"Kol Yisrael Areyvim Zeh l'Zeh"
"All Yisrael are responsible for one another."
Have you ever reached for a nice cool, refreshing piece of fruit only to turn it around and see it starting to rot on the other side? How disappointing is that? Especially when you were really looking forward to it. And the worst part is - you just bought it. How did it go bad so quickly?
Then, in the back of the drawer, you find an old shriveled piece of fruit that everyone forgot about. “Yes, one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch.”
Scientifically speaking, the saying is true. Ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which causes other nearby fruits to ripen. So, even though you just bought that bag of fruit, if you place it in the same drawer as an old, over-ripened fruit, the ethylene gas causes the new fruit to ripen (and rot) more quickly than usual.
“One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”
You've probably heard this saying all your years growing up from anyone and everyone older than you. Most often, they were well-intentioned people warning you to stay away from the many bad influences out there in the world. The wrong company could lead you off the beaten path, and it won't be long before you find yourself straying in your beliefs, attitudes, behavior, or actions.
But everybody knows that, right? We've heard it and probably said it ourselves a thousand times. So, why am I mentioning it here?
Well, it crossed my mind a couple weeks ago during our Shabbat service:
“What if I'm the bad apple?”
You probably don't feel like you're the bad apple either, right? I mean, we're pretty good, aren't we? (...or at least we try to be)
But what if the tables were turned? What if I really am the bad apple?
It's a scary thought when you actually take the time to think about it.
Am I affecting others in a bad way? What am I putting out?
Is it unkindness? Maybe I should've listened longer when he was telling me about his day. Maybe I should've cared more about her situation. Maybe I don't smile enough. Maybe I use the wrong tone of voice way too often. Maybe I shouldn't have said no...or made up that excuse.
Perhaps it's an attitude problem. Maybe I judge people too harshly, too critically. Maybe I'm a little bit self-righteous. Maybe I'm arrogant in some way. Self-centered? Stingy?
What if other people are affected by me even when I think I'm not harming anybody at all? Am I emitting an 'invisible gas' that's 'spoiling' the people around me? Is there something almost imperceptible – even to myself – that others pick up on and are affected by?
Could it be apathy? Maybe I don't exude enough enthusiasm for YAH. Maybe I don't take the Sabbath seriously enough. Maybe I don't think worship is important enough. Maybe I'm not as diligent in prayer as I should be.
Or maybe it's my spiritual state. Perhaps I don't have enough emunah (belief) or bitachon (trust). Maybe I'm more concerned with 'the letter of the law' than my actual relationship with the Almighty. Maybe I simply don't love Him as I should. Am I more concerned with teaching others than learning for myself?
I could keep going, but I think I'll stop there. You get the point.
Maybe I'm the only one guilty of those things, and maybe I'm not. Surely, you can make your own list.
It's easy to think that my internal issues don't affect anyone else, but they do. Our mental state, emotional state, and especially our spiritual state, all 'seep' out from us in invisible, almost imperceptible ways, and those closest to us feel the effects.
If our ways have an impact on those around us, then that presents us with a serious responsibility. One that we must be mindful of all the time.
The Jewish Sages teach the principle of "kol Yisrael areyvim zeh l'zeh" - 'all Yisrael are responsible for one another.' If I'm responsible for the rest of Yisrael, then surely I have to guard myself. Surely, I need to be more aware of the affect I'm having on those around me.
We're in the fifth month, just two months away from the set-apart days of the seventh month. Usually, the sixth month is considered the month of preparation, but why don't we start a little early this year, and give ourselves a head start.
Let's take the time for cheshbon hanefesh – accounting of the soul. Think about what 'gas' you may be emitting that can affect – and probably has affected - others in a negative way. They may be things that you already know about, and perhaps YAH is already dealing with you about them. They may be new things that you never recognized before. Think about how these things are affecting the people around you – your family, your friends, your coworkers, your fellow Yahudim.
What are you going to do about it?