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Parshas Devarim (5774)

"Like a Single Person, With a Single Desire"

You might have seen this e-mail going around, written by an Israeli soldier, which details all the chesed (Kindness) and unity among Jews that the war in Gaza has brought about:

“What's happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally, and begs the imagination. Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, backgammon and more. They're coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Savyon. Every intersection on the way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but by residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation wasn't organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming. They're writing letters and blessings, how they're thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they're as perfect and comforting as possible. Of course Chasiddic representatives are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Holy Books. The Chareidim are coming from their Yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers' names so that the whole Yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area. Soroka Hospital (in Be'er Sheva) today looks like a 5-star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded. It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They're giving out Tzitzit by the hundreds. It's become the new fashion!

The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out Tzitzit that wick away sweat. They're gaining both a Mitzvah and a high-quality undershirt. We're having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff. We're making lots of jokes at Hamas' expense and without politics. How happy is the nation that is like this!”

It is truly remarkable indeed to see how we Jews unite with each other in times of danger and tragedy. What a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s Name) it is when Jews with shtreimels, black hats, knit kippahs, and no kippahs, get together as one happy family for one common cause!

But what will happen when the war is over and the threat of enemy rockets and terror tunnels is gone, G-d willing? Will we go back to the way we were before? Will we then forget about all our brothers and sisters that we seemed to care so much about when the times were tough and they were in mortal danger? I fear that we will, and that this golden opportunity of “keeping the unity going” will be lost.

Tragically, this has been the case throughout our history. The Talmud in Yoma 9b teaches that the reason why the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and we were exiled from our land – and are still in the exile till this very day – is because of Sinas Chinam, baseless, unnecessary hatred of our own brothers and sisters. We Jews might take great care of each other in times of need. But somehow we go back to our old ways when the danger passes.

Even Adolf Hitler YM”S seemed to notice this phenomenon when he wrote in Mein Kampf:
“[The Jew’s] sense of sacrifice is only apparent. It exists only as long as the existence of the individual makes it absolutely necessary. However, as soon as the common enemy is conquered, the danger threatening all averted ... the apparent harmony of the Jews among themselves ceases, again making way for their old causal tendencies.”

So how can we change things? How can we make sure that we don’t go back to the way things were before the war started? How can we learn to coexist in times of peace? How can we cure ourselves of baseless hatred and infighting once and for all, so that we can merit returning to our land as one happy family with the coming of the Messiah?

Maybe the following insight of Rabbi Meir Shapiro ZT”L, Chief Rabbi of Lublin (1887-1933), will give us the answer we need: In describing the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Torah states: "And Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain" (19:2). Rash”i comments that the verb ‘encamped’ is in the singular, in contrast to the previous verbs. This is to teach that the huge multitude of people camped there united “like a single person, with a single desire”.

The Talmud in Zevachim 116a relates that when the Torah was given with great fanfare to the Jewish people, all the nations assembled around the wicked Bilaam [the heathen prophet] and asked him whether G-d was perhaps bringing another great flood to the world, for it says: “G-d sat enthroned at the Flood” (Psalms 29:10)? To which Bilaam replied: “G-d is giving might to His people” (ibid. v.11), [and “might” signifies the Torah]. To which all the nations exclaimed: “G-d will bless His people with peace!” (ibid).

Rabbi Shapiro explained this by asking what is so special about the prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet, who said, in connection with the coming of the Messiah: "The wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard will lie down with the kid…" (Isaiah 11:6), considering that this already took place in Noah’s Ark, where all the animals that would normally try to kill each other lived in relative peace and harmony for a full year?

The answer is that the peaceful coexistence in Noah’s Ark took place in a time of danger, and when danger lurks it is normal for enemies to make peace for their mutual benefit. But Isaiah’s prophecy is for the same peaceful coexistence to occur in a time of peace, and that is nothing short of a miracle, something that can only be expected in the Messianic Era.

With this we can understand the Talmudic passage in Zevachim quoted earlier. When Israel stood at Mount Sinai with tremendous unity “like a single person, with a single desire”, the nations of the world were mystified by it, and immediately asked the wicked Bilaam whether G-d had perhaps brought another flood to the world, and the danger had united the Jewish people, just as happened to the animals in Noah’s Ark during the Great Flood.

Bilaam responded to them that nothing of the sort was happening, but that G-d was giving Israel the Torah, and the Torah had the power to unite the Jewish people even in times of peace with the common goal of Tikkun Olam B’Malchus Sha-ddai – perfecting the world through G-d’s sovereignty. To which the nations exclaimed: “G-d will bless His people with peace!” – i.e. true peace that comes from unity, and not false peace that is a result of imminent danger.

So there you have it, folks! The Talmud is teaching us that the only thing that has the power to truly unite the Jewish people is the Torah and the recognition of our common purpose. Each and every Jew has a unique mission to contribute to the greater goal of perfecting the world. We are all in this together!

When we see our fellow Jew on the street, we should realize that this person is our brother or sister without whom we simply can’t complete our collective Jewish mission of fixing the world.

So no matter whether he/she is Chareidi, secular, Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Chassidic, etc. etc. – we need to remember at all times that we are “like a single person, with a single desire”. This way we will banish all the baseless hatred from our midst and we will merit seeing the end of the fast of Tishah B’Av and the rebuilding of the Third Temple in Jerusalem with the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days. Amen!


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