Good for all, good for one!

Friday, 17 May, 2019 - 12:55 pm

One of the classic sociological conundrums is the tension between the value score of the individual contrasted with that of the collective.  (See here for an interesting take on this issue within Judaism

Early on in history societies ignored the tension entirely. All that mattered was either the ruling class or the group with the greater warriors. Later as humanity began to become more sophisticated, they either struggled to identify and articulate what their particular doctrine was in this area, or they implemented a flawed philosophy where one suffers at the expense of the other. There is the doctrine that believes that everything must be sacrificed for the good of the collective (state). There is the doctrine that believes that individual liberties or rights outweighs the good of the collective. There are many shades and grades of these ideas that have been tried in history.

I would like to share an insight that Judaism offers as a nuanced perspective on this tension.

In Jewish thought this tension is articulated as the balance between Klal Yisrael (the collective Jewish people) or Tizbur (the community) and the yachid (individual Jew). When it comes to value scoring, we do not always accept that an individual’s good must be sacrificed for the good of Klal Yisrael. For example, if a group of Jews had their lives under threat and the enemy said give us one random Jew to kill or else we will come and kill you all, we don’t give up one for the sake of saving the many. On the other hand Jews are adjured to care for and value the good of the Klal even at the expense of their own detriment. There is a concept of Tircha Dztzibura – a person is expected to inconvenience himself so as not to cause trouble to the community.

In an essay the Rebbe posits, that a Jewish person should see his work on behalf of the Klal (even at the expense of his personal gain) as personally beneficial. Why, because Klal Yisrael is made up of many individual Jews. It is not an entity that is separate from the people included within it. True the Klal is greater than the sum of the parts. But it still consists of the parts. As such, that which is good for the Klal is actually good for me (even if it appears to come at a personal expense). Because I am part of the Klal, when Klal Yisrael benefits so do I.

Obviously this brief explanation is an over-simplification of a complex idea and there are certainly degrees and even exceptions to the rule. Also, this nuance requires the Klal to be administered by people (such as the Sanhedrin, a prophet or spiritual leader) who will not manipulate this improperly for their own gain. But by and large it gives us a fresh outlook on the responsibilities of the individual to the Klal, while maintaining the value score of the individual.

I would like to relate this to a practical application in our community – the daily minyan. In truth, a minyan is necessary for each individual to be able to properly pray every day. But even if a person doesn’t (currently for whatever reason) value score the minyan very highly on their personal scale of priorities, still the minyan is a vital part of a successful Jewish community. As a part of that community, I personally benefit from that success as well. (Similar to the idea of citizens benefitting from a good educational system even if they do not have children.) So therefore, even when I don’t want to trouble myself to attend the minyan, I acknowledge that it is for my personal good to do so because it is a value to community.

In this vein, we are going to be working over the next few weeks to boost the daily morning minyan. You may be getting a call or an email about this. Please consider the above articulated idea when determining your level of commitment.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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