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    The Shema & the quality of the community – Ekev

    communityIn this week’s reading we encounter the second paragraph of the Shema.

    Amongst its contents is a repetition of the laws of t’fillin, “You shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be symbols between your eyes” (Deut . 11:18).

    The difference between the command in the first paragraph of the Shema and the one we now see in the second paragraph is the singular “you” in the first paragraph and the plural in the second.

    In modern English the same word, “you”, is used for both. In archaic English the distinction is clearer, between “thy” (singular) and “your” (plural).

    This suggests the dichotomy between the individual (“thou”) and the community (“you”). “I” (singular) am one and unique; “we” (plural”) are part of each other but the “we” has its own personality.

    When it comes to keeping the mitzvot, just as there is a personal obligation on each one of us; the community as a whole has to act together to ensure that “your camp shall be holy” (Deut. 23:15).

    There are two ways of judging the quality of a Jewish community – what the individual member does, and what the community does.

    Yehudah Halevi utilised this distinction in a famous explanation (in his Kuzari) of communal prayer. He said that each individual has an obligation to pray (not just because the law requires it but because anyone who looks at God’s world will automatically utter the praises of the Creator), but so does the community, since in a group one member reinforces the other and overcomes the other’s defects.

    To Yehudah Halevi we can add that there are things which the community needs to do, and is seen as doing, as a group, and hence the community has its overall group aspirations and attainments.

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