The Mishna (Pesachim 9:9) found in today’s daf (Pesachim 98b) describes a situation where a group of people who intend to collaborate in the slaughter and consumption of a Korban Pesach then lose the lamb prior to it being slaughtered. The question posed by the Mishna is what is the law if one member separates from the group to find the lost lamb such that, if they are successful, they will slaughter it on behalf of the whole group while, at the same time, if the rest of the group does not hear from that individual member, they will then purchase and sacrifice a different lamb?
The answer, we are told, depends on whether this standing order has or has not been explicitly communicated. If it has, then whichever was first offered is the Korban Pesach for both the members of the group, as well as for the individual who went looking for the lost lamb.
If, however, this standing order had not been clearly communicated, or as the Mishna expresses it, לא אמר להן ולא אמרו לו – “if he said nothing to them, and they said nothing to him”, then אין אחראין זה לזה – “they (ie. each group) are not responsible for each other” – meaning that the individual who found the original lamb fulfils the mitzvah with what he offers as a Korban Pesach, and the group who purchased a new lamb fulfils the mitzvah with what they offer as a Korban Pesach.
When first reading this Mishna, I was struck by the directness of the phrase אין אחראין זה לזה – “they are not responsible for each other” which reminded me of further rabbinic saying (from Shevuot 39a) of – כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה“all of Israel are connected [and thus have a shared spiritual responsibility] with one another” – and it made me think what the difference is between these two phrases.
In terms of the latter, it relates to our spiritual responsibilities – whereby both the mitzvot (commandments) and the aveirot (transgressions) that we perform spiritually affect other members of the Jewish people. In such a situation, no words need to be communicated to forge this spiritual bond as it automatically exists as part of our spiritual membership of Knesset Yisrael.
However, in terms of the former, though the Mishna is speaking about a mitzvah, it is actually addressing the concept of physical membership for a physical sacrifice, and in such a case, if words are not shared (לא אמר להן ולא אמרו לו) then each are on their own (אין אחראין זה לזה).
While it should be noted that in this specific case, the Gemara suggests that silence is better than speaking (see Pesachim 99a), I believe that a broader lesson can be drawn from our Mishna – which is that it is only when words are spoken when we know and play a part in sharing the responsibility of the physical needs of another, while if words are not spoken, אין אחראין זה לזה – “they are not responsible for each other”.
Oftentimes we go through difficult life challenges and we wonder why others aren’t there to support us. Of course, it could be that those others around us are dull to our needs. However, oftentimes it is simply because we haven’t communicated what we need from them. In such a case where communication has not occurred, it is comparable to the case of לא אמר להן ולא אמרו לו – at which time we must acknowledge that others cannot be responsible for what they don’t know – אין אחראין זה לזה.
Thus we learn that while – when it comes to the Korban Pesach – there may be wisdom in silence, when it comes to other needs we need to speak, and share, and by doing so, we will communicate to others that we have needs which we hope they can help us fulfil.