Usually I send out messages that are warm and fuzzy. This message will be different.
In Judaism, we are taught that if we have an external problem, we are to search for an internal solution.
The rabbis teach (in Medrash Tanchuma, Chukat) that during the times of King Saul the people were generally righteous, yet they fell in battle. And during the time of King Ahab, the people were generally involved in idolatrous and sinful acts, yet they were victorious in battle.
The question is why.
The rabbis provide and explanation that I think is especially relevant for us today. They teach that during the time of King Ahab, even though the people were generally sinful, they treated one another with dignity and respect, and there was unity amongst the people. However, during the time of King Saul, even though they were generally righteous, they weren’t respectful of one another, they slandered one another, and there wasn’t unity among them.
My holy brothers and sisters,
Over the last year in Israel we have seen greater disunity, and more disdain and invalidation of the “other side” than ever before — including even after Prime Minister Rabin was killed.
For anyone who knows the Jewish sources as well as Jewish history, it is quite difficult not to connect the dots between the internal state of our nation and the external calamity that has befallen us.
The Maharal of Prague explains that the root letters for the Hebrew word for peace (“shalom”) are the letters Shin-Lamed-Mem (ש-ל-ם):
Shin- The Shin has three legs going upward. The outer legs represent the extremes of society, and the middle leg represents the middle of society that brings all of society together. So the Shin hints to Jewish unity.
Lamed- Once the Jewish people are united like the Shin, they are like the letter Lamed, which is the highest of all the letters — they are at a high place with God.
Mem- And when the Jewish people are united like the Shin and at a high place with God like the Lamed, then they are like the Mem — like a box sealed and secure on all sides, unable to be penetrated by our enemies.
We have seen this play out numerous times in Jewish history. Jewish unity brings us God’s protection; Jewish disunity loses us God’s protection. This is not simply stating the practical reality of “united we stand, divided we fall”. When it comes to Jewish unity, this is a spiritual reality.
So does Jewish unity mean I’m supposed to just drop my beliefs and principles to appease those who disagree with me?
No, that would not be unity. That would be sameness.
In fact, the Maharal explains that there is no peace without truth.
Peace means two sides getting along and making things work. If you abandon what you see as the truth of your perspective for the sake of peace, you no longer have your side. You’re only left with the other side. And therefore it is, by definition, not peace. It’s sameness.
Instead, the path to peace and unity is to make unity bigger and more fundamental than the principle or perspective you might have. We are brothers first and foremost. Before we even open our mouths to share our opinions. And if we do need to disagree, it’s with an arm around the other person in friendship, exuding care, understanding, empathy and love, rather than animosity, disdain, invalidation and contempt.
This is the only path forward.
beH I’ll be going Live on Facebook on Sun-Thurs at 10pm Israel Time to give over a bit of the Torah sources on the significance, power, and the how-to of Jewish Unity for 15 minutes a day in the hope of increasing our sense of Jewish Unity and keeping it in the forefront of our consciousness. To join, follow https://www.facebook.com/rabbieliyahuyaakov?mibextid=9R9pXO