United We Stand
By Rabbi Moshe Kaplan
The key to Judaism was given at Sinai 3334 years ago. To understand both Judaism and ourselves we must take a deeper look into just who received the Torah at Sinai. The Nation of Israel as a whole was the recipient to whom G-d addressed His Torah. When we understand this we come to realize that the Torah is not simply a codex of laws for the Jewish individual. Certainly the Torah has vitally important rules, teachings, and guidance for the individual, but its essential message is directed toward the Nation as a whole.
In the book of Shmot (Chap. 19), we read how the Jewish People, recently freed from Egyptian slavery, were wandering in the desert:”VaYisu…VaYavo’u…VaYachanu” – “they travelled…they came…they encamped.” All of these verbs are in the plural tense except the one that follows: “VaYichan” meaning “he camped.” Commenting on this change, our Sages tell us:
“And there Israel encamped”–as one man and with one heart, whereas all other encampments were with dissent and controversy (Mechilta, cited by Rashi).
The unity of Israel, our becoming “as one man and with one heart” is a precondition for the receiving of Torah. As the Ohr HaChaim states:
“And there Israel encamped” – in the singular tense to tell us that all of the assembled became as one person, and now they are worthy of receiving the Torah” (Shmot, 19:2).
What constitutes this unity and why is it so significant?
The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah, 70:9) states that if one Jew was missing at Sinai, the Jews could not have received the Torah. Since the whole nation is the receptacle that receives and reveals Torah in the world, even one missing element disrupts the unified harmony of the whole and delays the giving of Torah.
UNITY ONLY IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
Ever since Sinai, the unifying factor in the Nation of Israel’s oneness became Eretz Yisrael. It is important to note that the unity of Am Yisrael comes to expression and can only become a reality when the Jewish People are living in Eretz Yisrael. In the Book of Shmuel, the Children of Israel are described as “One Nation in the Land” (Shmuel II, 7:23). The Zohar asks, “When are the Jewish People one?” It answers: “In Jerusalem below Israel is called one, as it says: ‘One nation in the Land.’ Certainly, in the Land they are one, within it they are called one, and not when they are outside of it. For it would have been enough to say: ‘Who is like Your nation, Israel, one nation.” (So why does it say ‘Who is like Your nation, Israel, one nation IN THE LAND’?) Because they are only called one when they are in the Land” (Zohar, Vayikra 93).
Similarly, the Maharal teaches that when the Jewish People enter the Land of Israel they become one (Netiv HaTzdaka, Ch.6). He brings proof for this from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 43 that until the Jews crossed the Jordan River they were not responsible each for the other, for “arvut” (responsibility one for the other) is when they are all as one. So too, the Sochochover Rebbe, the Shem M’Shmuel writes: “Eretz Yisrael unites all of Clal Yisrael, for they were not ‘aravim’ – responsible one for the other until they crossed the Jordan because Eretz Yisrael unites Israel and makes them like one person.”
This understanding finds deep expression in the words of the Gerrer Rebbe (the Sfat Emet). Referring to the Land of Israel, a verse in the Book of Yishayahu (42:8) states: “I give the Neshama (soul) to the nation upon it.” The Neshama is what unifies the limbs to exist as one living body. The Gerrer Rebbe explains that when the Jews enter the Land of Israel they receive a “Neshama Yeteira” – the extra Neshama – like on Shabbat- as it says: “One nation in the Land… I give the Neshama to the nation upon it.” Just as Shabbat unifies the Jewish People together so too does the Land of Israel (Sfat Emet, Parshat Masei 5750).
To express this concept of national unity in a simple fashion, it should be obvious that the Jewish People cannot be united when they are scattered all over the world in separate communities from South Africa to Brazil to Canada and England. In addition, myriads of Jews in the Diaspora don’t live in Jewish communities at all. Rather they are dispersed all over, individuals amongst the non-Jews in non-Jewish lands. Nonetheless, whether they exist as individuals or in Jewish communities they are like the dry scattered bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ch. 37, 1-14). The dry bones only come to life when the exiled Jews return to Israel.
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev relates in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:
“Our Sages teach that all Torah that is not combined with work will not last. What is the “work” of Torah? It is the commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is a great rule of Torah. Not just simple love, but that which comes through great effort and diligent work. This is the essence of Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel).
Loving others is not a simple task. When people agree with each other ideologically, or if they are connected by family ties, for example, love does not require a tremendous effort. However, when people disagree or when their actions and ideas negate one another or threaten what one believes to be true, how then is it possible to love one’s fellow man? In his book, “Orot” (pg. 148), Rabbi Kook explains:
“Ahavat Yisrael and the task of defending the Clal (the Jewish Nation as a whole) and its individual members is not an emotional endeavor alone. It is a great field of Torah study, a deep and broad wisdom… The love of Israel is the product of Emunah (faith) in the Divine Light of Knesset Yisrael (the Congregation of Israel).
If left on the emotional level, love may become limited to the circle of Jews that are close to a person, physically or ideologically. Only with “great effort and work,” with a deeper study and insight, one learns to fulfill this commandment of loving one’s neighbor and the entire Jewish community. The broadening of love to include everyone in the Nation creates the unified national basis for Torah’s revelation through the Jewish People as an example to the nations.
Ahavat Yisrael is a deep field of Torah wisdom which demands focusing on the deeper ideals of Torah and on how these ideals are expressed in Am Yisrael as Hashem’s holy Nation amongst the community of mankind.
It is not simply praiseworthy or commendable to “feel” connected to our fellow Jews – rather we “are” connected. Only the shallowness of our perception prevents us from seeing this inseparable unity. Superficial vision perceives only the external level where division seems to be a reality, like the separation of the branches on a tree. But a deeper vision reveals another dimension where everything evolves through the connection to the truck of the tree and its roots. The concern for the welfare of other Jews stems from our consciousness of our intrinsic oneness. We must develop the awareness that every Jew is a part of ourselves. The suffering of one is the suffering of all.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: This is likened to some people in a boat. One of the passengers grabs a drill and begins to drill a hole in the floor of his cabin. His friends cry out to him, “Why are you drilling a hole?” The man answers: “What does it matter to you? I am drilling in my part of the boat?” They said to him: “Yes, but when the boat sinks, we all shall drown together!” (Vayikra Rabbah, 4:6).
The more that a person is aware that he and his fellow Jew are parts of one organism, the more natural it will be for him to love others, and the more he will desire to help another just as he helps himself, even though conflicts of opinions and beliefs may exist.
Today, we are all rightfully distressed by the signs of disunity which we witness in the day-to-day management of Medinat Yisrael. To correct this, we must rise up beyond the divisive factors and reveal the innate oneness of our Nation as created by Hashem and set forth in the Torah. As Rabbi Kook teaches, we must not wage ugly battles against differing groups, nor disassociate ourselves from them. Rather, we must strive to see the positive contribution of others and coagulate all forces together in order to achieve our true harmonious unity.