I have a visceral aversion to crowds. I’m not sure where it stems from. Perhaps the days of getting trampled at protests, with only bruised toes and ribs to show for my idealism. Perhaps it’s the anonymity in the horde. Or perhaps the mindless force of a mob.
There was a short sci-fi story I read once (if anyone remembers the title, please let me know) that depicted people waiting on line, or crowds, or any other assembly of humans that suddenly could not disperse. They became glued to each other – a multi-legged, multi-headed monster that moved around wildly and aimlessly, gobbling up the few independent humans remaining.
Western philosophy has taught us to eschew crowds and conformity, to laud individuality and difference. Nonetheless, the power of the crowd is inescapable. There is strength in numbers, might in a mob. But one might ask, what is the value of just one more person to an assembly, does one more voice, does one more individual really make a difference in a crowd?
The Ohr Hachayim (on Numbers 32:20) seems to think so. When Moses discusses the upcoming conquest of Canaan with the two (and a half) tribes that were to settle the eastern side of the Jordan River, he implies a distinct advantage in having these otherwise extraneous tribes join the invasion. Victory had been assured by God Himself. Why not let the tribesmen remain with their families as opposed to inflicting them with the fourteen-year separation that ensued?
The Ohr Hachayim answers: “one cannot compare the merit of 100 people to the merit of 101 people.” There is an order of magnitude difference between 100 people and 101 people. To us it may seem like merely another digit has been added to our count, but in other ways, in ways that we can only imagine, the difference of one person, even amongst many others, makes a world of a difference.
May we always be counted with others for good things.
To the memory of Rabbi Elyashiv and the close to 300,000 individuals that attended his funeral.
To the victims of the Burgas terror attack.