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Poster Commentary
"A community is too heavy to carry alone."Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:10
Poster design:Ivan Chermayeff


by Daniel Gordis

“Mountaintop experience.” The very phrase brings to mind a glow of inner calm, aloneness, beauty, profound insight, the solitary search for truth. Perhaps precisely because such experiences are so difficult to create when we most seek them, we imagine that they are the moments of true religious experience, when we come closest to feeling that indescribable presence that many call God.

While Judaism certainly recognizes that there are, indeed, moments like that in life, it makes an extraordinary claim: We dare not spend our lives seeking those sorts of moments as the pinnacle of religious fulfillment. In Jewish life, we seek religious satisfaction, insight, truth and closeness to God not in solitary moments, but in engagement with others. Jewish tradition says that it is in the muddy, complex, fraught world of human relations and shared responsibility that God’s presence can be brought into our lives.

Shared responsibility is the key. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 17b) stated that we should live only in a place that has a court for dispensing justice, a charity fund, a synagogue, public baths, a restroom, a mohel (the person who performs circumcisions), a notary, a slaughterer and a schoolmaster. We need each other.

Alone, we may feel a special calm, but there will be no one to challenge us, to urge us to further exploration or commitment. Alone, we have no one to model for us genuine courage, deeper commitment, engagement with people we hadn’t thought to include in our lives. It is when we build with others and learn from them, our tradition says, that the presence of God dwells in our midst. That has long been the secret to the magic of Jewish life.


Conversation Guide


The commentary to this Midrashic teaching suggests two aspects to consider: That one seeks out others as a community in which to live and practice Judaism, and that one must put aside personal fulfillment or ambition for the good of the community. True religious and spiritual development is possible, suggests the commentary, only when we function as a community, and not as individuals. 

What constitutes a “community”?

Do you agree with the idea that people are better off in a community than on their own? Why or why not?

What communities do you belong to? What shared responsibilities exist in each of these communities? 

Other posters and quotations also deal with the challenge of the individual versus the community. How does this Midrashic quotation relate to Hillel’s teaching, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” Or, with the quotation from Mandelstamm, “A human being is like a letter of the alphabet: to produce a word, it must combine with another”?



Each image calls out to us to examine it, to note our thoughts and feelings, and relate these impressions to the quotation. Often clues in the artwork suggest meaning and invite interpretation.

In this collage, designer Ivan Chermayeff challenges us to think about what it means to be a community and what happens when a community is “too heavy to carry alone.”

How does the image present the quotation? Was this how you interpreted the quotation without the image? 

What adjectives would you use to describe the collage? What feelings does it trigger?

What elements did Chermayeff use to depict community? Do these images describe all communities?

What role do the hands play? What do they add to the depiction of the quotation?


Copyright© 2012 Harold Grinspoon Foundation 

Please use this guide creatively in your programs.  We’d also love to see what you’re doing and share it with others, so please post on our website using the Share button in The Exchange.


Masters Series©2012, Ivan Chermayeff, Quote: Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:10,

Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA