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Parshas נְצָבִים

Sweetening the Din

עֶרֶב: evening

מַעַרַב: west,

מַעַרִב: evening prayers

עַרָבָה: desert

עַרָבוֹת: willow branch

עַרַב: Arab

עֹרֵב:raven

תַּעַרוֹבוֹת: mixture

עֹרִֵב: sweet, pleasant, harmonious

עִרְבּוּב: confusion

עֵרֻב: eiruv (for Shabbos)

עַרָבוֹת: Seventh Heaven

עוֹרֵב: guarantor, as in  כָּל יִשְׁרָאֵל עַרֵבִים זֶה לְזֶה


כָּל יִשְׁרָאֵל עַרֵבִים זֶה לְזֶה/We Are All Responsible for Each Other

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת
The hidden things are to Hashem, whereas the revealed things are for us and our children forever to uphold the Torah. 

Rashi on this verse says: וְנַעַשׂוּ עַרֵבִים זֶה לְזֶה/we are all responsible for each other to ensure that we all live in a Torah society, and if anyone publicly breaks the rules and we do nothing about it, then we will be held accountable.

If we were attacked by wild Indians from all directions, we would watch each other’s backs — not just because we care about each other’s safety, but, more realistically, because we need each other, since each of us without help would certainly have our skullcaps scalped! So too with any breach in the fence of the Torah — if left unattended, it is in danger of spreading. 

כָּל יִשְׁרָאֵל עַרֵבִים זֶה לְזֶה is the reality that we are all playing for the same team, where each position is vital in order for there to be success. All Bnei Yisrael, from all the generations, are collectively one body, one person, and if G-d forbid one cell becomes cancerous, without immediate attention it could quickly spread.

Now let’s explore the root of this word ערב.

עֶרֶב: Evening

וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד/it was evening and it was morning, one day. בֹּקֶר comes from the word לְבַקֵר/to examine, because with the morning light one can easily distinguish between things. עֶרֶב is the opposite; it is a time when things become less distinct, when the light merges into the darkness and things become less clear. Statistically, this is the time of day when there are more road accidents. עֶרֶב in this respect is a mixture, something in between, something less defined.

מַעַרַב/west is the direction from which the evening comes, מִי עֶרֶב/from the west, and מַעַרִיב/maariv is evening prayers.

עַרָבָה: Desert, Plains, Empty

The Aravah is the desert plains, not the mountains or the valleys, but something in between.

עַרָבוֹת: Willow Branch

The willow branch, one of the arba minim that we shake together with the lulav and esrog, symbolizes the resha’im, because, unlike the esrog, the עַרָבָה has no taste or smell, corresponding to those who have no Torah learning or good deeds. So just like the Aravah of the desert plains is empty, so too the Jew who is compared to the עַרָבוֹת is consideredempty.

עַרַב: Arab

The Arabs are the people of Arabia, the Aravah, the people of the desert.

In describing Yishmael, the Torah says that he will be a wild man and that his hand will be in everything and everyone’s hand will be in his. He is a wild man who lives in the deserts, like bandits whose philosophy is “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours,” everything mixed together. They are a nation with no boundaries. Arabia was one big land mass, which only in recent times, with the turn of the last century, was cut up into many individual states by England and France. The Targum Yonasan on the above pasuk uses the word יִתְעַרְבֻּב/mixed up to describe the Arab’s nature of having his hand in everything and mixing everything up.

Before the Torah was given to the Bnei Yisrael, the Midrash says it was first offered to all the other nations. The Yishmaelim, once they heard that the Torah contained the commandment not to steal, were unable to accept it because stealing is the very essence of who they are.

In connection with this middah of “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours,” the Gemara in Kiddushin says that ten measures of promiscuity were given to the world, of which nine measures נָטְלָה עַרַבִיָא/were taken by the Arabs. (This is probably why their women need to be covered from head to toe.) The promiscuous nature of the Arab is born out of the same middah of stealing, of having no bounds, “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine,” which comes to include other people’s wives and daughters.

עֹרֵב:Raven

The Gemara brings the concept of בָּשָׁר שֶׁנִתְעַלֶם מִן הַעַיִן/meat that has been hidden from view, i.e., left unattended, is forbidden, since there is a remote possibility that ravens could have switched the piece of meat for another. Even if the majority of the meat in the town is kosher, it is still forbidden because the raven’s ability to fly messes up the statistics and mixes everything up. In Parshas Noach, the raven is called a rasha, and just like the Arab, the raven’s very nature is to steal and mix things up.

תּעַרוֹבוֹת: Mixture

Some mixtures are good, like a mixture of voices producing a beautiful harmony, which in Hebrew is called קוֹל עוֹרֵב/a sweet, pleasant sound. Some mixtures are bad, like when things get messed up, which is called in Hebrew עִרְבּוּב.

A single instrument, a lonesome voice, even a single note, is nothing compared to the sweet sound of a chord, the harmony of a choir, or the vibrancy of a whole orchestra. The exception to the rule, of course, is a single-malt whiskey when compared to a blended whiskey! Harmony, therefore, is when we are playing for the same team, as opposed to disharmony, which is when we play out of tune. 

עֵרֻב: Eiruv (on Shabbos)

An eiruv is used to create a mixing together of domains so that one can carry from one domain to another.

עַרָבוֹת: Seventh Heaven

The concept of Seventh Heaven really exists and is a Jewish concept.
Hashem created seven heavens of which the highest one is called עַרָבוֹת, because it is cherished and honored, and anything that is honored is considered עוֹרֵב/sweet and pleasant.
 
It is so cherished and honored because Hashem chooses to ride His chariot in the Seventh Heaven.
So the literal sense of being in Seventh Heaven, the highest of highs, is that of one riding high with Hashem.

Another reason why it called עַרָבוֹת is because from the עַרָבוֹת Hashem manages the world with a mixture of judgment and mercy. For this reason it is עֹרֵב/sweet because there is a balance, there is harmony. This harmony is reflected in the home, with the separate roles of the mother and father coming together to give a balanced upbringing to their children. The mother is the one who is more merciful, since she incubated the children in her womb for such a long time and naturally tends to be more merciful, being that רַחַמִים comes from the רֶחֶם/womb. The father provides the balance by being more דִין/strict.

עוֹרֵב: Guarantor  

The concept of an עוֹרֵב/guarantor is to bind together the lender and the borrower. Sometimes, without an עוֹרֵב there is no loan. So just like if the borrower fails to pay the loan the guarantor steps in, so too the concept of כָּל יִשְׁרָאֵל עַרֵבִים זֶה לְזֶה/all of Israel are responsible for each other, in that if someone messes up, we must step in and restore the balance.

In conclusion there are good mixtures and bad mixtures, harmony and disharmony. When one mixes up something too much, it loses its taste and smell. This is the רָשָׁע, who is compared to the עַרָבָה/willow. On the other hand, the one who spices up his life with the Torah keeps his taste and smell (the Torah being the תַּבְלִין/spice that cures the yetzer hara).

The עַרָבָה of the desert, translated as מִישׁוּר/plateau, it is neither high nor low, and one might think this is good, with מִישׁוּר being lashon יָשָׁר/straight. But the worst kind of Jew, in terms of being able to change, is the one in the middle, the one who is neither black nor white. He mixes everything up, he himself is mixed up, and being unable to distinguish, he has been entrapped by the yetzer hara whose job is to mix everything up. He has reached a plateau and considers his position just right, without the need to climb higher; indeed those who are higher than him he considers extremists, while those below him are ignoramuses. 

It’s much easier to be a baal teshuvah, having come from a dark place, where the contrasting light is much more apparent. When one is in the middle, though, and in a state of עֶרֶב, it is much harder to distinguish between night and day and day and night.

As we approach the Day of Din/Judgment, we hope there will be teshuvah,
like it says in Zechariah: וְהָיָה לְעֵת עֶרֶב יִהִיֶה אוֹר/as evening approaches there will be light,
and like it says in Yeshayah: יְשֻׂשׂוּם מִדְבָּר וְצִיָּה וְתָגֵל עֲרָבָה וְתִפְרַח כַּחֲבַצָּלֶת/the arid desert will be joyous and the wilderness (עַרָבָה) will exalt and blossom like a rose.

וְהַעַרֶב נָא ה’ אֶ-לֹהֵנוּ/make it sweet Hashem our G-d, who rides in the עַרָבוֹת/Seventh Heaven (where He mixes din with rachamim), that You should sweeten our din with rachamim. This is the symbolism of honey, to sweeten the din, and is the real meaning when we wish people a sweet New Year.

1 Devarim 29:28.

2 Bereishis 1:5.

3 Kiddushin 49b.

4 Chullin 95a.

5 Chagigah 12b; Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 3:1; see also Melachim II 14:14, ואת בני התערובות, which the Targum translates as: וית בני רברביא.

6 Bamidbar Rabbah 3:8: ברא הרקיעים וברר לו אחד מהם זה ערובות שנאמר סלו לרכב בערובות (תהלים סח:ה)

7 Zecharyah 14:7.

8 Yeshayah 35:1.

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Tzvi Abrahams

Founding Editor at Veromemanu
Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams was raised in The United Kingdom, and emigrated to Israel where he received his Rabbinical ordination. He recently published the book Root Connections In The Torah, and lectures on the beautiful connections of Biblical Hebrew root words. Tzvi lives in Zichron Yaakov, Israel with his wife, children and their friendly dog.

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Tzvi Abrahams