In my last two articles, I discussed a challenge issued to a number of Jewish thinkers and writers as to what they would do to maintain the level of unity that the Jewish people experienced during the recent war in Gaza. Some suggestions included a culture change in how we speak about each other, increasing acts of kindness to other Jews and filling the void in the news media so that we can properly explain our positions and hashkafos. Each suggestion is worth pursuing.
In this last article, I had hoped to add a personal perspective. To be completely honest, I thought I had a well-thought-out message, replete with my unique perspectives, suggestions and admonitions. After my third unsatisfactory draft, I decided it would be worth my while to discuss the issue with someone far wiser than I, to understand where I was going wrong. To make a long story short, the thoughts I will express in this piece are far different from what I had started with.
The first problem is to define what we mean by unity. We all felt something different in our relationships with other Jews during the difficult times that we went through as a people last summer. We now experience that feeling ebbing away as we return to “normal life.” That “feeling” could be defined as unity. Was what we felt then simply the putting aside of differences while fighting a common enemy — or was it something deeper? Was it a communal feeling — or just one-to-one connections between individuals in fear? Was the feeling different in Israel than in the Diaspora? It’s really all of the above… or maybe none of the above, but we all certainly felt it. So here lies the problem. How can we discuss ways to maintain this feeling of unity when we can’t exactly define it? How do we even know that working on this is a worthwhile endeavor?
Maybe the answer is that we don’t need an exact definition, other than what Chazal have taught us on the general subject of achdus and shalom. Following their dictums is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. As to specific applications, I will leave that to those far greater than I. With that introduction, here are some thoughts.
Complete unity of the Jewish people is probably an unattainable goal. We may have had it at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given to us, but as any yeshivah-educated child will tell you, it didn’t last very long even then. The Rabbis enjoin us to “chase” peace, implying that we will never really catch it. Each day we pray, “Let the One who makes peace in His higher realm, make peace among us and all of Israel,” again implying that only G-d can achieve true peace. Having said that, we are still ordered to try.
The Ramak in the sefer Tomer Devorah, when discussing the Divine attribute of mercy called “l’she’eris nachalaso,” writes that Hashem relates to the Jewish People as a close relative in that He, ka’veyachol, feels our pain when we suffer. But then he continues, “So too is man with his friend: all Jews are ‘she’er basar,’ close relatives, one with the other, because their neshamos are joined together. This one has a part of that one, and that one a part of this one … and all this because of their unity … and for that reason Jews are responsible one for the other, as each one actually has a part of his friend within him … and therefore a person should want the best for his friend … and it is desirable that he should want his friend to act properly and that he should not speak badly of him at all … just as Hashem does not want ill to befall him … and he should feel that his friend’s pain or happiness is his as well.”
Chazal in Avos d’Rav Nosson tell us regarding three of the prophets: Eliyahu stood up for the honor of Hashem but not the Jews, so he was sent to Damesek. Yonah stood up for the honor of the Jews but not Hashem, so he was punished. Yirmiyahu stood up for the honor of both Hashem and the Jews. He said, “We have sinned and rebelled and You have not forgiven,” and his prophecy was doubled. Harav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, speaking on Erev Yom Kippur in 5738/1977, derived from this statement that “ahavas haklal” includes the rasha as well. We should hate evil, and yet be able to stand up for the honor of every Jew, even the rasha.
The takeaway message seems obvious: We must care deeply for every Jew irrespective of whether he is righteous or not, because we all share one soul.
So how would I define unity? It is truly feeling that every Jew is my “she’er basar,” my brother. We sometimes forget that as we fight the important and necessary battles for Torah, mitzvos and the Honor of Heaven. Every now and then, G-d visits a calamity upon us and we band together for a short time, to remind us that unity is worth fighting for too.
Dr. Lebovic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.