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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


The Duality of Sin

There is an interesting linguistic pattern regarding the terminology the Prophets use to describe the misconduct, punishment and redemption of the Jewish people. When Yirmiyahu speaks about the iniquities of the Jewish people, he says, "Jerusalem has sinned a sin." When Yishayahu, refers to the Jewish suffering, he says, "She has received double for all her sins." Then, when he addresses redemption, he says, "Comfort, comfort my people."

The double nature of these verses ("sinned a sin;" "double for all her sins; "Comfort, comfort") emphasizes that a person constantly functions on two levels, spiritual and physical. Everything we do impacts on our relationship with both G-d and the people in our lives. This concept also applies to the Jews as a nation. Just like the individual Jew, the Jewish nation as a whole constantly functions on these two levels. On the one hand, our national focus is toward our relationship with G-d, as articulated by the infamous Bilam: "Behold, it is a nation that dwells in solitude, not to be reckoned among the nations." On the other hand, as Yishayahu puts it, we are mandated to be a "light unto the nations."

The sins of the Jewish people, both as a nation and as individuals, occur on these same two levels. G-d conveys through Yishayahu, "Children have I raised and exalted, but they have rebelled against Me....They have forsaken Hashem, they have angered the Holy One of Israel and have turned their back to Him." At the same time, the prophet declares, "How the faithful city has become a harlot. She had been full of justice, but now murderers.... Your princes are...associates of thieves, each of them loves bribery."

For sins against G-d as well as crimes against people, divine punishment was thus dealt measure for measure. G-d severs His relationship with us. "Your worthless meal-offering...is an incense of abomination to me.... My soul detests your new moons and holidays.... When you spread your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you...I will not listen, G-d declares through the Prophet. On the physical level, he declares, "Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire. As for your land, strangers consume its yield."

Fortunately, the redemption, too, shall have these dimensions. Our spirituality will be restored and "the Glory of Hashem will be revealed and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken." So, too, our physicality will be restored: "As for your ruins and desolations...you will now become crowded with inhabitants.... For Hashem will comfort Zion,...He will make her wilderness like Eden,...joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music."

Too many of us lose sight of the importance of our dual role and responsibilities as Jews. Instead, many people focus on either a person-person relationship or a person-G-d relationship. Judaism is a package deal. In order to be a good Jew, it is essential to perfect a relationship with G-d as well as one with fellow people. It may be possible to be a good person without being a good Jew, but one cannot be a good Jew without being a good person. Only when this concept is internalized can our redemption materialize.