All of Israel is responsible for one another (Sanhedrin, 27, 72)
This is to speak of the bond
when all of Israel became responsible for one another. Because the
Torah was not given to them before each of them was asked if he
would take upon himself the mitzvah (precept) of loving others in
the full measure expressed in the words: “Love thy neighbour as
thyself”. That means that each and every one in Israel took upon
himself to care and work for each member of the nation and satisfy
their every need; no less than the amount 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 (Exodus
24, 7)”, then each member of Israel became responsible that nothing
shall be missing from any other member of the nation, and only then
did they become worthy of receiving the Torah. With this
encompassing responsibility each member of the nation became free of
worrying for the needs of his own body, and could observe the
mitzvah of “Love thy neighbour as thyself” in the fullest extent and
give each needy member everything he has, since he no longer cared
for the existence of his own body, as he now knows that six hundred
thousand loyal lovers stand ready to provide for him.
Because of that 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 there was a possibility that each would be guaranteed for
his every need without a single concern.
And you evidently find that
the giving of the Torah had to be delayed until they came out of
Egypt and became a nation on their own, meaning until all their
needs were satisfied by themselves without needing outside help,
which qualified them to receive the above responsibility. Then they
were given the Torah. It turns out that because of that, even after
the reception of the Torah, if a handful of 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.
Because those few will not
pity the people at all and the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving
one’s neighbour is prevented from all of Israel. Thus, those rebels
cause those who observe Torah and mitzvot to remain in their filth
of self-love, for they cannot observe the precept of “Love thy
neighbour as thyself”, and complete their love without their help.
Thus you see that Israel is responsible for one another, both on the
positive side and on the negative. Because on the positive side, if
they obey the bond until each cares and satisfies the needs of his
friends, they can fully observe the Torah and mitzvot, meaning bring
contentment to their Maker. And on the negative side we see that if
a part of the nation does not want to maintain the bond, and choose
to wallow in self-love, they cause the rest of the nation to remain
immersed in their filth and lowness, without ever finding a way out
of their filth.
18) Therefore the
Tana (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) described that bond as two people on
a boat, when one of them suddenly begins to drill a hole in the
boat. His friend asked: “why are you drilling?” and he replied:
“what business is it of yours, I’m drilling under me, not under
you”, so the first man told him: “You fool, we shall both drown
From this we learn that since those rebels who wallow in self-love,
by their acts they build an iron wall that prevents the observers of
the Torah from even beginning to fully observe the Torah and
mitzvot, in the measure of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, which is
the ladder for reaching adhesion with Him. And how right were the
words of the proverb that said: “You fool, we shall both drown
19) Rabbi Elazar, son of
Rabbi Shimon, clarifies this concept even further, by saying that it
is not enough that all of Israel be responsible for one another, but
that the whole world must be included in that bond. Indeed there is
no dispute here, for everyone agrees that to begin with, it is
enough to start with one nation for the observance of the Torah and
the beginning of the correction of the world, because it is
impossible to begin with all the nations all at once, as they said
that the Lord went with the Torah to every nation and they did not
want to receive it, meaning they were immersed in self-love up to
their necks, some with adultery, some with robbery and murder and so
on, until it became 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 that would be qualified to receive the
Torah, but the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose righteousness
of their fathers reflected upon them, and as our sages said: “The
fathers observed the whole Torah even before it was given”, meaning
that because of the exaltedness of their souls they had the ability
to attain all the ways of the Lord as expressed in the spirituality
of the Torah, because of their adhesion with Him, without first
needing the practical part of the Torah, which they had no
possibility of observing, which are the physical refinements.
The mental exaltedness of our holy fathers influenced their sons and
their sons’ sons a great deal, and their righteousness reflected
upon that generation, whose members all accepted upon themselves the
sublime work and each and every one stated clearly, “we shall do and
we shall hear”. Because of that we were chosen and were compelled to
be a chosen people, a people of virtue, from among all the nations.
For only the members of the Israeli nation took upon them the
responsibility and not the other nations of the world, because they
did not participate in it. And that is the plain reality, and how
could Rabbi Elazar disagree with it?
20) But the end of the
correction of the world will be by putting all the people in the
world under His work, as it says: “And the Lord shall be king over
all the earth: on that day the Lord shall be one, and his name one
(Zechariah 14, 9)”. And it said: “on that day”, and not before. And
it also says: “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 toward the
world resembles the role of our holy fathers toward the Israeli
nation, meaning just as the righteousness of our fathers reflected
upon us and helped us develop and cleanse ourselves until we became
worthy of receiving the Torah, that if it were not for our fathers,
who observed the Torah before it was given we would not be any
better than all other nations.
It is also upon the Israeli nation,
through Torah and mitzvot, to qualify themselves and all the people
of the world, to develop so that they take upon themselves that
sublime work of the love of a fellow man, which is the ladder to
attain the purpose of creation, which is adhesion with Him.
In a way that each and every precept that each of Israel performs in
order to bring contentment to his Maker, and not for any self
gratification, helps, to some extent, with the development of all
the people of the world, for it is not done all at once, but by
gradual development until it reaches an amount that can bring all
the world to the desired cleanness. And that is what our sages call:
shifting the balance for virtue, meaning that the necessary
refinement has been reached. And they compared it to weighing on a
scale, where the shifting of the balance is the attainment of the
21) Those are the words
of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, who said that the world is
judged by its majority, referring to the role of the Israeli nation
to qualify the world for a certain refinement until they are worthy
of taking upon themselves His work, no less than Israel were worthy
at the time they received the Torah. Our sages comment on this that
they attained the majority of their virtues, by shifting the balance
away from the fault, which is the filthy self-love.
And of course, if the side of
the rights, which is the sublime attainment of the goodness of the
love of a fellow man rises over the filthy side of the flaws, they
become qualified for the agreement and the decision of “We shall do
and we shall hear” as Israel said. But before that, meaning before
they attained the right, self-love would certainly prevent them from
agreeing to take on that burden.
Our sages said: “if he
performed one mitzvah, he has made the whole world righteous”
meaning that he adds his individual particle of Israel to the
general decision as he who weighs seeds of sesame, and adds them one
by one to the scale, until there are enough to shift the balance.
Certainly everyone takes part in that shifting process, without
which it would never have been completed. And therefore he says
about the act of an individual from Israel that he makes the whole
world righteous. Because when the shifting of the whole world is
through, then each and every individual will have taken part in it,
or else it would never have been completed.
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, but 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, where only
Israel takes upon itself the burden of the Torah.
22) And that is what
Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon speaks of concerning the verse:
“One sinner will lose much good”. Because it has already been shown
(chap 20) that the impression that comes to a man by dealing with
mitzvot between man and his God, is completely the same as the
impression he gets from the mitzvot between man and his fellow man.
Because he is obliged to perform all the mitzvot in Her name,
without any hope for self-love, meaning that no shine or hope
returns to him through his trouble in the form of reward of honor
etc. For here, in this exalted point the love of God and the love of
his fellow unite and actually become one.
It turns out that he makes a
certain degree of progress on the ladder of loving his fellow man in
all the people of the world, because that degree, which that
individual awakened in his actions, whether large or small,
ultimately joins the future in shifting the balance of the world to
the right, because his share is added to the weight.
And he who commits one sin, who cannot overcome and conquer his
filthy self-love, which makes him still or do something of the sort,
shifts himself and the whole world to the wrong. Because with the
revelation of the filth of self-love, the low nature of creation
reinforces and he is found to be subtracting a certain amount of the
right shift, much like a person would take back from the scale the
sesame seed he has put there, which raises the wrong side of the
scale that much upward. It turns out that he takes the world
backwards, as they said that “One sinner shall lose much good”, for
because he could not overcome his petty desire, he pushed the
spirituality of the whole world backwards.
23) With these words we
clearly understand what we said above (chap 5), about the Torah
being given specifically to the Israeli nation, because it is
certain and unequivocal, that the purpose of creation is on the
shoulders of the whole human race, whether black, white or yellow.
But because of the descent of
the human nature to the lowest degree, which is the self-love that
rules over all of mankind, there was no way to negotiate with them
and persuade them to agree to take upon themselves, even as an empty
promise, the exit from the narrow world into the wide spaces of the
love of the fellow man, all except the Israeli nation, because they
were enslaved in the savage kingdom of Egypt for four hundred
Our sages said that: “As salt
sweetens the meat, agony polishes man”, meaning they bring the body
a great refinement, and in addition, the refinement of their holy
fathers reflected upon them, as some of the verses of the Torah
Because of these two forewords they were qualified for it, which is
why they are spoken of in singular form: “and there Israel camped
before the mountain (Exodus 19, 2)”, which our sages interpret - as
one man and one heart. That is because each and every person from
the nation detached himself completely from self-love and wanted
only to benefit his friend, as we have shown above (chap 16). It
turns out that all the individuals in the nation have come together
and became one man and one heart, for only then were they qualified
to receive the Torah.
24) Thus, because of the
above necessity, the Torah was given solely to the Israeli nation,
for it was inconceivable that any foreigner would take part in it.
Because of that the Israeli nation had been constructed as a sort of
gateway by which the sparks of refinement shall shine upon the whole
of the human race.
And these sparks multiply daily until they reach the desired amount,
meaning until they develop and come to understand the pleasantness
and tranquility that are in the core of love of a fellow man. For
then they know how to shift the balance to the right and will place
themselves under its burden, and the wrong will be eradicated from
25) There still remains
a need to complete what we have said above (chap 16), about the
reason that the Torah was not given to our fathers, because the
precept of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, which is the axle around
which the mitzvot revolve, so as to clarify and interpret it, cannot
be observed by an individual but only through the consent of an
And that is why it took until the exodus from Egypt to become worthy
of observing it, and then they were asked if each and every one of
the nation is willing to take upon himself that mitzvah. And only
once they all agreed to it they were given the Torah. However, there
still remains to see where we find in the Torah that they all agreed
to this prior to receiving the Torah.
26) Bear in mind, that
these things are obvious to every educated person in the invitation
that God sent to Israel through Moses prior to the reception of the
Torah, as it says: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed,
and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own treasure from among
all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and you shall be to me a
kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that thou
shalt speak to the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for
the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which
the Lord had commanded him, and all the people answered together,
and said, all that the Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses
reported the word of the people to the Lord (Exodus 19, 5)”.
These words do not seem to fit
with their role, because common sense tells us that if a person
offers his friend to do some work, and he wants him to agree, he
should give him an example of the content of the work and how much
it will pay. Only then can his friend decide whether or not to take
on this work.
But here we find neither an
example of the work nor its pay, because he says, “if you will obey
my voice indeed, and keep my covenant”, and he does not interpret
the voice or tells us what the covenant is about. Then he says:
“then you shall be my own treasure from among all peoples: for all
the earth is mine”, but we cannot see from these words whether He
commands us to work to be a remedy (Segula means remedy in
Hebrew, and it also means virtuous. Ba’al Hasulam uses both meanings
freely. C.R.) for all the peoples, or is this a promise for us too?
We must also understand the
connection to the words: “for all the earth is mine”. All the
interpretations here try to correct this sentence, and Even Ezra
says, in the name of Rabbi Marinos that the word “for” means
“although”, and he interprets it as “then you shall be my 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”, “that”.
And he adds a fifth interpretation: “although”. And then the writing
ends: “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation”. But here too it is not evident from the text if this is a
precept and one must delve in it, or a good promise. The words “a
kingdom of priests” are not repeated and are not explained anywhere
in the Holy Scriptures. And we should mainly focus on defining 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 everyone are priests must be
a holy nation, so the words “holy nation” seem redundant.
27) However, by all
those interpretations that we’ve made thus far, we learn the true
meaning of these words, as they should be seen in the form of a
negotiation with an offer and a consent. Meaning, he really does
offer them by these words the whole form and content of the work in
Torah and mitzvot, and the reward that follows it.
The work in Torah and mitzvot
is expressed in the words: “and you shall be to me a kingdom of
priests”, meaning that all of you, from the youngest to the oldest,
are like priests. Just as they have possessions in this corporeal
world, because the Lord is their possession, so will the entire
nation be organized so that the whole earth and everything in it
will be devoted to the Lord. And no individual in it will work but
in order to observe the commandments of God and satisfy the needs of
his fellow man, so that no person will ever need to worry about
This way, even the mundane
works such as the harvest, sowing and such, are just as the work of
the sacrifice that the priests perform in the Temple, for what do I
need the mitzvah of making sacrifices to the Lord for, if I can
observe the mitzvah of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”? It turns out
that he who harvests his field in order to feed his fellow man, is
the same as he who makes sacrifices to the Lord. Furthermore, it
seems that the mitzvah of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, is more
important than he who makes the sacrifice, as we’ve seen above
(chapters 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 with, which is the
cleansing of the body (see chap 12), after which he would attain the
true reward which is adhesion with Him, which is the purpose of
creation. And that reward is expressed in the words “a holy nation”,
that through the adhesion with Him we’ve become sanctified, as it
says: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus
And you see that the words “a
kingdom of priests” express the complete form of the work on the
axle of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, meaning a kingdom that is
all priests that the Lord is their possession, and they have no
self-possession of 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
regards to the sacrifices on the altar, for that could not have been
said of the whole nation, for who would be making the sacrifices?
And also regarding the gifts of the priesthood, who would be the
givers? And also regarding the holiness of the priests, it’s been
said “a holy nation”. Therefore, this must certainly mean that it is
not only that God is their possession, that they lack all material
possession for themselves, meaning the full sense of the words “Love
thy neighbour as thyself”, which encompasses the whole of the Torah.
And the words “a holy nation” express the full reward, which is the
28) Now we fully
understand the previous words, for he says: “Now therefore, if you
will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant”, meaning make a
covenant on what I tell you here, that you will become a remedy,
meaning you will serve as a remedy for me and sparks of refinement
and purification of the body shall pass through you to all the
peoples and the nations of the world, as the nations of the world
are not yet ready for it, and I need one nation that can start it
and be as remedy for all other nations. And therefore he ends: “for
all the earth is mine”, meaning all the peoples of the earth belong
to me and are destined to cleave to me as you do.
But while they are still
incapable of performing that task, I need a virtuous people, and if
you agree to it, to be the remedy for all the nations, I command
that you will be to me a kingdom of priests, which is the love of a
fellow man in its final form of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. And
“a holy nation” is the reward in its final form of adhesion with
Him, which includes all the rewards that can even be conceived.
This is how our sages interpreted the ending - “These are the words
that thou shalt speak to the children of Israel”: “These are the
words”, no more and no less. For how can you say that Moses would
add or subtract from the words of the Lord, that he had to be warned
about it? Such as that we do not find in the whole 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
grasp the last form of the work, as explained in the words “a
kingdom of priests”, which is the final definition of “Love thy
neighbour as thyself”, that it was conceivable for Moses to hold
himself back and refrain from disclosing the full outline of the
work all at once, lest Israel would not want to detach themselves
from material possessions and give away their fortune and assets.
It is much like the RAMBAM
wrote, that women and small children must not be told of the matter
of the clean work, which must be not in order to be rewarded, and
wait until they grow and become wiser and have the courage to
execute it. Therefore the Lord warned him to do no less than to
offer them the true nature of the work, as expressed in the words “a
kingdom of priests”.
And regarding the reward that
is defined in the words “a holy nation”, there too Moses could have
thought to elaborate further about the pleasantness and the sublime
subtleness that comes with the adhesion, and thus persuade them to
accept it and detach themselves from the possessions of this world.
Therefore he was warned not to speak of the whole reward that is
included in the words “a holy nation”.
The reason for that is that if
he had told them about the wondrous things that are the essence of
the reward, they would accept His work in order to attain for
themselves that wonderful reward, which would be considered working
for themselves, for self-love.
Thus we see that regarding the
form of the work that is expressed in the words “a kingdom of
priests” he was told “no less”, and about the measure of the reward,
expressed in the words “a holy nation”, he was told “no more”.
Author: Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag
Translator: C. Ratz
Proofreading: J. Kersen