Stumbling towards unity

“It is written, ‘man will stumble over his brother’ (Leviticus 26:37). This is expounded to mean: man will stumble because of the sins of his brother. This teaches us that all Jews are guarantors for one another. The Gemara says: this refers to a situation where it was in someone’s power to protest another’s sinful actions and that person did not protest.” (Sanhedrin 27b)

It is a remarkable thing. The source text in Torah for the great Jewish principle of ‘arevut’, collective responsibility, and the unity it implies, is found in the rebuke (‘tochachah’).

This passage will be read this coming week in synagogues around the world. It depicts a frightening series of torments that will be inflicted on the Children of Israel for the failure to abide by Hashem’s covenant after they arrive in the Land.

Another remarkable thing. This same great Jewish principle of ‘arevut’ is expounded in Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin) amid discussions on judicial process: Who is qualified to be a judge? On whose testimony may a Jew be punished for their sins?

As Torah is ‘our life and the length of our days’ (Deuteronomy 30:20), we can see clear messages in Torah that provide guidance to the Jewish people throughout the ages.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that both Torah and Talmud provide signposts that link collective responsibility and unity to our contemporary predicament – torment, judicial reform and the power of protest.

But underlying this, there is another important message, a counter-intuitive message, that is essential for us to absorb: Jewish unity is not the default position. It is not the natural condition of Jewish existence.

Rather, Jewish unity emerges only from struggle.

We see this at the level of both the individual and the collective:

At the level of the individual, in Talmud, it is taught, “Regarding the verse, ‘happy is the main that has his quiver full of them, they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with enemies at the gate’ (Psalms 127:5), what is meant by ‘enemies at the gate’? Rabbi Chiya bar Abba says: ‘Even father and son, master and disciple, who study Torah at the same gate become enemies of each other; yet they do not stir from there until they come to love each other’.” (Kiddushin 30b)

At the level of the collective, the Children of Israel arrived unified at Sinai ‘like one person with one heart’, per Rashi’s famous comment. But this was only after a litany of quarrels, first at the Reed Sea (despite the miracle of the Exodus), then at Marah (despite the miracle of the splitting of the sea), next in Midbar Sin (despite the heavenly sign at Elim), and finally at Massah and Meribah (despite the miracles of the quail and the mannah). It wasn’t until Amalek came and attacked ‘the weak at the rear’, and the Children of Israel successfully fought back, that the unity of Sinai could happen.

In this pattern – miracles, quarrels, struggle – we again see the relevance to contemporary times. Jewish unity emerges from struggle – and this is not just from external struggle, with the forces of evil outside the Jewish people, but also from internal struggle, the struggle that takes place within the Jewish people itself.

When the Children of Israel reached the Reed Sea and saw Pharoah and the entire might of Egypt approaching, the Midrash tells us the people split into four camps – one camp wanted to return to Egypt, another wanted to turn and fight, a third wanted to pray, and a fourth wanted to walk on into the sea.

So too today, in the dire situation in which Israel finds itself, and the even more dire condition of dysfunctional Israeli politics, there are also four broad camps.

  1. The coalition seems intent to struggle on, in the face, G-d forbid, of mounting opposition and debilitating division.
  2. The opposition is calling for new elections. Most assume this will lead to the most divisive campaign in Israel’s history, G-d forbid, a campaign that channels all the trauma, bitterness and blame games around October 7th and its aftermath.
  3. Rumours abound that some members of the current coalition may defect to create a new coalition – given who these members are likely to be, this will be like putting a sticking plaster on an infected wound.
  4. The fourth path is the creation of a genuine national unity government without new elections at this divisive and difficult time.

Only the fourth path can work.

But who is there to lead a government that can truly unite? Who is the person that can heal the infected wound?

Israel’s senior political leaders repeatedly recite the mantra of ‘beyachad nenatzeach’ (together to victory). And yet despite this, through their words and actions, they make it clear, ‘beyachad’ (together) means ‘on my terms only’.

I believe most Israelis have concluded, therefore, unity is actually not possible despite the slogans. The result – Israelis are doubling down on their sectional leadership. This is bringing a return to the politics that whoever speaks the loudest, the dirtiest, the most dogmatic, wins the day.

This is the politics of pathways one to three. In each of these pathways, Israel will, G-d forbid, be condemned to shallow and self-absorbed divisiveness. There is no good leadership option along these pathways

What instead is needed is a ‘fourth path’ leader.

It is a leader who can look at the major issues facing Israel today – war and peace, religion and secularity, torah study and the army, settlement and cohesion – and see them as positive sum not zero sum questions.

In other words, Israel needs a leader who has the empathy, wisdom and creativity to facilitate outcomes through which each side can win; outcomes that represent the best of both worlds; outcomes that give all Israelis a stake in the future.

Ready in plain sight, there is among our otherwise shoddy and degraded political leadership a diamond who has this capacity, who is worthy of leading the Jewish people, G-d willing.

A ‘ben-Torah’ and a chakham-lev.

A student of the yeshivah and a warrior of the army.

Someone to restore the glory of the East while commanding the respect of the West.

Like Abraham Avinu, he is someone who says little and delivers much.

Like Moshe Rabbeinu, he is truly humble and has shown his care for every soul.

Like both, he does not fear speaking truth to power – he can shatter today’s ‘tablets’, with their artificial and idolatrous division into so-called ‘left’ and so-called ‘right’.

Examine his deeds and his utterances, you will not see a hint of contempt or bad speech (lashon hara).

Through him, Israel is not doomed to isolation, to negativity, to anger, to division. Nor, through him, is Israel condemned to weakness before its enemies, real and imagined.

Strength, for Israel, comes from authentic Jewish leadership, channeling the values of both tablets – the so-called ‘left’ and the so-called ‘right’ –  as a single unified whole.

This leader must now emerge. The time is right.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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