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    On your own – Vayikra

    Im nefesh achat techeta, says the sidra: “If one soul shall sin…” (Lev. 4:27).

    Rabbi Avraham Chaim of Zlotschov said, “You can be a great tzaddik and still sin. How can this be? The Torah says, ‘If one soul shall sin…’ If the tzaddik is ‘one soul’, concerned with himself and his own righteousness, that’s a sin. A tzaddik should be anxious both for himself and for the rest of the community.”

    There are some religions that despair of the world and concentrate on their own souls. There may even be a few Jews who are tempted to follow that path. But this is not the Jewish way.

    For Judaism, the sparks of godliness that were scattered at the time of creation have gone everywhere and could and do rest in all of us, waiting and ready to be recognised and redeemed.

    The tzaddik does not write anyone off, no matter how unpropitious they may seem. The Talmud says, tzaddikim nitpasim al ha-dor (Shabbat 33b) – “the righteous are seized (by God) for the sins of the generation”.

    This is not punishment by proxy, vicarious atonement, but the recognition that if the generation sins, it may be because the righteous have not exerted themselves sufficiently to bring them back to righteousness.

    The moment that we say or imply, “You’re not worth my time, you don’t deserve my love, you can stew in your own juice”, that’s when there is a hole in our own righteousness, that’s a nefesh achat techeta – a soul that sins because it has abandoned the souls of others and forgotten that we all have a godly spark.

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