The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Understanding the Practice and Meaning of Halakha
Shiur #14: ARVUT
by Rav Ezra Bick
Today's shiur has a somewhat different framework than usual, as
we shall be discussing not a particular halakhic practice but rather a halakhic
concept, one which underlies many mitzvot, and, to a certain extent, serves as
the foundation for one of the most central of all institutions of Judaism, that
of the unity of the Jewish people.
Those mitzvot which consist of speech, such as prayer, have a
unique mechanism whereby one can fulfill the obligation without actively saying
anything. The halakha allows for one person to say the blessing or the prayer
out loud, and all those who hear it fulfill their obligation as well. Hence, for
instance, it is customary for only one person to recite kiddush on Shabbat, and
the others present to listen. This is considered as though each and every one
had recited kiddush himself. (This is called "shome'a ke-oneh" - one who listens
is like one who recites.)
There is however one caveat. The one who is reciting the
blessing for the others must himself be obligated in that mitzva. For this
reason, for those mitzvot which women are exempt, they cannot recite the prayer
or blessing for men who are obligated. One who is obligated to recite the
"ha-gomel" blessing (recited when one recovers from a serious illness or if
saved from any other life-threatening situation) cannot have one who is not so
obligated recite the blessing for him.
What about someone who is in principle obligated but has
already fulfilled his obligation. For instance, can I, after hearing the reading
of the Scroll of Esther in the synagogue on Purim, go to a sick friend and read
for him? After all, at the time of the second reading, I will not be in a state
of "obligated." The halakha gives a curious answer to this question. "Kol
yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh." All Israel are "areivim" to each other; hence, even
though one has already fulfilled his obligation, he can repeat the utterances
and fulfill the obligation for another. What does the word "areivim" mean?
"Areiv" (the singular of areivim) is a legal term. The areiv is
a guarantor of a loan. If you wish to borrow money from someone, who has doubts
concerning your ability to pay, he may ask you to bring a friend as a co-signer.
In that case, even though you have borrowed the money, if you do not pay, the
"areiv" will have to, in your place.
"Kol yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh," then, means that even if an
obligation, properly speaking, applies to one individual, everyone else is a
guarantor of that obligation; meaning that the rest of us, EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE
ALREADY DISCHARGED OUR PERSONAL OBLIGATION, are nonetheless still "obligated" -
obligated to ensure that his obligation will also be discharged. Therefore, even
though I have already fulfilled my own obligation, my status is that of
"obligated" so long as others have not fulfilled theirs, and I may fulfill the
obligation for them by reciting it out loud, since, like the other, I too have
not FULLY discharged my obligation.
Now this concept of "arvut" is quite a frightening one. It is
all very nice that I can recite kiddush for someone else even if I have already
recited it for myself. But the reasoning behind this is that if there is
anywhere a Jew who has not recited kiddush, I have not quite fully freed myself
from the obligation of kiddush. This means that unless every single Jew has
fulfilled all his obligations, none of us has. Since there are rumors that, in
fact, not every Jew recites kiddush every week, this can be a rather depressing
thought indeed, at least for those who will not be able to achieve peace of mind
until they have fully discharged all their obligations.
Why should I be obligated in the obligations of others? We have
all been brought up in an extremely individualistic ethos, which pervades the
western world today. Man is responsible for himself. Of course, most of us - and
most western societies - accept that I should HELP my fellow man. This is called
altruism, and serves to moderate extreme individualism to some extent. But
altruism is very different from the ethos that lies behind arvut; in fact, it is
almost the opposite. Arvut declares that I am responsible for others just as I
am responsible for myself. It is not goodheartedness to help others, it is
collective self-interest. The failure of my neighbor is not merely a lost
opportunity for me to have practiced philanthropy, it is simply my own failure.
What is the basis for such a sweeping denial of the ultimate individuality of
members of our community?
The answer to this question goes to the basic nature of the
Jewish community, the Jewish people, the unit called in Hebrew "Knesset
Yisrael." But for this we have to examine a section in the Torah.
The Torah was given to the Jews in the first year that they
left Egypt, fifty days after the exodus. The giving of the Torah is called, by
the Torah itself, a "brit," a covenant, meaning a two sided agreement between
God and the Jewish people. Forty years later, after a generation spent in the
desert, the Jews are about to enter the Land of Israel.
You are standing, this day, all of you, before HaShem your God
- the leaders of your tribes, your elders, your officers, every Jewish
individual; your children, your wives, the strangers in the midst of your camp,
from the hewers of wood to the drawers of water; to bring you into the covenant
of HaShem your God and His oath, which God is making with you today.
In order to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He
shall be your God, as He told you; and as He promised your fathers, Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob.
And not only with you alone am I making this covenant and this
oath; but rather, with those that are here with us standing today before HaShem
our God, and with those THAT ARE NOT HERE WITH US TODAY. (Deut. 29,9-11).
After describing what will happen if they abandon the covenant,
this section of the Torah concludes by saying: "The hidden things are for HaShem
our God, but the revealed things are for us and our children forever, to fulfill
all the words of this Torah" (29, 29).
This last verse is the source of the law of "arvut." The Sages
interpret it to mean: That which is hidden - sins that are committed in secret -
for those you are excused and have no responsibility. That will be between God
and the individual. But the revealed acts of man, they are not only the
responsibility of the individual, but of all of us and our children forever.
What is the context of this statement? Why, to ask another
question, is there a need for a second covenant forty years after the original
one? The answer is in the text of the covenant that I quoted above - "In order
to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He shall be your God." For the
forty years in the desert each Jewish individual had a relationship with God
based on the fact that he too had received the Torah. At this point, before
entering the Land of Israel (i.e., before entering on the road of NATIONAL
destiny), God molds these disparate individuals into a nation, a collective, a
community. Each one of you stands before God and you will enter a covenant that
will make you a nation. Hence the necessity to include, as it were, the future
generations, for the Knesset Yisrael is not merely a group of individuals united
by common interests, but a metaphysical entity transcending time and place -
"those that are here with us standing today," and "those that are not here with
us today." What is the basis for this metaphysical unity? - the covenant with
God. The covenant is not between the individual and God, but between the
metaphysical entity called Israel and God. The nation as a whole and as a unity
is given the Torah this time; hence the conclusion of ARVUT - if the nation as a
whole and as a unity does not keep the Torah, the covenant has not been
fulfilled. We as individuals therefore are each charged with keeping the
covenant of the whole, as it is a collective responsibility based on "in order
to establish you today as a nation unto Him, and He shall be your God."
Therefore we are all co-signed on each others obligations towards God and
towards each other.
(It is worth noting that this reverses the usual relationship
between group membership and responsibility. It is not that we have a measure of
responsibility to each other because we belong to the same group. We belong to
the same group because we are mutually responsible. The nation was formed by the
act of covenant, by being unified in responsibility for the covenant. In other
words, the Jewish people are a covenantal community, one formed because one
covenant with God binds them.)
Does this mean the Judaism places the group, the nation, before
the individual? Does the worth of the individual derive only from his membership
in the group? The answer is clearly no. The covenant we have read came only
forty years after the Jews received the Torah. First they had to be free
individuals in order to form the nation. The slaves who fled Egypt could not
have entered a covenant of mutual responsibility. There are two covenants, one
with the individuals, and one with the community as a whole. Each one
complements the other. This is far more radical than what the general western
liberal creed would allow. It does declare that an individual who has opted out
of group membership has opted out of the covenant. The Jews could not enter the
promised land until they had entered this second covenant. Think about it - what
will happen when they enter the Land of Israel? Each one will get his own
private plot of land. The Land of Israel is not held by the people in common. It
is divided up. But to whom, to which individuals? To those who have entered the
covenant of mutual responsibility before, to those who became a nation only when
as one unified entity they entered into a covenant with God. Arik and Schmerl,
Molly and Heather, do not inherit the Land of Israel - Israel does. The
individual achieves, inherits - but only as a member of the group.
The Rambam expresses this thought in a conclusion striking by
its apparent extremism.
One who leaves the life of the community, even though he does
not commit any transgression, but rather he separates himself from the community
of Israel, and does not do mitzvot together with them, not feel part of their
troubles, nor fast on their fasts but he goes about his way like one of the
gentiles, as though he were not one of them - he has no portion in the
world-to-come. (Hilkhot Teshuva 3,11)
Without membership in the covenantal community, one's mitzvot
have no context, and no place in the fulfillment of individual destiny. A Jew
without the Jewish people is simply lost.
In the beginning of this week's shiur, I began with the
application of "arvut" to a ritual matter, in order to demonstrate that the
concept should be taken seriously and not merely as a sort of metaphor for a
general obligation to look out for others. But of course, the concept has
immediate applications in many other areas as well. My attitude towards other
Jews is one of obligation - mutual obligation and responsibility. If another Jew
is in trouble, I will go to help him, not merely because I think that helping
others is an ethical imperative, and I am a generous and helpful soul, but
because we both belong to a greater unit which binds us and defines my own
identity. Were I not to help him, I would not only sin against him, but I would
be untrue to myself, to my identity as a Jew. I do not mean to belittle
generosity, not at all. Giving to others, "chesed," is itself a powerful and
essential trait, one defined halakhically as basic to the image of God in which
all of us are created (if you would like to know what that means - well, it will
be next week's shiur). The concept of arvut is a parallel one, based not on love
and giving, but on responsibility. Think of it as family - above and beyond, and
totally separately from the obligations of giving and feelings of love, one
takes care of one's children because one is responsible for them, because one
belongs to a unit - the family - that is part of one's individual personality
and identity. I think that if we knew a mother who took care of her children, in
a perfectly wonderful manner, only out of the pity and love that one has for
one's fellow man, or even out of the love that one naturally has for one's
offspring, there would be something missing. The practical difference perhaps is
what happens when one is tired or grouchy, or if the child is unworthy or
unwilling, but I think the point is true even if there is no immediate practical
difference at all. Arvut seeks to raise the responsibility of family to a higher
To return to the halakha with which we began:
1. One who is obligated to recite something may fulfill the
obligation of another by reciting it aloud in his presence.
Example: One person recites kiddush for all.
Example: A woman (who is not obligated to hear shofar) may not
fulfill the mitzva for a male.
2. For this to succeed, both of them must have intention - the
one to fulfill the obligation for the other, and the passive one, to listen and
intend to fulfill his obligation by listening.
Example: If one overhears a blessing without the knowledge of
the one reciting the blessing, one has not fulfilled the obligation.
3. This works even if the reciter has already fulfilled his own
Example: The one who blows the shofar goes to the homes of sick
people to blow for them.
4. Prayer - the recitation of the "shemoneh esrei" - is an
exception. Prayer, because of the personal nature, should be said personally.
Only if one is incapable of praying should he fulfill his obligation through
5. The reciter must be not only obligated, but also obligated
on the same level of obligation. Hence, one who is obligated only by rabbinic
extension of a biblical mitzva cannot fulfill the mitzva for one who is
obligated on the biblical level.
Example: A child below the age of bar-mitzva cannot recite the
grace after meals for an adult.
Next shiur we will discuss, as I promised above, those mitzvot
concerned with helping others ("chesed") - charity, tending the sick, comforting