Out of Many, One

As the elderly Holocaust survivor slowly walked down the street on the way home from shul on Shabbos morning, he greeted each and every person he encountered — including total strangers — with a cordial “Good Shabbos.”

This is accepted practice in smaller, “out of town” communities. But, in the heavily concentrated area where Reb Shmuel Margulius, z”l, lived,  hundreds of mispallelim fill the streets at one time, and greetings are usually limited to acquaintances.

When one young man failed to reply to his greeting, assuming he was being mistaken for someone else, Reb Shmuel, a noted talmid chacham and devout Chassid of the Kozhnitzer Rebbe, Hy”d, stopped and asked him to explain his silence.

Instead of answering the question, the young man replied with a question of his own. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“We were once neighbors,” Reb Shmuel firmly stated.

The young man began to rack his brains, trying to recall when and where they had been neighbors, but was unable to do so.

Reb Shmuel explained: “We were neighbors when we stood together on Har Sinai!”

It was on Rosh Chodesh Sivan years ago that the Bnei Yisrael arrived in Midbar Sinai, and prepared to receive the Torah. The Torah describes their encampment in the singular, and Rashi quotes the famous Chazal, “As one man, with one heart.” The Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh teaches us that this powerful exhibition of unity was a vital prerequisite for Kabbalas HaTorah.

Every year when this day arrives, as we prepare to once again to be mekabel the Torah, it is a most opportune time to open our hearts and recognize how vital achdus is to Klal Yisrael, and how dangerous is its alternative.

When the Lutska Rav, Harav Avraham Yitzchok Tzimmerman, zt”l, was invited to become Rav of Kremenchug, his son-in-law, Harav Boruch Ber Lebowitz, zt”l (later Rosh Yeshivah in Kamenitz), was asked to take his place. Harav Boruch Ber consulted his rebbi, Harav Chaim Soloveitchek, the Brisker Rav, zt”l.  Harav Chaim advised him to take the position, and Harav Boruch Ber heeded this advice.

There was one group of Yidden in the town — obviously unaware of the greatness of Reb Boruch Ber — who preferred another candidate as their Rav. Despite the fact that this would split the community, they went ahead and invited their candidate to become Rav.

The communal leaders who had appointed Harav Boruch Ber were understandably outraged at what they perceived as a clear attempt to destroy the authority of the new Rav, and were determined to block this appointment.

It seemed apparent that a terrible machlokes would consume the city. Harav Boruch Ber, however, insisted on a different approach. He turned to the community leaders who were prepared to wage war on his behalf, and informed them in no uncertain terms: “The Rebbi (Harav Chaim) instructed me to accept the Rabbanus in this city. He did not instruct me to fight. …”

Harav Boruch Ber did not content himself with words alone. When the other Rav arrived to take up his position in the town, Harav Boruch Ber donned his Shabbos clothes and went out to greet him. His gabba’im expressed their strong chagrin. After all, they insisted, there is a limit to everything! How could Harav Boruch Ber — the rightful Mara d’Asra — go and greet a person whom they considered an interloper? And while wearing bigdei Shabbos!

Harav Boruch Ber heard their complaints and replied, “I do not understand you. A talmid chacham comes to our town, and I should not go to greet him?”

Later, when he felt unsure about the kashrus of a chicken, he personally made his way to the “other Rav” to consult him.

In almost all circumstances, when a conflict arises, one and often both parties are certain they have been wronged, and that their position is the right one. Yet avoiding machlokes isn’t about being right, it’s about being safe from a most dangerous fire.

The sefer Seder Hayom — written by Harav Moshe ben Yehudah Muchir, who was a Rav in Tzfas at the time of the Arizal — writes that “all agree that the kedushah of Shavuos is greater than the other Yamim Tovim.”

Tonight begins Shabbos Parashas Naso, the Shabbos before Shavuos, a day that according the Beis Aharon of Karlin is even greater than Shavuos itself! For all the spiritual influences of the week emanate from the Shabbos preceding it.

One of the most appropriate ways to prepare for this great Yom Tov is by emulating our ancestors at Har Sinai, by setting aside all that divides us and joining together in true achdus.