth interpretation: “although.” And then the writing ends, “and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” But here, too, it is not self-evident if this is a Mitzva, and one must delve into it, or a promise of benefit. Also, the words, “a kingdom of priests,” are not repeated and are not explained anywhere in the Bible.

The important thing here is to determine the difference between “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation.” For by the ordinary meaning of priesthood, it is one with sanctity, and it is thus obvious that a kingdom where all are priests must be a holy nation, so the words “holy nation” seem redundant.

27) However, by all that we have explained from the beginning of the essay until now, we learn the true meanings of the words as their roles should be – to resemble a negotiation of offer and consent. This means that with these words, He really does offer them the whole form and content of the work in Torah and Mitzvot, and its worthwhile reward.

The work in Torah and Mitzvot is expressed in the words, “and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests.” A kingdom of priests means that all of you, from youngest to oldest, will be like priests. Just as the priests have no land or any corporeal possessions because the Creator is their domain, so will the entire nation be organized so that the whole earth and everything in it will be dedicated to the Creator only. And no person should have any other engagement in it but to keep the Mitzvot of the Creator and to satisfy the needs of his fellow person. Thus he will lack none of his wishes, so that no person will need to have any worry about himself.

This way, even mundane works such as harvesting, sowing, etc. are considered to be precisely like the work with the sacrifices that the priests performed in the Temple. How is it different if I keep the Mitzva of making sacrifices to the Creator, which is a positive [13]Mitzva, or if I can keep the positive Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself”? It turns out that he who harvests his field in order to feed his fellow person is the same as he who sacrifices to the Creator. Moreover, it seems that the Mitzva, “Love thy friend as thyself,” is more important than he who makes the sacrifice, as we have shown above (Items 14, 15).

Indeed, this is not the end of it yet, because the whole of the Torah and the Mitzvot were given for the sole purpose of cleansing Israel, which is the cleansing of the body (see Item 12), after which he will be granted the true reward, which is Dvekut with Him, the purpose of Creation (Item 15). And that reward is expressed in the words, “a holy nation.” Through the Dvekut with Him, we have become sanctified, as it is written, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

And you see that the words “a kingdom of priests” express the complete form of the work on the axis of “Love thy friend as thyself,” meaning a kingdom that is all priests, that the Creator is their possession, and they have no self-possession of all the mundane possessions. And we must admit that this is the only definition through which we can understand the words, “a kingdom of priests.” For you cannot interpret it with regard to the sacrifices on the altar, for that could not have been said of the whole nation, for who would be making the sacrifices?

Also, with regard to taking the gifts of the priesthood, who would be the givers? And also, to interpret the holiness of the priests, it has already been said, “a holy nation.” Therefore, this must certainly mean that it is only that the Creator is their domain, that they lack any material possession for themselves, meaning the full measure of the words, “Love thy friend as thyself,” which encompasses the whole of the Torah. And the words “a holy nation” express the full form of the reward, which is the Dvekut.

28) Now we fully understand the previous words, for he says, “Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant,” meaning make a covenant on what I am telling you here, that ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples. This means that you will be My treasure, and sparks of purification and cleansing of the body shall pass through you onto all the peoples and the nations of the world, for the nations of the world are not yet ready for it. And at any rate, I need one nation to start with now, so it will be as a remedy for all the nations. And therefore he ends, “for all the earth is Mine,” meaning all the peoples of the earth belong to Me, as do you, and are destined to cleave to Me (Item 20).

But now, while they are still incapable of performing that task, I need a virtuous people. And if you agree to be the remedy for all the nations, I command you to “be unto Me a kingdom of priests,” which is the love of others in its final form of “Love thy friend as thyself,” which is the axis of all the Torah and Mitzvot. And “a holy nation” is the reward in its final form of Dvekut with Him, which includes all the rewards that can even be conceived.

These are the words of our sages in clarifying the ending, “These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” They made the precision , “These are the words,” no more and no less. This is perplexing: How can you say that Moses would add or subtract from the words of the Creator to the point that the Creator had to warn him about it? And we find none like him in the whole of the Torah. On the contrary, the Torah says about him: “for he is the trusted one in all my house” (Numbers 12:7).

29) Now we can fully understand that concerning the form of work in its last manner, as explained in the words “a kingdom of priests,” which is the final definition of “Love thy friend as thyself,” it was indeed conceivable for Moses to restrain himself and refrain from disclosing the full outline of the work all at once, lest Israel would not want to detach themselves from all material possessions and give all their fortune and assets to the Creator, as instructed by the words, “a kingdom of priests.”

It is much like the RAMBAM wrote, that women and small children must not be told the matter of the clean work, which must be in order to not be rewarded, and wait until they grow, become wise, and have the courage to execute it. Therefore, the Creator gave him the above warning, “no less,” but offered them the true nature of the work, in all its sublimity, expressed in the words “a kingdom of priests.”

And regarding the reward that is defined in the words “a holy nation,” it was possible for Moses to contemplate interpreting and elaborating further about the pleasantness and the sublime subtleness that come with Dvekut with Him, to persuade them to accept this extreme, to completely detach themselves from any worldly possessions, as do priests. Hence, he was warned, “no more,” but be vague and not explain the whole reward included in the words, “a holy nation.”

The reason for it is, had he told them about the wondrous things in the essence of the reward, they would necessarily use and assume His work in order to obtain that wonderful reward for themselves. This would be considered working for themselves, for self-love. That, in turn, would falsify the whole purpose (Item 13).

Thus we see that regarding the form of the work expressed in the words “a kingdom of priests,” he was told, “no less.” And about the unclear measure of the reward, expressed in the words, “a holy nation,” he was told, “no more.”

[1] Translator’s note: the Biblical text in Hebrew uses the word Segula, which actually means remedy, or power, but here the text translates as ‘treasure.’

[2] Translator’s note: a Mitzva to perform some action.

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