We may be the most self-absorbed generation in history.


Nizzavim & Va-Yelekh
For the week of September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul 5774
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30 (English 29:10 - 31:10)
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9

Community Responsibility

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. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:18-19)

Community Responsibility

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 communities.

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 the community.

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 rights reserved.

Comments? E-mail: comments@torahbytes.org

Subscribe? To have TorahBytes e-mailed to
you weekly, enter your e-mail address and press Subscribe


[ More TorahBytes ]  [ TorahBytes Home ]