Elihu D. Stone

On Achdus – Are We Listening Yet?

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about Achdus, Jewish Unity. People the world over have marveled at how Israel and world Jewry, for the most part, came together and renewed its familial bonds in response to the unspeakable atrocities wrought by Hamas terrorists upon Israelis on October 7, 2023.

While six months earlier, outside observers and many Jewish Israelis might have believed that internal conflict had rent asunder the fabric of Israeli society and threatened the very integrity of the Jewish State, on October 7th Jews renewed their commitment to themselves and each other, finding commonalities that superseded and all but banished the differences that seemed to irrevocably divide them only 24 hours earlier.

Israeli Jews who had left the country to make their homes in America flew back to Israel to rejoin their military units. Avowedly Secular Jews and Chareidim who had looked askance at each other’s communities for decades rediscovered common cause and vocabulary and welcomed each other as close siblings.

True, some of this phenomenon showed itself before October 7th, in the midst of the tensions that preceded it, but the events of that day brought the bedrock Achdus of the Jewish family into razor-sharp focus and revealed its immense ability to override, if not heal, fundamental rifts with sinus-clearing power.

Anyone closely reading the weekly Torah portions over the past month can hardly ignore the confluence of events described therein with what is transpiring today, regard the Achdus of the Jewish People, its apparent fragility, its ultimate durability and its most essential characteristics.

The nature of the Jewish Nation (Am), unlike any other that has survived into modernity, lies in its familial origins. The tribes which grew into a nation started as siblings, brothers and half-brothers who maintained records of their origins, traced back to particular forefathers and foremothers all of whom recalled a family mission and a specific Divine promise of a particular Homeland. The very basis of Jewish Peoplehood finds itself in the family unit, tasked with a Divine role in the world and vouchsafed a particular portion in the Land. Exactly like a family, the nation passes membership through bloodlines, but is open to adopting-in others who share its bedrock values, demonstrate fealty and ask to join in its Destiny, voluntarily accepting its trials, burdens and responsibilities as well as its privileges.

In the Torah portion of Vayeshev (which begins with just a temporary stay of the Patriarch Jacob in the Land Divinely promised to the Jews) we see a family divided. We are introduced to the progenitors of the 12 Tribes of Israel and the Torah tells of how Joseph, Jacob’s favored son, is shunned by his brothers for his dreams and Vision of the future. The Torah verse (Genesis 37:4) specifically describing the brothers’ relationship to Joseph is striking. Listen: “His brothers saw that it was he (Joseph) whom their father loved more than all his brothers and they hated him (Joseph); and they could not converse with him peaceably.” All communication between the brothers and Joseph was severed. Being true to their feelings, the brothers could not hold a civil conversation with Joseph.

There is a book-end to this verse, if one pays attention to the moment the brothers are reconciled, but in between the first book-end verse that describes the initial familial breakdown and the second book-end verse that limns the ultimate repair of the collapse, the most sustained and horrific of family feuds in the Torah is described in minute detail: The brothers with varying motivations, throw Joseph into a pit, sell him to foreigners, as a slave. They mislead their aging father to cover their misdeeds and spend decades living together ostensibly as a family, while also continuing live terrible a lie.

The Providential Guidance of God is seen throughout the continuation of the story, though mostly in hindsight, as Joseph is raised from the pit to become a trusted advisor, only to be cast down again and raised up again to become a viceroy of Egypt and save both his family and the Nation of Egypt from starvation. During this period, the Divine mission of the family and the Divine promise of the Homeland are pushed to the background as we are treated to episodes in the character development of Joseph and the brothers, who show glimmers of self-consciousness and conscience. Each of these episodes is crucial to the story but we will not analyze them, here. Instead, we will skip to the second book-end verse announcing the denouement of the Joseph/Brothers story and see just how it is obviously meant as a book-end to Genesis 37:4.

The second book-end verse appears two Torah portions later, in the third Aliyah of Parshat Vayigash, (Genesis 45:15,) which reads: “He (Joseph) then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and afterwards, his brothers conversed with him. The consequence of this is then described in the immediately following verse: “The voice (news) was heard in Pharaoh’s house, saying, Joseph’s brothers have come! And it found favor in Pharaoh’s eyes and in those of his servants.”

The Zohar (I:209a), here, comments that the reason for Joseph’s weeping was that he had a premonition of the two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) in Jerusalem (the City of Peace) that would be destroyed and so he mourned them. The comment is puzzling. What intrinsic connection could the destruction of the Temples have to the reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers, that would account for the premonition of their destruction to occur just then, and which would cause Joseph to weep over his brothers at this very moment?

I would venture the following: According to the Talmud, (Yoma 9b) the First Temple was destroyed due to three cardinal sins, Idol Worship, Forbidden Sexual Relations and Murder – all of which are supremely indicative of societal breakdown and the victory of enmity over empathy in the Jewish Tradition. The Second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred – a manifestation par excellence of fundamental familial and societal discord.

When Joseph had a premonition that this state of affairs, despite the reconciliation he and his brothers were just experiencing, was imprinted upon the future of the Jewish people, Joseph wept bitterly, according to the Zohar.

I would also suggest something else. It was the (albeit momentary) Unity that Joseph and his brothers experienced as a result of God’s Providence, combined with their own hard-earned character development as they began to understand, accept and actualize their unique Divine role and mission in the world was so remarkable that even Pharaoh and his entire household could not fail to be impressed and wish their presence as a permanent fixture in Egypt, as well.

I suggest that this fundamental message, among others, of the Torah Portions being read on the heels of October 7, 2023 and the seemingly miraculous Unity that enveloped the Jewish People across the globe, and especially in Israel, in the wake of that day’s events should be taken deeply to heart. It is a key and an opportunity to re-awaken to our national purpose, as well as the sine qua non for the survival of the Jewish Family/Nation and re-discovering the most durable remedy for the deepest ills of all Humankind.

About the Author
Elihu D Stone practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts and is currently a member of the Israeli Bar; He is involved in the Al Durah Project, an initiative dedicated to understanding and countering the dilemmas and vulnerabilities that face democratic cultures in this age of aggressive asymmetric and cognitive warfare. Elihu has been privileged to serve in leadership roles for a variety of Jewish communal organizations and is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. The writer currently maintains a U.S. life insurance clientele and lives in Efrat, Israel
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