Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T.
In Parshat Nitzavim we encounter the concept of mutual responsibility, which holds profound psychological significance pertaining to collective wellbeing. Moshe gathers the entire nation for his final address to renew our covenant with Hashem. Mutual responsibility teaches us that we are connected. Regardless of background, status, or personal journey, every individual is united in this pivotal moment, forming a collective covenant.
The first passuk of the Parsha starts by stating: “Attem nitzavim hayyom kullechem lifnei Hashem - You stand this day, all of you, before Hashem” (Deuteronomy 29:9). The Ohr HaChaim expounds that Moshe gathered every member of the nation from the elderly to the young, to stress that under the renewed covenant every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah and create a meaningful life. It is here that the concept of Arevut, often translated as mutual responsibility or collective accountability, is introduced.
The Gemarah in Rosh Hashanah 29a states "kol Yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh, - All Israel is responsible for one another." From a psychological perspective, Arevut reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but rather part of a larger community. Just as Bnei Yisrael stood together, we too stand united in the web of human connection. It suggests that individuals are not only responsible for their own behavior but also for the well-being of their fellow community members. The Gemarah Shevuot 39a teaches that the entire Jewish people are considered guarantors for one another to ensure that others don’t come to sin.
Furthermore, the idea of Arevut underscores the importance of empathy. Understanding and sharing in the experiences of others fosters emotional connection and promotes a sense of belonging. This aligns with psychological studies demonstrating that empathy contributes to healthier relationships and increased emotional connections. As mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:14 “Im ein ani li, mi li. Ucheshe'ani le'atzmi, mah ani. - If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self only, what am I?” Rabeynu Yonah writes on this Mishna that we are unable to reach our full potential when we are only looking out for ourselves. A single thread is like a fragile strand, easily breakable with a little force. However, when woven together with many other threads, it forms a robust and unyielding fabric. Bnei Yisrael, like string, can be easily broken alone but powerful when interconnected. We must be accountable to one another because our lives are connected in ways we cannot always see through divine providence.
Here are three concise tips to increase the feeling of mutual responsibility within our community:
- Shared Goals: Establish clear, common objectives that everyone agrees upon and works towards together for a bigger purpose.
- Collaborative Recognition: Acknowledge and celebrate the joint efforts and achievements of the group, reinforcing the sense of shared responsibility. Celebrate in each other’s successes.
- Empathic Awareness: Empathize with each other's viewpoints, challenges, & perspectives by placing yourself into each other’s shoes. Take time out of your day to check on those who may be struggling.
Parshat Nitzavim's lesson of mutual responsibility aligns with psychological principles promoting connectedness, empathy, and a sense of purpose. The synergy between Parshat Nitzavim and the principle of Arevut teaches us that our collective strength lies in our unity. As we enter the High Holy Days, a period of reflection and renewal, let us remember that just as our ancestors stood together before Hashem, so too do the ties of Arevut bind us. May we approach this season of introspection with open hearts and minds that bring blessings and renewal to ourselves, our community, and the world at large.
Elan Javanfard, M.A., L.M.F.T. is a Consulting Psychotherapist focused on behavioral health redesign, a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, & a lecturer related to Mindfulness, Evidence Based Practices, and Suicide Prevention. Elan is the author of Psycho-Spiritual Insights: Exploring Parasha & Psychology, weekly blog. He lives in Los Angeles Pico Robertson community with his wife and two children and can be reached at Elan.Javanfard@gmail.com.