Warning: Dr. Seuss spoilers follow.
In 1954’s Horton Hears a Who, Horton the Elephant must save a flower containing an entire community of a tiny place called Whoville. But no one in the Jungle of Nool believes him; only Horton can hear the Whos. He begs the mayor of Whoville to have everyone make as much noise as possible; they do, but they aren’t loud enough. The animals are set to boil the flower in Beezle-Nut Oil (to punish Horton for making this all up) when the desperate mayor finds Jojo, a tiny Who who had till then been silent. When Jojo shouts a loud “Yopp!” everything tips: the animals can now hear the Whos, and Whoville is saved.
On Tuesday, 290,000 of us became Jojo, sending our voices out into a carefully listening world.
In our reading this week of Toldot, voices are similarly heard several times during a pivotal moment. Rachel tells her beloved son Yaakov sh’ma be-koli, “listen to my voice,” as she instructs him how to fool his father Yitzchak into giving the blessing intended for his twin, Esav. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin in his Ha’emek Davar notes that the emphasis on koli, on Rachel’s voice, indicates that she wanted Yaakov to pay careful attention. She was hinting to him that she spoke with ru’ach ha-kodesh, with Divine insight. The motif of kol, of voice, shows up again a few verses later, when Yitzchak observes that the hands are the hands of Esav, ha-yadayim yedei Esav, but the voice is the voice of Yaakov, ha-kol kol Yaakov. The “voice of Yaakov,” explains Shabbetai ben Joseph Bass in his Siftei Chachamim, is not a reference to Yaakov’s physical voice, but rather to his tone, to his choice of words.
Many have noted that the rallies in support of Israel differ from those on the other side in that we don’t scream, fight with police, or burn American flags. The kol Yaakov we used on Tuesday was one of prayer, song, and applause. And we came together as one to do so.
The Talmud in Berachot speaks of the blessing one makes when seeing oclusei Yisrael, “multitudes of Israel,” or 600,000 Jews gathered together. Educator Jeremy Gimpel pointed out on Youtube this week that if one adds the number of rally attendees to the number of IDF reservists called up in the past month, one easily reaches 600,000 – which is also the number of the Jewish people as they received the Torah at Sinai, a moment when they famously stood united ke-ish echad be-lev echad, “as one person, with one heart.”
This doesn’t mean, importantly, that we are all the same. The Talmud relates that the blessing we say at that moment is chacham ha-razim: “Blessed are you our God, Lord of the Universe, Who knows all secrets.” The Talmud explains that God “sees a whole nation whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other,” yet He knows what is in each of their hearts. We are different in mind and spirit, yet united in purpose. Holding these two truths at once, when we focus on it, is our signature strength as a people – and one that we experienced so viscerally together Tuesday on the Mall with 290,000 of our closest friends.
May we continue to have the strength to be there for one another in ways that support and inspire us all.