Ariella Cohen

Divided We Fall, United We Rise

Ramat Beit Shemesh in the golden hour (courtesy)
Ramat Beit Shemesh in the golden hour (courtesy)

Why does it take a war to get us to stop fighting with each other? 

Everyone has the same question. I have been thinking about this for a while now. On the surface level, the answer is logical. When we see that we are all really on the same side, the small differences fall away. There has to be a deeper answer though for such a big question. Is there an actual reason why we can’t properly appreciate each other without the aid of a tragedy? 

I was talking with a friend about our mutual enjoyment of the videos going around showing the chayalim singing and dancing while at war, and the answer suddenly dawned on me. How are they permeating so much joy amidst what may be the most awful situation they have ever experienced? This question itself was my answer. They are permeating so much joy because they are amidst what may be the most awful situation they have ever experienced. Joy is the remedy. It compensates for the difficulty. 

Isn’t it human nature to run away from things that scare us? The more uncomfortable it is, the farther we will try to run. The worse the tragedy, the farther we need to run from it in the opposite direction. Which in this case leads us directly into the arms of joy that knows no bounds. 

This brings me to more sobering thoughts. I think about the over one thousand people who were murdered in cold blood on that fateful Shabbat just 16 days ago. What they went through is beyond my ability to imagine. I’ve tried. But what I can attempt to imagine is how scared they must have been. Feeling themselves being burnt alive. Watching their neighbors, siblings, parents, children, and/or grandparents being shot in front of them before being shot themselves. Looking their murderers in the eye. Wondering if this was really happening. How far must they have wanted to run from the real-life nightmare they were experiencing? Probably to the other end of the earth. 

But they weren’t given that choice. We have that choice. We have the choice to run the other way from the pain. We may not be able to escape it, but we have the choice to drown the pain out with joy. However much pain we may be in, can we procure equal amounts of joy? This is not an easy task. But this is what we see the chayalim doing. Day in and day out. We can do it too. Even if it’s not shared all over social media. People are still getting married and still dancing as our country is at war. There was a bat mitzvah in my neighborhood this evening for a girl from the south. It looked and sounded like quite the party. This was likely not how she had pictured the party, but the joy was palpable even from outside.  

I don’t know the chayalim in these videos personally, so I don’t know what they are like. My guess is that they all have very different personalities. Some are probably very shy, and some might be the life of the party. Some might be optimists, and some are likely pessimists. Some may be depressed, and some are always happy. Yet as a group, they create undeniable joy. When they are not in a large group with music playing, they may cry. Maybe they are mad at God for killing their friends. They are literally just regular people. When Jews band together though, we are unstoppable. We may have fallen as a divided people, but we certainly epitomize unity as we rise. The endless stories of the Jews of all stripes joining together for goodness truly speak for themselves. 

Psalm 100 introduces us to the famous phrase Ivdu Et Hashem B’Simcha. We should serve God with joy. Isn’t that what’s happening now? During a most challenging point in our history. It’s ironic, but it makes sense. The theme of this psalm is thanking God. But joy and thanks go together. The concept of singing someone’s praises highlights this. Does joy lead to appreciation, or does appreciation lead to joy? Can both be the case? When joy and appreciation coexist, does unity come automatically? Or does being united cause joy and appreciation? Unity. Joy. Gratitude. Are they one and the same? 

Maybe the joy we are seeing from the battlefield is a marked effort to try to become closer to God and appreciate His goodness even during the worst of times? Doing their best to serve God with joy. United. That’s a success if I have ever seen one. Or perhaps the recognition of all of the miracles that we continue to see amidst the tragedy is what leads to the joy. The happier we are, the easier it is to see the good in life. Or maybe it’s just a temporary distraction. Anything to stop thinking about what’s actually happening. Even for a few minutes. 

We know from Ethics of the Fathers (5:26) that our reward is determined based on how much we exert ourselves. If we try even harder to be happy during difficult times, can we hope for an even greater victory than we are already expecting? 

As a unit, we Jews are a phoenix. I know that Greek mythology may not directly align with our belief system, but we are a phoenix nonetheless. We rise from the ashes, and we as a people are immortal. Literally. But only as a unit. We have risen from the ashes enough times in our history that it should be clear to the world right now that we are immortal. But maybe we need to first realize that for ourselves. It’s not helpful for the world to see it if we don’t believe it. So I will say it again for those in the back. We are immortal, and we have risen from the ashes. And we are doing it again as we speak. Together. We are rising from the literal ashes of our people. Ashes that we are still reeling over. Ashes that are still fresh. We are not immune to pain and suffering, and we fall sometimes. Like we did on October 7th. Like we did many times before that. But we will never die. Our enemies, on the other hand, will die. Because just as we historically survive, they never do.

The problem is, the unity that so often follows along with a tragedy does not last. If it’s just a temporary compensation, is it real? And is it real if it doesn’t last? There’s no way it’s not real. It always feels real while it’s happening. 

Did we need to be brought down so low in order to experience unprecedented levels of joy for us to finally realize that we can’t just continue to flip on and off the unity/gratitude/joy switch as we please? To understand that we can’t just forget about God when everything is fine and dandy? Or even if it’s not fine and dandy. Is this war going to be so long so that we will get so used to the unity that we won’t remember how things used to be? Has this been bad enough that we will never recover from the joy and gratitude that our nation is experiencing? 

Can this be our final national tragedy? I sure hope so, but I obviously don’t know. Let’s prove to God that we are firmly one and do not need any more reminders to show gratitude for His goodness. Maybe then we won’t. 

About the Author
Ariella Cohen grew up in Far Rockaway, NY and made Aliyah from Bala Cynwyd, PA in August 2023. She is an engineer and amateur musician with lots of other hobbies on the side.
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