Not Lost in the Crowd

Have you ever felt less noticed and a bit lost in a crowd? Although we live in a world that aims to be inclusive, there are still always those who emerge in the limelight. There is only one valedictorian, one lead soloist, and one president of the class. When all the graduates stand on the podium only a few will receive awards; and that’s OK, they earned it. But what about the rest of us?

Our teacher Moshe Rabbeinu addresses this concern.

Parshat Nitzavim begins with the following verses:

Deuteronomy 29:11-13

אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ טַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽי לְעׇבְרְךָ֗ בִּבְרִ֛ית יְוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּבְאָלָת֑וֹ אֲשֶׁר֙ יְוָ֣ה אֱלֹיךָ כֹּרֵ֥ת עִמְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם׃

You stand this day, all of you, before your G-d, your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, every householder* in Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— enter into the covenant of your G-d, which your G-d is concluding with you this day.

The Netziv, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (20 November 1816 in Mir, Russia – 10 August 1893 in Warsaw, Poland), who happens to have been the illustrious grandfather of our own Rabbi Riff of Southern New Jersey, asks how come there are so many unnecessary descriptions of the crowd in the verse? It says, “all of you,” but why does it then go on to single out the tribal heads, elders, and “even the strangers within your camp?”

We know that the Torah is not written with any extra words. So, what are we to learn from the multitude of seemingly unnecessary categories?

Answers the Netziv, this is to stress to us that every individual matters and impacts the society as a whole. One could falsely believe that only the aristocracy, or the scholars, or the priests, etc. matter, but not the rest of us. Not so. From the tribal heads to the woodcutters, all the men, women, and children. Everyone is important and makes a difference in the eyes of G-d.

Our sages remark that this passage also alludes to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah when the entire world is judged by G-d for the year to come. Here too, everyone is embraced individually by G-d for their individual accomplishments, as well as how they impacted the world around them, because we all matter.

Throughout the year our Jewish Federation also lives by this creed. We have programs for pre-school children all the way up to our seniors, and everywhere in between. There’s something for everyone, every age, and every background, because we are all part of the covenant Moshe made with Israel in our Parsha.

May we all be blessed with a year of health, security, and fulfillment.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein   
Community Scholar in Residence