Kol Yirsael Arevim Zeh Bazeh
כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה
All Israel is Responsible for One Another
]Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shavuot 39a]
After the plethora of holidays in Tishrei/October we jump into a rather spacious and seemingly lackluster month of Mar Chesvan-Kislev/November. Without being saddled with ritual holiday observances this month gives us an opportunity to explore the readings in the Book of Genesis as it unfolds each week. The Shabbat immediately following Simchat Torah we began with Bereishit. The account of Sefer Bereishit is pretty common knowledge, particularly among Melton students, but I refer you to Chapter 4, verse 9, where the chapter unfolds with a primary question to be raised for the entire book of Genesis.
And the Lord said unto Cain: “where is Abel your brother?” And he said: “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?”
This question permeates the discussions among the chapters and the various accounts throughout Genesis in the various familial relationships that unfold. The exegesis of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael & Isaac and subsequently the struggle between the sons of Isaac & Rebecca, Esau & Jacob and finally the challenges facing the brothers and their young sibling Joseph. All of these challenge the strains of “brotherly love.” Yet in the final chapters of Genesis we see the resolution of the tensions and struggles as Judah steps up to the Viceroy of Egypt (his brother Joseph, unbeknownst to him) and beseeches the Viceroy to understand that he is responsible for his youngest brother Benjamin:
Then Judah went up to him. He said, "Please, sir. Let me speak a word to you. Don't be angry with me, even though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. You asked us, 'Do you have a father or a brother?' We answered, 'We have an old father. A young son was born to him when he was old. His brother is dead. He's the only one of his mother's sons left. And his father loves him.' "Then you said to us, 'Bring him down to me. I want to see him for myself.' "We said to you, 'The boy can't leave his father. If he does, his father will die.'…. "I promised my father I would keep the boy safe. I said, 'Father, I'll bring him back to you. If I don't, you can put the blame on me for the rest of my life.' "Now then, please let me stay here. Let me be your slave in place of the boy. Let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy isn't with me? Don't let me see the pain and suffering that would come to my father."
Note the underlined phrases in the longest soliloquy in the Torah. They focus on a particular component of the reasoning behind Judah’s commitment to his brother.
The commentators review this with a fine-toothed comb. There is an incredible array of discussions that articulate why Judah stepped forward the way he did. There’s even an indication that he did so because his brothers would have left Benjamin behind since that was the will of the Viceroy. They had every reason to believe that Benjamin was guilty of “stealing” the chalice therefore deserving of the punishment that ensued. Judah stands firm and approaches, pleading on behalf of his brother, i.e., his father’s son. Judah indicates his intention to enter into a relationship with the viceroy and his willingness to assume responsibility for his brother’s actions, whatever the consequences.
With all of the learning that we are exposed to in the Book of Genesis this formidable idea that we have incorporated as Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh B’Zeh, All Israel is responsible for one another, has permeated our centrality from the time it unfolds in this first book of the Torah until today. It is from these actions of Judah on behalf of his brother Benjamin, renouncing Cain’s question that we, the spiritual descendants need to learn to truly appreciate the ultimate value of “areivut”, mutual brotherhood and responsibility.
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