Falling In or Standing Out?

Why is Viduy Maasros called a viduy when we aren’t confessing to any wrongdoing?
Chazal teach us that on Rosh Hashanah we are judged collectively and individually. How is that possible?
… I have removed all sacred shares from my home; I have given [the suitable shares] to the Levi, the orphan and widow, in accordance with all the precepts that You commanded us. I have not transgressed your commands nor have I forgotten anything. I have not consumed of it [the second maaser-tithe;] while in mourning, I have not apportioned / consumed any of it while tamei-halachically impure; nor have I used any for the dead, I have paid attention to the Voice of HaShem my Elokim and have acted in harmony with all that You commanded me.

—Devarim 26:13,14

Hashkifah-Look down; from your holy meon– habitation; in heaven and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us, the land streaming milk and honey, as You swore to our forefathers.

—Ibid 15

And the men arose from there, and they looked down upon Sodom …

—Bereishis 18:16

and they looked down:  Wherever the word הַשְׁקָפָה =hashkafah is found in TeNaK”h, it indicates misfortune, except (Devarim 26:15) “Look down (הַשְׁקִיפָה) from your holy meon,” for the power of gifts to the poor is so great that it transforms the Divine attribute of Wrath to Mercy.

—Rashi ibid from Midrash Tanchuma Ki Sisa 14

Divine Judgment is passed on the world at four intervals [annually] … On Rosh Hashanah all those who’ve come into the world pass before Him like children of Maron i.e. single-file, individually

— Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 16A

And [please] do not put Your slave on trial; for before You [under Your exacting judgment] no living being will be vindicated.

—Tehillim 143:2

Who can say: “I have made my heart meritorious; I have purified myself from my sin”?

—Mishlei 20:9

Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said in the name of Rav Yochanan: [All the same on Rosh Hashanah] they are all viewed [together] with a single [all-encompassing] look. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok said: We also have learned the same idea: “[From the place of His habitation He looks השגיח upon all the inhabitants of the earth.] He that inventively designed the hearts of them all, Who comprehends all their doings” (Tehillim 33:14,15). … what it means is this: The Creator sees their hearts all-together and considers all their doings[collectively].

— Gemara Rosh Hashanah 18A

The revealed facet of this teaching of the sages is self-evident but the esoteric meaning is undoubtedly difficult to grasp

—Rambams commentary to Mishnah ibid

Rabi Yochonan taught “tithe so that you grow wealthy.”

—Taanis 8B

The pauper speaks pleadingly; but the affluent respond impudently.

—Mishlei 18:23

 The juxtaposition of the Yamim Nora’im-days of Awe; and Parashas Ki Savo, almost always read a mere two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, is among the oddest vagaries of the Torah calendar. Whereas the month of Elul, the yemei Selichos and Yamim Noraim are characterized by detailed A-Z confessionals the “viduy” maasros-“confession” of proper tithing; that we find in Parashas Ki Savo seems to be anything but a confessional. While the Sforno and other commentaries search for a subtextual sin being alluded to; on the surface it reads like a kind of turned-on-its-head anti-confessional informed by an apparently unseemly braggadocio.

In it the “confessor” does not own up to any wrongdoing at all. On the contrary — he spells out all of the righteous and law-abiding things that he has done vis-à-vis the tithing of his agricultural produce.  If this braggarts confessional were not enough the cocky confessor concludes his Divine conversation with a crude, insistent, strong-armed demand; boldly inviting Divine scrutiny and reeking of tit for tat: “Hashkifah … and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us … as You swore to our forefathers.” It’s almost as if the confessor was kivyachol-so to speak; challenging HaShem by insisting “I’ve done mine, now You do Yours!”

We know that on the yemei hadin-judgment days; of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the Divine Judgment proceeds along two, seemingly mutually exclusive tracks; the individual and the collective.  On the one hand the mishnah teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, like sheep passing beneath the shepherds crook for exclusive inspection, all pass before G-d single-file, kivyachol, to be judged individually.  But on the other hand the gemara, teaches that on Rosh Hashanah all are viewed and judged collectively with a single all-encompassing look. According to the Lubliner Kohen, the gemara was, so to speak, apprehensive of the awesome and awful implications of trying to survive such a withering examination and, so, it diluted “sweetened” absolute justice with the less demanding single, all-encompassing look. The Rambams comment that “the esoteric meaning of this mishnah is undoubtedly difficult to grasp” is interpreted by one of the great 20th century Jewish thinkers to mean that judging collectively and individually simultaneously are two antithetical elements in one process. It seems impossible that they could coexist.

That said, being judged as a member of a large collective is the safer of the two tracks and lends itself to greater optimism for a positive outcome for the defendants. As the Izhbitzer explains; HaShem judgmental scrutiny is infinite in its scope and breadth and plumbs the infinitesimal in its attention to detail.  Whenever He focuses on a single individual that individual is gripped by terror, for no individual can face G-d and declare that s/he is completely righteous and totally free of sin. One on trial by G-d can only exhale and begin to relax a bit when s/he is part of a communal body and when it is that collective entity, rather than its individual component parts, that is being judged. In a collective the component parts “clarify” one another for every soul is outstanding and pure in one specialized field. Or, as the Lubliner Kohen puts it, component parts of the whole are complimentary.  What one lacks another completes … and vice versa.

In his analysis of various impediments to teshuvah-repentance; Rav Eliyahu Lazer Dessler asserts that the most serious hindrance is the character trait of gaavah– arrogance.  Among other ways that he self-sabotages his teshuvah, the arrogant egomaniac is thoroughly convinced of his outstanding salience that sets him apart from the rest of society and he always chooses to stand out rather than to fall in. He is in love with his own, stand-alone individualism. In terms of teshuvah as a vehicle for a favorable Divine judgment this is his absolute undoing.

Rav Dessler cites a passage from the Zohar to prove this point.

When Elisha the prophet wanted to express his gratitude to the Shunamis-woman from Shunam; and reciprocate for the kindnesses she had rendered, he asked her (through his servant Geichazee): “… Behold, you have been anxious for us with all this care; what is to be done for you? Would you like me to speak to the king on your behalf — or to the captain of the army?” And she answered: “I dwell within my own people.” (Melachim II 4:13)

The Zohar (Beshalach page 244A) interprets this conversation as referring to the judgment day of Rosh Hashanah. Elisha was asking the Shunamis if, on Rosh Hashanah, G-d’s coronation day, kivyachol, if she’d like him to pray i.e. “speak to the King” on her behalf. Her response was that such a prayer would be counterproductive.  As the King was auditing and judging His Kingdom it would make her salient and draw Divine Attention to her as an individual. Elisha was offering to make her stand out when she wanted nothing more than to fall in and have her individuality melt away into the collective whole of society. “I dwell within my own people.” She was saying “I am just a cell within the larger organism of my people, and therein lays my salvation. For G-d is always merciful to the whole.”

Rav Dessler concludes that the arrogant egomaniac has set himself apart from the collective and, in a far more precarious situation than the Shunamis, lacks a prophet willing to pray for him such that he has subjected himself to the merciless, uncompromising rigors of passing beneath the shepherds crook for exclusive inspection and individualized  judgment.

There are many near-synonymous words in Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue; for vision.  There are many different ways to look at something; to perceive it visually. One can take a cursory glance or stare intently and incessantly.  One can look to satiate a need or to analyze. One can gaze with skepticism, with benevolence or with longing. Vision can be telescopic or microscopic. But asking for haskafah-looking down; is always a risky business. As Rashi in Bereishis teaches viduy maasros is the one exception to the rule that hashkafah portends bad things to come. The Izhbitzer takes it a step further and asserts that, when applied to Divine vision, the word hashkafah carries a connotation of inviting specific, individualized scrutiny rather than generalized assessment as a mere cell in a larger organism.

Yet, remarkably, the one confessing viduy maasros invites this peril and treads fearlessly towards an encounter with HaShem that filled the Shunamis with mortal fear and where the recklessly arrogant meet their doom. This, avers the Izhbitzer, is what the Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Sisa14) means when it says “there is no other hour when we approach You, HaShem, with ‘strong-arm tactics’. It is only when we finish ‘expunging’ i.e. allocating, all of our tithes from our homes that we do so.” But he offers no elaboration as to how or why an individual who finished all of his maasros allocations becomes empowered to withstand HaShem’s judging him as an individual.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, seems to say that, paradoxically, allocating maasros to all the fitting and worthy recipients is an individual act that creates the unity of the communal collective.  It is standing out in order to fall in. For, in truth, HaShem’s will is to vindicate Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people; not to find then guilty. The only dynamic that arouses the Divine Wrath and Rigor is when we prosecute one another by pursuing individualized, self-centered agendas that perceive others as competitive threats rather than as cooperative, complementary team-members. But through maasros, that assures that the worthy Levi, righteous convert, widow and orphan have been supported and sustained; Klal Yisrael coalesces into an organic unit.  The two halves of the haves and the have-nots dovetail cooperatively and cease prosecuting one another. This allows for G-d’s “plan A”, to vindicate and bestow favor on Klal Yisrael, to function and then there is nothing to fear from pursuing a brassy, strong-armed approach to the trial encounter.

Jewish tradition teaches that the days of the month of Elul are meant to be used in preparation for a trial that our lives depend on. Conventional wisdom dictates that, in essence, the attorney for the defendant advises his client to “come clean, confess everything and throw yourself on the mercy of the Court. That is the one and only way to save your life.” Accordingly, the tzedakah-charity; component of the Yamim Nora’im, has no distinct character of its own.  It is of a piece with the humble, self-abnegating behavior modification that is part and parcel of teshuvah. But sometimes the best defense is a good offense and a two-pronged advocacy may be more effective.  In light of the Izhbitzer teaching I’d like to suggest that, perhaps, during Yamim Nora’im teshuvah manifests “The pauper speaks pleadingly” defense consisting of coming clean and begging for mercy.  Whereas tzedakah, the contemporary iteration of maasros, not only enriches those who give it but empowers them to pursue a brassy, cheeky, strong-armed tactic in mounting an “offensive” defense.  Like maaser distributors of old perhaps tzedakah givers needn’t fear individualized scrutiny on the Yamim Nora’im and boldly seize the role of “the children of Maron”, for “the affluent respond impudently.”

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach KiSavo D”H Hashkifah
Resisei Laylah 40, page 73
Michtav M’Eliyahu volume I General Impediments to Repentance pp 124-125
Bais Yaakov KiSavo D”H V’amarta



2 comments on “Falling In or Standing Out?

  1. Perhaps you can explain something that always bothered me.

    We say that davening with a minyan gives us the merit of others’ good deeds, but why then don’t we also get their sins?

  2. This is just what we needed was a complete explanation during Elul regarding
    the difference between H’s judgement of “me” (individually) vs. “us” (Jewish

    This was an amazing article, and we’ll carry it with us through our viduy maasros,
    through all of the yamim noraim.

    Thank you for your clear detailing of what we need to do during the

    Shabbat Shalom

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