In his book “Collective Moral Responsibility”, Tracy Isaacs addresses philosophical approaches to moral responsibility.
These fall into two main categories, individualist and collectivist.
Individualists think of it as a reductive concept; collectivists think of it more holistically.
We may therefore understand collective moral responsibility as operating at a different level from individual responsibility and as being justified by appeal to collective intentions and the actions to which they give rise.
Collective moral responsibility is not a function of the moral responsibility of individuals.
Instead, it is a function of the agency of collectives.
It is interesting to find out that the different approaches to responsibility are addressed in this Shabbat’s Torah portion “Re’eh” – ראה from the book of Deuteronomy – D’varim.
This Torah portion opens with the following verse:
רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם–הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse
The blessings nf the curses are proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (respectively) when the people of Israel cross over into the Holy Land.
Let’s now pay attention to the fact that the beginning of the verse addresses the audience in the singular form in Hebrew* רְאֵה (Beheold/Look),
but then it switches to a plural form לִפְנֵיכֶם (Before you).
* In Hebrew verbs are conjugted differently in singular and in plural forms.
What could be the reason for this change from singular to plural in this verse?
The Gaon of Vilna informs us of a very important rule in regards to the personal and the collective perception of the guidance given by the Torah.
When the Torah addresses the people only in the plural form, one may assume that he does not need to clarify and crystalize for himself the personal path in life he must take.
He would just follow the masses!
Therefore the verse starts with the word רְאֵה (take a good look) in a singular form to let each and everyone one know that this is his personal responsibility to learn, understand and implement the outcomes of his learning.
However the personal conclusions have to be based on the collective interpretation of his people.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat,
and speaking a lot of Hebrew!
Yoel & Orly