Moses says to the Israelites, “When you enter the land that I am giving you” (Numbers 15:2). Yet he is speaking to a generation that will not in fact enter the land. They will die in the desert. Rashi tells us that he is giving an assurance of eventual entrance, but what assurance can there be to those who will not live to see it?
In his renowned 18th-century commentary, the Or Hahayyim, R. Ibn Attar, explains: it is a promise to their children, because their deeds are included in the lives of the parents. So the Israelites understand “you” as the people whom you love, those who will follow. At first it may seem that the great commentator is spinning this interpretation from whole cloth. But recall that when God instructs Abraham to leave his home, God says “you” (singular) yet Abraham takes those whom he loves. The Jewish “you” is not an atomized you; it is not purely individualistic. We are in a web of connections, a network of love. When Moses speaks to the people he is not only speaking to them — he is speaking through them.
No one is an “I” alone. You are the generations who follow, the people whom you love, those who love you.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.