Tribal Accountability (Mishpatim)
Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
At God’s Revelation at Mount Sinai which accompanied the giving of the Ten Commandments, the recently freed nation of Israel assembled at the foot of the mountain and heard both God and Moses. In their eagerness to take on God’s commandments the people of Israel loudly declare “we will do, and we will listen.”
This declaration is considered a great merit to the Jewish people and implies that they committed themselves to keep the commandments, to perform the commandments, to “do” them even before they’ve fully studied them or understood them – the “listen” part. It’s considered a higher form of service, to commit oneself to undertake God’s instructions and only afterward to explore deeply and understand them. Hence, first to do and then to listen. The Talmud refers to this strategy as a secret previously only known to the angels (Tractate Shabbat 88).
The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 24:7 notes the plural form of the declaration. Each individual doesn’t say “I will do, and I will listen,” but rather they are inclusive of each other, “WE will do, and WE will listen.”
He explains that their eagerness and enthusiasm regarding the Torah was so great, and they understood it to be such a dear, sweet, divine gift, that not only was each individual more than ready to take on this commitment for themselves, but they were ready to make themselves accountable for their fellow Jew. Each member of the tribes of Israel stated that not only would they accept God’s commandments, but they would also be a guarantor for their brethren. They would be there for each other, for all of history. Hence the “we.” Each person would be accountable for the next. This would not be a solitary, individualized commitment, but rather a communal, tribal, and national commitment.
Hence the ancient dictum “All of Israel are guarantors one for the other.” The physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our brothers is always our concern. We can never turn a blind eye and we are constantly enjoined to help, to support, to lend a hand. We are responsible, we are accountable, we are the guarantors of one another.
May we always be able to assist those in need, on as many fronts as needed.
To when snowfall is beautiful.