Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or
clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to
go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a
root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the
words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying,
"I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my
heart." This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.
Last week I explained how the Torah concept
of blessings and curses are best understood in a community context. It's
in a general sense that communities may expect prosperity as they follow
God's ways. How that may work out for the individuals within that
community is a far more complex issue than simply cause and effect. This
is not to say that the attitudes and actions of individuals have no
effect upon our communities. Far from it! Apart from the obvious fact
that communities are made up of individuals, almost every attitude and
action of each and every person has a profound effect upon the
communities of which they are apart.
This runs in the face of the extreme individualism that is rampant in
our day. Self-expression, self-actualization, self-determination, self,
self, self. We may be the most self-absorbed generation in history.
Getting what I want, when I want, and how I want it is one of the most
valued goals of many (if not most) of us. Marketing experts understand,
perhaps better than anyone, the lure of customized, personal
advertising. The better they can mold their offerings to our particular
tastes and preferences, the greater the possibility of closing the sale.
It has gotten to the point that we expect life to be geared towards
my desires, my goals, me. Although we live in communities, our
communities have become more and more collections of individuals, who
each live independent lives, rather than integrated communal settings.
Not that we don't interact with others-we do-innumerable times every
day. But our interactions are most often nothing more than
individualistic transactions designed to fuel our selfishness, devoid of
any community consciousness.
This is so far removed from the issue at hand in this week's parsha
(Torah reading portion). Here we read that God directed the community of
Israel to go out of their way to be aware of the spiritual attitudes of
those around them. This might sound like being told to be a busy body.
What ever happened to minding your own business! But what we are missing
today is that the members of my various communities-be it my family, my
congregation, my company, my neighborhood, or my country-is my business.
It's not that God for some strange reason wants us to meddle into other
people's affairs; it's that contrary to our individualistic fantasies,
my life, including my attitude, affects the other members of my
Therefore in order to develop good communities, which would most
benefit the individuals therein, each community member needs to do his
or her share to keep each other accountable. Otherwise the destructive
attitudes and actions of others will undermine the overall welfare of
If what's best for the group is best for the individual, then due to
our profound selfishness, it's easy to twist the call to community
responsibility back to focus on self. That may not seem like a big deal,
except it misses the point of effective community responsibility. As
long as benefit to self is our primary goal, we cannot be free of our
personal agendas sufficiently to effectively care for others. It is only
when we put the concern of the community ahead of ourselves can we be
the kind of blessing God wants us to be.
I know that it's also possible to be so community focused that we
might end up enslaving ourselves to this or that group. History is
filled with all sorts of tragic expressions of misguided group
mentality. But this call away from selfish individualism is not a call
to lose ourselves in our communities. We must never compromise a
biblical sense of right and wrong for the sake of family, company,
congregation, neighborhood, or country. Torah has much to say about the
place of the individual within the community. But unless we return to a
biblically defined sense of community, we will soon lose our
individuality as well.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible,
English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a
publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All