Lost In a Crowd?

We have all probably seen the campaigns to encourage every citizen to vote.  “Make your voice heard,” they say, “be part of the democratic process, every person counts!”  These types of slogans are a reaction to a real and perhaps legitimate feeling that seems to be shared by many about adding their own participation to mass events or projects; if there are so many people involved in it and doing it already, what is one more going to add?  The Torah doesn’t confirm nor deny this feeling outright; but it does nevertheless imply that when a person has an opportunity to join do-gooders, that it should not be passed up.

The Torah does give direction to someone who wants to do the opposite:  It says that we may not follow “the crowd” that is engaged in some negative activity  “You should not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23).  According to the commentary A Nation Is Born, this commandment is saying that one shouldn’t follow the many only for evil, but for virtue, one  should follow the many*:  “Even if many others are already advocating, supporting, and speaking up for righteousness do not be an inactive spectator and rely on others to speak or do.”  This idea is supported by the blessing that the Torah bestows on Yefeth for covering up his father Noah who had become exposed in his tent, even though the virtuous act was initiated by his brother Shem and could have been accomplished equally well with out Yefeth’s participation.  Ham, who didn’t join his brothers in their act, was criticized.  There are multiple Talmudic passages that also encourage individuals to join forces with others for righteous purposes even if they feel like they are contributing little or even nothing (see, for example, Sanhedrin 9a).

If a righteous deed can been accomplished without additional help, why would someone that lends a hand get credit for it?  The simplest explanation is that although the action could potentially have been executed without the extra assistance, since it was  actually executed with the extra person’s help, that person will share the credit for doing it even though that help was not necessary.  Alternately, even if the true credit for accomplishing something is only given to the person whose participation is necessary that initiates it, it could be that the additional participant is rewarded for a more general type of virtue, like encouraging or supporting someone that is doing good.

Whatever the basis for the reward, there is an empowering message that comes across clearly.  By recognizing this type of secondary participation in goodness and righteousness, the Torah is telling us that in no circumstances may we feel like our voice or actions won’t matter.  The Almighty gave every human being a mind with which to discern right and wrong, a voice to express it, and the power to make things happen, even when it seems like our contribution isn’t needed.  Do not follow the majority for evil, but do follow the majority to support righteousness, virtue, and the values that you believe in.

* This does not seem to be a logically valid inference; this idea can therefore only be proven to be the position accepted by the Torah based on other evidence, like that which follows.


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