This Shabbat, Shabbat Nitzavim, is very important; it is the last one of the year, the one before Rosh Hashanah.
The portion begins with the words Atem nitzavim hayom, the Creator is speaking to the Israelites, who are gathered together before Him, saying “You stand here today.” And the kabbalists tell us the gathering of the Israelites that is being spoken about in this portion is for one thing: for them to accept what is called arvut, which translates as “mutual responsibility.” That is what happened on this Shabbat thousands of years ago, and that is the Light that is awakened every Shabbat Nitzavim. The Creator comes to every single one of us, and asks the question: Do you desire to live your life with responsibility for the world?
"Each one of us is part of the collective effort of humanity to shift the world."
But what does that mean? Rav Ashlag explains this in a section from The Wisdom of Truth. He begins with a quote from Rav Elazar, the son of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, and goes so far as to say this teaching from Rav Elazar is one of the most difficult - which means one of the most powerful - teachings in the entire Talmud.
So, Rav Elazar said, “The world is always judged by the majority, and each individual is also judged. Therefore, if you do one spiritual action, worthy is that person, he has brought himself individually, and the world as a whole, to the balance of merit, to the balance of blessings, to the balance of Light. But if you behave in ways of Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, if you behave in negative ways… he or she from that one action has moved himself and balanced the entire world to the balance of lack and judgment.” Judged means that what manifests in our lives is dependent on the majority of our actions.
Rav Ashlag asks how we can make sense of this quote. According to Rav Elazar, every action of connection and revelation of Light that we make moves the whole world to the positive, and every action of negativity moves the whole world to the negative. But let’s think about this practically. In thinking about our day today, maybe some of us did something negative and/or positive… but do we really feel the whole world suddenly shifted because of it?
Rav Ashlag tells us that it is, of course, a collective effort. To explain this, he uses the example of somebody who is adding sesame seeds to a scale. If you have a billion sesame seeds on one side, and nine hundred million on the other side, the scale tips to one side; even though a sesame seed is a tiny thing, the accumulation makes a difference. Mashiach, what we call the End of the Correction, when pain, suffering, and death is removed from this world, is dependent on the accumulation of sesame seeds. Each one of our actions, positive or negative, either adds to the balance of Light, of merit and blessings, or to the balance of the Negative Side.
So, it’s not simply that just because we came to make a connection or did an action of sharing we’re going to receive some Light, and suddenly the whole world changes. What actually happens is that when we do that connection or action, one sesame seed is added to the, let’s say, 10 trillion that exist. And each seed we add, through whatever amount of positive actions, help balance the world, and together, collectively, bring it to the End of the Correction. That’s the basic understanding of what Rav Elazar, the son of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, says. Each one of us is part of the collective effort of humanity to shift the world, from the beginning of time until the Gemar HaTikun, the End of the Correction. And every action that we do, if it’s positive, adds one sesame seed to the balance of positivity of Light, while every negative action we do takes one away.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, is that the way we really think? For example, maybe we did a very beautiful action today. We saw somebody who needed assistance, and it was uncomfortable for us, and we did it, because we want to grow and change. In so doing, yes, we brought Light for ourselves, and into the world. However, if we desired as we were doing that action that it also add to the balance of the world, it would have doubled its effect and strength, so rather than one sesame seed, there would be at least two. By deciding to live a life that is based on the constant consciousness of mutual responsibility we have for the balance of the world, every action we do is multiplied.
When the Creator came to the Israelites thousands of years ago on this Shabbat, and comes to us now, He asks if we just want Light for ourselves, or if we are willing to live a life for the world. Are we going to live a life that is constantly of the consciousness that whatever Light we create through our actions is not only for ourselves, our family, and those we meditate on, but also to balance the world? Because only that is the consciousness which multiplies the power of our Light and shifts the scales toward the positive. And that is the consciousness that can be awakened in each one of us on Shabbat Nitzavim by the Creator.