Parashat Nitzavim opens with a somewhat difficult pasuk: “You stand today, all of you, before Hashem your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders and your enforcers – all the people of Israel, your children, your women and your stranger in the midst of your camp, from your woodcutter to your water-drawer.”
The problem in this pasuk is obvious: why must it specify every group that stands before Hashem, enumerating them group by group, something we do not find anywhere else in the Torah? Furthermore, once the pasuk decided to mention each group by name, why does it also speak in general terms – “kol ish Yisrael” (“all the people of Israel”); “kulchem” (“all of you”) – if in any event it proceeds to specify each category?
The Ramban addresses these difficulties and writes, “In my view, the Torah speaks in general terms and then in specifics.” Meaning, the Torah often mentions first the general category and then specifies all its components. The Ha’amek Davar, however, explains differently. He writes: “Although each person is judged individually, nevertheless, each one [potentially] causes the decision for the whole – either for punishment or for benevolence.”
This concept applies primarily during the Yamim Noraim, the period during which these sections in the Torah are read. But even generally, as the Rambam comments in Hilchot Teshuva (3:4), “A person must see himself all year round as half meritorious and half guilty, and similarly the whole world as half meritorious and half guilty. If he commits one sin, he has thus tilted himself and the entire world towards guilt and caused it destruction. If he performs one mitzva, he has thus tilted himself and the entire world towards merit.”
A third explanation, also in the spirit of this idea, was suggested by the third Rebbe of Sochatchov, in his work “Ne’ot Deshe.” He writes: “It would appear that a person’s service [of Hashem] consists of two types, and, correspondingly, there are two aspects within the concept of [divine] providence and judgment. As the Sages say, ‘On Rosh Hashanah all creatures on earth pass before him like sheep [one by one]’… Correspondingly, there are also two aspects to [a person’s] service [of Hashem] – in terms of the individual, and in terms of collective whole… For the work in improving oneself is in terms of the individual, whereas the work performed for its own sake is in terms of the collective whole… This is also the meaning of the section, ‘You stand today, all of you.’ This refers to the aspect of providence with respect to the entire nation. It then lists the various segments, and this refers to the aspect of providence ‘like sheep’.”
There he develops the idea that a person constantly moves throughout his life in between two parallel planes. The first is the general plane, in which a person is obligated to devote himself on behalf of collective whole. On the other hand, he also exists on the personal plane, where one’s obligation is directed entirely towards himself. These two planes find expression in Rosh Hashanah, when we come before the Almighty on the one hand as a single nation, and on the other, “like sheep,” one after another, as individuals, whereby Hashem determines where each person conducted himself as part of the collective whole.
As the new year approaches, let us all remember to constantly view ourselves as part of the collective whole of Am Yisrael, while at the same time never foregoing on each person’s individual role, for there is no person on earth without his unique role to serve.