The Individual and the Community

    The Korban Pesach is unique in many ways, but none more so than this: it is defined as a private offering, but yet it supersedes Shabbat. In every other circumstance, a private korban does not override Shabbat. So, too, there are occasions when this individual offering will be brought when the offerors are in a state of impurity. In every other case, only a korban tzibur, a public offering overrides Shabbat or impurity. So into what category does the Korban Pesach fit?

     Another question for the seder: the “wicked son” is castigated not for his question but for its implications – “because he ostracizes himself from the Jewish people, he denies the existence of G-d.” But why ? Just because he separates himself from the Jewish people, does that necessarily mean he denies G-d’s existence ? What is the connection ?

     And the Mechilta, citing the wicked son’s question, expounds it in a fascinating way: “‘And when your sons will say to you…’ – There is good news and bad news: the bad news is that there will come a time when your children will forget the Torah; but the good news is – at least you’ll have children and grandchildren.” Two conflicting approaches to one common dilemma: is the wicked son a blessing or a curse, good news or bad news ?

     Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook explained that the Korban Pesach resembles both an individual and communal offering, because it defined for all time the relationship of the individual to the community. The Korban Pesach was a private offering, but it had to be consumed in a group, with others. There is no other mitzva that obligates a person to join with others – that obligates him to create a group and find his spiritual fulfillment in that group. The Korban Pesach inherently had a communal component to it – and therefore, like other public offerings, it superseded both Shabbat and impurity.

       That is a far-reaching concept. Man struggles to find the right balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community, between what I can do for myself and what I must do for others. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “democracy ends the moment the majority realizes it can vote itself money out of the treasury,” certainly a timely message today when the majority is wantonly voting itself and its supporters money out of the federal treasury.  Thomas Jefferson added a similar thought: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

     The Korban Pesach was an individual act that had to be done – on pain of extinction – in the context of the community. Pesach celebrates our creation as a nation, and therefore the most sublime moments take place in the context of that nation/ One who chooses to distance himself from that nation effectively denies the existence of G-d. The Unity of G-d is inextricably linked to the unity of the Jewish people, and, Rav Kook wrote, the fundamental conviction we have as a people is that “He chose us from the nations and gave us His Torah” – and that this community encompasses all Jews, and even the occasional scoundrel. Being part of the Jewish people is not just a functional connection (I am part of ‘something’) – but it is rather an existential connection, part of the inherent definition of our lives.

      “And when your sons will say to you…” There will come a time – and it comes in every generation – when some of our children will say, “what is this service to you”? Sadly, it does not speak to them, and those are bad tidings – that some of our children will forget the Torah. But that knowledge is also accompanied by good tidings that each generation will have Jewish children, and each generation will have the challenge of educating those Jewish children. We worry about the future, and rightly so – but we worry too much, especially about what others are doing or trying to do to us. There is no problem in Jewish life that cannot be resolved by doing the right thing ourselves – by speaking the language of Torah, faith, community, integrity and holiness.

    Then all our children will perceive the wisdom of Torah, and the depth of our commitment – and we will reclaim the spirit of the hosts of Hashem who were redeemed from Egypt 3322 years ago this year, and prepare ourselves for the future, in which we pray, we will soon see the wonders of G-d and His redemptive hand, speedily and in our time.

4 responses to “The Individual and the Community

  1. Kav HaYashar, Chapter 89:

    All preparations for the Pesach holiday should be done with love and joy, so Jews need to avoid anger, arguing, and feuding.

    Kav HaYashar, Chapter 90:

    The preparations for Pesach can repair the spiritual harm caused by emitting seed in vain.

    Kav HaYashar, Chapter 96:

    A mitzvah that is done only once a year should seem precious to you when you do it.

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  2. Joe Schwartz

    As usual, a wonderful essay. The quote above is misattributed to Ben Franklin. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury.” It is believed that this is actually a quote from Alexander Fraser Tytler or Alexis de Tocqueville. Neither have been confirmed.

    • I had previously seen it cited in the name of Thomas Jefferson, and only more recently in Franklin’s name. It is true, nonetheless, as we are sadly learning.

  3. David Tzohar

    Tzibbur is made up from TZaddikim, Beinoniim and Reshayim.IIRC R’Elisha Vishlitzky said that if there are no reshayim in the Israeli nation something important is lacking. O)f course we do not seek out resha that would lead to Shabtaut RL
    But our goal according to HaRav Kook ZTZL is to reach the Achdut Hakollelet which encompasses the good and the bad.”oseh shalom uvoreh ra