Devarim, 29:28: The hidden things are for Hashem, our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah.

Rashi, Devarim, 29:28, sv. The hidden things are for Hashem, our God: And if you will say, "What are we able to do? You punish the many for the [sinful thoughts] of the individual...is it not true that a person does not know the hidden thoughts of his fellow man? I do not punish you for 'the hidden things', because they are 'for Hashem, our God', and He will take what is due from that individual. But the 'revealed things are for us and for our children' to destroy the evil from our midst. And if we do not carry out judgment against him He will punish the many...

The Torah obligates each Jew for the sins of his fellow. However, Rashi explains that we are not held responsible for the hidden sins and thoughts since it is impossible to discern them. The commentaries explain that this obligation derives from the concept of 'kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh' - this means that all Jews are guarantors for each other. This doesn't simply tell us that each Jew has to care for his fellow; it goes far deeper. The Midrash on this verse tells us that when one Jew sins, then the whole generation is damaged.(1) The Sages say say further that at Mount Gerizim every individual Jew accepted with forty-eight covenants the responsibility for the fulfillment of Mitzvot both with regards himself and all of the Jewish people. As a result every single Jew is spiritually bound up with every other Jew, and every action we take, whether positive or negative, directly affects everyone else.

This begs the question - if a person is harmed when his fellow Jew sins why should it matter whether he knew about it or not - he automatically suffers as a result of the sin! Rav Aharon Kotler answers that it is true that when any Jew sins, all other Jews should be adversely affected, however if they could not prevent that sin, then it is viewed as if they sinned through no fault of their own and a person is not punished for sinning in this way.(2)

However, this understanding seems at odds with the following words of the great halachic authority, the Taz.(3) The Taz discusses the vidui (confession) that we make on Yom Kippur. The Taz points out that the vidui is very lengthy, involving numerous sins, and it is conceivable that we can be sure that we have not committed all of them; accordingly, the Taz asks, how can we confess to something we have never done?! The Taz answers that it is because of the principle of arvut. He writes that the vidui is in the plural form - "we have sinned" as opposed to in the singular. He explains, "If the person (confessing) did not commit this sin, nonetheless his fellow Jew did commit it, and all Jews are guarantors for each other." (4) Similarly, Rav Chaim Vital says that this is why his Rebbe, the Arizal, would say every confession, even for sins he had never committed. He quotes the Arizal saying, "Even though a person may have never committed a sin, he must ask (God to forgive him for it) and confess it. For if another Jew has committed this sin it is the same as if he himself had done it. It is also for this reason that the confession is written in the plural." (5)

The difficulty with the Taz is that as we have seen from the Torah's words in the Torah Portion, a person is only considered liable through arvu if he perhaps could have prevented his fellow from sinning, if that is so, then how have we answered the original question of why we confess for sins that we never committed - surely we have not been in the situation where we could stop every single sin that is enumerated in the vidui from being committed and therefore we are not guilty of negligence with regard to arvut. Consequently, it would still seem as though we are confessing for something that we are not held responsible for?! One Torah scholar answered that we learn from here the great level of responsibility that we have to prevent our fellow from sinning. It is possible that we could have been able to prevent every kind of sin from being committed even though that doesn't seem to be the case. For example, in a situation where one Jew could have influenced one Jew to do teshuva, and thereby stop numerous kinds of sins from being perpetrated, if that religious Jew does not even attempt to help his fellow, then he could well be accountable for every sin that person commits. It is quite feasible that at some points in our lives we have all been in such a situation, therefore it would be necessary to say a full confession in such an instance as if we sinned ourselves.

As we approach the High Holy Days, this lesson reminds us that as well as working on our own self-growth, we must also reflect on our responsibility for improving the spiritual lives of our fellow Jew. Indeed we learn from the concept of arvut that our responsibility to others is an intrinsic aspect of our own growth.

NOTES

1. Midrash Tanchuma, Nitzavim.

2. Mishnas Rebbe Aharon, Chelek 1, Ch.10, p.2 43-4).

3. David HaLevi who lived in the 17th century. He wrote monumental commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch.

4. Taz, Orach Chaim, 607:1.

5. Likutey Torah, Taamey HaMitzvos, Vayikra 19:18.