Between the Lines—Nitzavim–Va-yeilekh

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

Tanhuma B, Nitzavim section 4
מדרש תנחומא (בובר) פרשת נצבים סימן ד

 

אימתי כשתהיו כולכם אגודה אחת, בנוהג שבעולם אם נוטל אדם אגודה של קנים שמא יכול לשברם בבת אחת, ואילו נוטל אחת אחת אפי' תינוק יכול ומשברם, וכן אתה מוצא שאין ישראל נגאלים עד שיהיו אגודה אחת, שנאמר [בימים (האלה)] ילכו בית יהודה על בית ישראל ויבואו יחדיו מארץ צפון (שם /ירמיהו/ ג יח), כשהן אגודים מקבלין פני שכינה.

 

"You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God" (Deut. 29:9). When are you described as "standing"? As on this day when "all of you" are joined together in one cluster. In the nature of things, when a man picks up a cluster of reeds, can he possibly break them at one time? But if picked up one by one, then even a child can break them. Thus you find that Israel cannot be redeemed until they are one cluster, as is said, "In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the House of Israel, and together [in one cluster] they shall come out of the land of the north" (Jer. 3:18).

At this season of self-reflection, our thoughts naturally turn to our own individual acts of the year gone by. But the teshuvah process climaxes on the Yamim Nora'im, when we stand together in packed sanctuaries, finding power in our solidarity as a community.

While our teshuvah is our own, we need one another for it to take effect. As individuals we are only so strong; we bend like reeds in the wind as we are pulled by conflicting responsibilities, by the need to take sides, and by demands on our time. But those individual reeds clustered together form a bundle of strength. Part of our work these weeks is to reexamine the extent and nature of our commitment to the communities in which we take part. As the midrash suggests, it is by standing together that we will be redeemed.