This week’s Torah portion contains the second paragraph of the Shema.
The first paragraph speaks to us in the singular while the second paragraph speaks to us in the plural. What is this change in number telling us?
By talking in the singular the first paragraph echoes the Ten Commandments, which are in the singular. It teaches us that our relationship with God is an individual one, and that we each have responsibility for what we are doing. The second paragraph teaches us something additional. We are all responsible for each other, and are influenced by our fellows. When we come together to pray and practice our religious duties, then we help each other maintain the high standards which are necessary. Group activity helps us to realise that others are watching and ensures that we spur ourselves to higher levels of observance because we are overseen by others in our activities.
This is the essential difference between individual and group observance. Only a truly saintly person can maintain that keen appreciation of Torah and Mitzvot without the spur of others. This is one reason why community is important, particularly in the manner in which we all encourage each other to higher and deeper engagement with our Jewish lives.
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