“Tzibbur” (Community) = Tzaddikim (the righteous); Beinonim (the average), and Resha’im (the wicked)

The parsha of Devarim is always read on the Shabbat preceding Tish’a B’Av, and in honor of the ‘haftarah’ that we read it is called “Shabbat Hazon”. The three weeks that are known as “bein ha-meitzarim” (between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av) are devoted to national memory and to personal and communal stock-taking, in light of the destruction of both Temples.

Much is spoken today about our lamentable lack of national unity and about bringing different sectors of the nation closer to one another. There are well-known midrashim that speak of the need to include within the collective even the “wicked”, even those who do not follow the path that seems proper to us. Hazal taught: “Any fastday that does not include also some of the sinners of Israel, is not considered a proper fast” (Keritot 6b). Likewise we learn that the helbenah (galbanum), despite its unpleasant odor, was one of the necessary ingredients of the holy incense.

In contrast, there are other midrashim that present the opposite view: that the wicked should be distanced and dispersed. In Massekhet Sanhedrin (71b) we learn, “Scattering of the wicked is good for them and good for the world” – and hence the deduction that when the wicked are gathered together there is great potential for evil. How, then, are these two approaches to be reconciled? Are the “wicked” to be welcomed and included among us, or are they to be distanced and dispersed? Are there perhaps different kinds of wickedness? Should each individual choose his own approach towards dealing with the wicked?

A beautiful answer is to be found in the Meshekh Hokhma, who explains the difference between the two approaches as a difference in reality. When there is a gathering of people who are wicked in the same way – for instance, all corrupt, or all speakers of lashon ha-ra, then their gathering does in fact lend additional power to their wickedness, and in such a situation it is good that they be dispersed, in order to weaken their power for evil. But in a situation where some wicked people come together as part of the community, each being wicked in a different sphere, then the community is elevated with their assistance. How is this so? The Meshekh Hokhma explains that every person is able to learn from the positive aspects of others. Hence, even if someone is wicked in a certain area, we can still learn from him in other areas. By means of joining together, the unification of many individuals, we find that every one can learn something and gain a personal example from his neighbor, and thus the entire community is elevated – including the wicked people in its midst.

In today’s situation we may say that every one of us contains some aspect of “wickedness” in some matter – “wickedness” in the sense of a weak point. One of the possibilities facing us for working on ourselves to improve these aspects is through unity. Not only talking about unity, but living a life of unity: a constant search for positive aspects rather than weak points in others, and a will to learn and to gain from them in those areas. In this way wickedness will  disappear from the world and the wicked will be no more.