The Sefirah days are preparation for the day when "Israel
camped there, opposite the mountain [at Mount Sinai]"
(Shemos 19:2). The people achieved total unity at that
revelation, as Rashi explains, "Like one man with one
Our task during Sefirah is similarly to achieve unity. This
is all the more relevant during a year of elections, which
inevitably brings conflict and controversy. Our people's
disunity cannot only be laid at the door of the secularists
who malign the Torah world and Jewish values. We must also
accept our responsibility for the fragmentation and internal
politics that plague religious society.
Let us therefore study the words of the Gaon HaRav Yitzchok
Eizik Chover, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon's close student,
Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov. In his sefer Pischei
Shearim (p. 54), he explains the meaning of collective
"An orderly structure reveals the will [behind it] to obtain
a specific outcome. After you see the final product, you can
understand how each part made a necessary contribution
leading to its perfect functioning. Similarly, the verse
says, "G-d made a man straight (to know his responsibilities
in this world) but they seek many schemes (their desires pull
them into selfish directions)." (Koheles 7:29)
"This is the core of all controversies and unwarranted
hatred, whose deleterious affect on the world is greater than
all sins combined, as it says, "If Ephraim's nerves are
connected, he will be fine." (Hoshei'a 4:17)
(according to one interpretation of the Radak) but, "If the
heart is divided, then they are doomed." (Hoshei'a
"For the Jewish people is like one body and each Jew is
responsible for all the others. They are like a body which
has many limbs through which the blood circulates, and all
share in the pain impulses sent from the brain. If one limb
experiences pain, it affects all of them. Furthermore, the
circulatory system not only connects all the limbs, but each
limb contributes to the welfare of the others. For instance,
the ability of the eye to see helps the entire body —
and similarly for the ear and hand. Each limb individually
contributes to the improved functionality of all the others,
enabling a person to live a better life. The individual limbs
all contribute to the same purpose, which is to enable a
person's optimal existence."
Rav Chover continues, "So it is with every Jew. Each one was
created to help rectify his friends. Each Jew has individual
traits to help him rectify the entire world and the
collective Jewish body. This can be seen in the gemora
(end of Oktzin 3:12), `Hakodosh Boruch Hu
found no vessel to contain blessing for Israel other than
peace . . . ' The inverse is true: if Jews do not seek to
perfect each other, then there will be no blessing among
Rav Chover's words give a clear picture of the meaning of
"Israel camped there like one man with one heart." When each
individual feels that he is a member of a united group, when
all the limbs share the same goal of optimally maintaining
the body, then they have achieved supreme perfection and
unity. Similarly, when each Jew sees himself as a member of
the Jewish collective and recognizes the necessity to serve
the community and care for its well-being, then the Jewish
people has reached a state where they are free of
controversy, and blessing rests upon them.
"A Banished Person Will Not Remain Estranged from
Rav Chover's idea of all Israel being one body has other
implications. Just as no person would give up any of his
limbs, we cannot give up on any Jew!
This applies not only to those limbs which are vital for the
body's existence and without which it cannot exist —
which correspond to the leaders of each generation without
whom our people are totally lost. It also applies to even non-
vital limbs — "simple Jews." We cannot give up on any
Jew, no matter who he is or what is his present state.
If a person is missing a finger, he can still function with
four fingers. Nevertheless, it is considered a blemish and
his functioning is inevitably impaired. If he is a Cohen,
this blemish will render him invalid for the Sanctuary
service. Likewise, if a Jew leaves the Jewish people, the
collective body of Jewry will remain flawed. We cannot give
up on any Jew. Because every Jew, no matter who he is, is a
part of the community and his absence cripples the entire
community, the novi says (Shmuel II 14:14), "G-
d . . . devises ways so that a banished person will not
remain estranged from him." This is why G-d promises us that
He will not banish any Jew.
These words are relevant in every generation, especially our
own. We sometimes come across tragic cases of youths from
good families who have gone off the way, some even reaching
utter depravity. Their family's anguish is immense. However,
even in such situations, there is always a ray of hope. One
should never despair of a Jewish soul. We must continue to
hope that the child will yet return home and unite with his
family. There are more than a few cases where a caring
attitude and intense prayer had the effect of returning a
youth to his family.
As an instructive case, 20 years ago, the 12-year-old son of
a distinguished Yerushalmi family left Judaism and was drawn
into the world of crime. At the age of 15 he was working for
criminals in New York. A wrong move left him in an extremely
precarious situation. He called his father and wept that he
was under surveillance and was threatened with death. He
begged the father to come and save him.
The father spent many months in the U.S. until he found a
place where his son could rehabilitate himself with a change
of name and identity, and find honest work. The son
straightened out and today, he is chareidi and has a
beautiful family. A father doesn't despair or give up on any
of his children.
Even Though They Sinned, They Are Still Israel
Delving deeper into the concept of Jewish unity, the Ramchal
writes in Daas Tevunos (#160, page 181), that there
are two ways that G-d deals with each Jew. One way is
according to his deeds, as Chazal say (Eduyos 5:7),
"Your deeds will bring you close or your deeds will distance
However, there is a second way G-d deals with a person, which
is not contingent on his actions. This is explained by Chazal
on the phrase "Israel has sinned" (Yehoshua 7:11):
"Even though they have sinned, they are still Israel."
The Ramchal infers awesome matters from this (Ibid.):
Israel is lofty, for their soul is derived from the
divine, as the verse says (Eichoh 3:24), `My soul
says, "My portion is G-d." therefore, I shall hope to Him.'
Nevertheless, G-d manages the world for both good and bad not
according to the Jews' G-dly roots but according to each
Jew's deeds. As such, although the Jewish people's reality is
that we are derived from G-d, it is not concretely manifest
in our temporal world.
According to the Ramchal, we have to view each Jew from two
viewpoints. The first viewpoint is determined by his deeds
— and this is the viewpoint that determines most of our
attitude to him. If he is righteous, we will treat him with
the utmost reverence. If he is a Torah observant Jew, we will
treat him like a brother.
However, if he cast aside Torah observance for convenience's
sake or to rebel, then he partly has the status of an idol
worshiper. His wine is therefore considered the wine of
idolaters (Yoreh Deah 124:8) because his behavior is
not befitting a fellow Jew. However, if he married a Jewish
woman, his wedding is considered valid (Shulchan Oruch
Even Haezer 44:9) because he remains a Jew and will
always retain his Jewish soul.
He cannot extinguish it even though externally his behavior
is like that of a non-Jew in every way. He is still connected
to his soul's source. Therefore, every Jew, no matter how
much he has fallen, is connected to his divine spark of G-
dliness. "My soul says, 'My portion is G-d'" and therefore,
"a banished person will not remain estranged from Him." We do
no give up on any Jew!
What Is "Knesses Yisroel"?
Pachad Yitzchok — Letters (by HaRav Yitzchok
Hutner; Letter #18) asks what is the meaning of the
expression "Knesses Yisroel"?
He explains that there are two concepts which depict the
Jewish people. We will call one "the Jewish collective" and
the second, "the Jewish community." "The Jewish collective"
is a term which subsumes as one indivisible unit the entire
Jewish people from its founding to its end, including all
generations and individuals. In contrast, "the Jewish
community" depicts a calculable number of Jewish individuals.
While there can be a large community and a small community,
the collective body of Jewry is uncountable and unmeasurable
because it is one indivisible and incalculable unit.
Rav Hutner applies these separate definitions to explain the
following words of the Vilna Gaon (Aderes Eliahu,
Devorim 29:18; and see Pachad Yitzchok Chanukah,
10:6). Every place in the Torah where the Jewish people are
referred to in the singular, implies the collective body of
Jewry. And every place where they are referred to in the
plural, it implies Jews as individuals grouped together. Both
embodiments are true since a people is comprised of both
aspects — a complete, indivisible unit, and many
Rav Hutner makes this eye-opening remark: The first section
of Krias Shema commends the Jewish collective by
implying they are capable of achieving the lofty level of
love of G-d ("You shall love the L-rd your G-d"), whereas the
second section warns of negative developments taking place
among them ("Beware, lest your heart be swayed" etc.).
The way the Jewish people are referred to in each section is
telling: the first section is written in the singular,
implying that it is addressed to the collective Jewish body.
A collective never loses its way. Each Jew retains his spark
of divinity which causes him to cleave to G-d.
The second section, however, appears in the plural because it
is addressed to each Jew individually. Since individuals have
failings, they have to be warned of the consequences of
Rav Hutner's words add depth to the words of the Ramban
(Shemos 20:2) that the Ten Commandments were said in
singular. The Torah specifically used this form to teach that
no Jew should think that he can worship idols and still
remain in the collective Jewish body. Once he has separated
himself from the rest of Jewry by worshiping idols, the Torah
promises (Devorim 29:20), "And G-d will single him out
for evil from among all the tribes of Israel."
Achieving Unity With Observant Jews and Sinners
Practically speaking, our efforts to achieve unity must take
place on two different planes:
The first is with every religious Jew who is different from
us, whether due to his origin, community or customs.
Sometimes we feel the differences between us are very great.
A Litvak may find the chassidic dress, interests, concept of
rebbe, and the rebbe's court and tish strange in
comparison to his lifestyle and experiences in his yeshiva.
Nevertheless, each of us belongs to the combined camp of
As Rav Chover says, we are all limbs of one body with one
objective, which is the optimal existence and vitality of the
body. When each group does its own part in serving G-d and
increasing His glory, it has fulfilled its purpose. Just as a
body has a hand, eye, and foot, and no limb can boast that it
is superior to another because they are all needed to
faithfully serve the person, so does each community have its
own unique role in serving G-d.
[A group of his senior students once differed with the late
Mirrer rosh yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt"l,
concerning how to run the yeshiva. They claimed that he
is only one and they are many, and the law stipulates that
the majority should be followed. The Rosh Yeshiva replied,
"You are mistaken. Each one of you thinks about himself and
therefore even though you are many, you have the status of
individuals. In contrast, my viewpoint encompasses all of you
and what is best for your joint welfare. I therefore have the
status of a 'majority' and the law goes according to me!"]
The second plane is our attitude to Jewish sinners. As cited
in the Marganiso Tovoh (brought at the end of
Ahavas Chesed by the Chofetz Chaim; Hanhagosov
#17), our gedolim decided that the majority of the
non-religious public today does not have the status of a
wicked person, and one may not hate them or curse them. The
Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah, end of #2) avers that they
have the status of a Jewish child that was taken into
captivity. However, even those who rebel intentionally and
whose lifestyle and attitude to G-d we severely criticize,
must still be viewed through the prism of "even though he
sinned, he is still a Jew." We must not despair of them.
Chazal tell us (Zohar Hakodosh, Vol. 3, pg. 155):
"Come and see how much the Holy One loves Israel. Even when
they leave the straight path, the Holy One doesn't forsake
them. At all times, He turns His Face to them. Were it not
for that, there would no hope of rejuvenation in the
The interior of every Jew is pure, and he forever retains the
distinguished name of "Israel." We must realize that the pure
spark in every Jew's heart has only been covered with thick
layers of sin. Rav Noach Weinberg, the rosh yeshiva of Aish
HaTorah, was one of the founders of the Teshuvoh movement. He
plunged into kiruv work in 1967, during the very years
when the throwing off of all restraints in the Western world
had reached its peak. Jewish youths grew their hair long,
didn't bathe, went barefoot and wore tattered clothes. But
Rav Weinberg knew how to talk to these youths and bring their
divine spark to the fore.
He said that no matter how a Jew looks on the outside, it is
possible to change him within a short time. A haircut, a bath
and new clothes will quickly follow the inner changeover. If
one is convinced that we cannot give up on any Jew, the way
is open to bring every Jew back. Just as our Creator doesn't
forsake us and is always turning His Face to us.
We too quickly fall into despair of our fellow Jews, and even
of ourselves. The midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabboh 1:35)
says on the verse (Shir Hashirim 1:5), "I am black but
beautiful": The Jewish people says, "I am black to myself,
but beautiful to my Creator." Our Creator's view of us is
that the dirt is just on the surface but on the inside we are
beautiful. That's why Tana Devei Eliahu Rabboh
(Chapter 18) states, "The Holy One's compassion for Israel is
always bountiful, both for the wicked among them as well as
Knesses Yisroel — An Improper Question
How Heaven treats us is determined by whether our actions are
wicked or righteous, as the Ramchal says. However, as Rav
Hutner explains, the Jewish people's collective body, of
which we are all a part, always remains pure and unblemished.
Therefore, those Jews who accuse other Jews of sinning are in
effect accusing themselves. We should view all of Jewry with
pure and benevolent eyes.
We find that Chazal criticized the Jewish collective over
this very point (Taanis 4a): "Knesses Yisroel
asked improperly, yet the Holy One answered properly, as
it says (Hoshea 6:3), `We shall know G-d; we shall
search to know Him. His coming is as sure as the morning, He
will come to us like the rain.' The Holy One replied to them,
`My daughter, you asked for a thing that people sometimes
want and sometimes don't. But I will be to you as something
that everyone always wants, as it says (Ibid. 14:6),
"I will be like dew to Israel." ' "
Israel looks at itself like rain — sometimes it
deserves reward for its behavior and sometimes it doesn't.
But the Holy One revealed to them that when relating to the
entire Jewish collective, the outlook must be one of dew,
which revives but doesn't inconvenience or damage. It is only
beneficial. Every Jew, whether he keeps mitzvos or not, has
an inner spiritual vitality because he never loses his status
of "Israel." A Jew always has an inner dew of revival. Our
Creator Himself taught us this.
At the Revelation on Mount Sinai, G-d displayed a love
without restraints towards the collective Jewish people. As
we say in our Yom Tov prayers — "You loved us."
We must act on this love for Knesses Yisroel in two
ways: By loving our brothers in the Torah observant community
despite the differences that divide us, and by loving those
Jews who are distant from the Torah community, because they
too are "Israel."
HaRav Moshe Samsonowitz is the mashgiach of Beis Abba
Kollel and Yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer.