Notes From the War, Dec. 4: An Optimistic Take On Achdus

While we celebrate it here in Israel, many fret about it as well.

On the one hand, achdus is our most potent spiritual weapon in wartime. This is not to minimize the efficacy of prayer and Torah. Not a bit. But there is no guarantee that their merit will result in the result that we want. Chazal assure us, however, that when the Jewish people are united, even when they descend into idol worship as they did in the time of Achav, they are invincible. When they are not, the tefillah and learning in the halcyon days of Dovid’s monarchy did not ensure success on the battlefield.

On the other hand, we worry. While there is achdus displayed in spades (and without let-up), can we really attain full unity? Even now, there are people pointing fingers at other people. Lashon hora has not magically disappeared. Outside of Israel, lots of Jews show support for pro-Palestinian organizations, especially on campus. While most sectors of the Israeli population show full-throated support for our soldiers and hostages, there are still some which don’t. Does this mean that we have undermined our most important strategy?

I don’t think so. Here’s why.

We have to ask ourselves just why achdus means so much. There are varying explanations, all of them plausible, to a point. Some are of the “United we stand; divided we fall” nature. Others have us reflect on Hashem’s role as Father. More than anything else, a father wants to see all his children loving and supporting each other – and is pained when there is conflict within the family.

These explanations, however, ignore another dimension: the nature of the Jewish mission.

A most important theme – perhaps the most important theme – in Ramchal’s Daas Tevunos is what he calls the sod haYichud. I hope you’ll allow me an oversimplification of it. Briefly, it observes that Hashem is One. He is singular and unique. He is the cause of all phenomena; everything exists within Him, and nothing outside of Him. His Oneness is unlike anything else we can point to. There is no gainsaying any of this.

But there is a difference between reality and perception. In the human sphere, all we see around is multiplicity, diversity. Often, the things we observe are opposites of each other. We don’t see any unity. This creates room for confusion about G-d. Some ignore Him altogether. Others get Him seriously wrong. (See Rashi on the first verse of the Shma, who renders it “Hear O Israel, Hashem today is our G-d, although others deny Him. One day, He will be truly One.) Even the true believers cannot fully fathom how so much difference can exist within an indivisible One. Not to mention the existence of evil, which is the most difficult phenomenon for us to grasp as allowable within His perfection.

The Jewish mission, as we wend our way through history, is to make G-d One in our world, in which His Oneness is hidden. It is to show that He is the only way of harmonizing all the disparity we seem to observe. (See Maharal’s Nesiv HaAvodah, chap. 7: כאשר הם שני דברים מחולקים והם דבר אחד מורה על אשר ברא אותם הוא אחד)

How do we do that? Our very survival to be sure contributes to G-d consciousness. So does our recitation of the Shma, and our practice of mitzvos, which loudly proclaim our belief in His Oneness. But there is something more.

We say it every Shabbos mincha. “You are One. Your name is One. Who is like your nation Israel, one nation on earth?” In other words, the uniqueness of the Jewish people itself is a refraction of G-d’s Oneness. (See Ksav Sofer, Bereishis 32:25. He expands upon a midrash that links “Hashem alone shall be raised high on that day [Yeshayahu 2:11]” with “And Yaakov remained alone.”)

Just how do we shine a bright light on Hashem’s Oneness? That’s where achdus comes in. It happens when the Jewish nation displays a commitment of people to each other that surpasses the expectations of any other group. As in the instant coming together (and staying together) of people who had been yelling and screaming at each other for months. Like the response of more than 100% of the reservists called up. Like the creation of innumerable support organizations for soldiers, families of hostages, survivors, and displaced families, assisted by the secular and the religious, by Ashkenazim and Sefardim, by the right and the left. (As of this writing, a poll shows that more than 50% of Israelis are volunteering in the war effort. Secular Jews are ahead of religious Jews in voluntarism – a reversal of usual behavior.) As in Jews around the world rising in support of the Land that is special to them because their ancestors knew it to be the special place designated for them by G-d.

Other nations know that they could never hope for such unity. Consciously or otherwise, they have to recognize that there is something special about G-d’s people – that they can unite, because they are sourced in His unity! They can join together, because they are tied to the Being Who can make everything one.

If this reasoning is correct, then we are meeting expectations, and likely exceeding them! It matters not at all that some people decline this coming together. The existence of the Bernie Sanders types, the George Soros’, the Neturei Karta goons, don’t put a dent into this. The point is that when the non-Jewish world looks at the Jewish people, they see the majority of Jews, not the marginals. And that majority evinces an astounding achdus – which points to the Oneness of the One they serve, albeit in different ways!

If this reasoning is correct, then it suggests the work we should all be doing. First – we have to disabuse ourselves of the dangerous notion that when Hashem judges His people, He looks primarily to the community that we identify with, because we are the ones who really “get it.” Any look at Tanach can tell you that this is not the case. While individuals who are more spiritually sophisticated are indeed judged more strictly, that is true as individuals. But our avodah has a second dimension, beyond our growth as individuals. That dimension is our contribution to Klal Yisrael as a corporate entity. It is that entity that Hashem looks at when He judges the larger group.

Second, we should be devoting ourselves more to the tzibbur. Not our immediate tzibbur, but that of an entire nation that has come together. It goes without saying that at the top of the list are the chayalim who put their lives on the line for the benefit of all of us. We should be taking our children with us to volunteer alongside others who don’t look like us. There has not been such a moment to share and teach practical achdus in our lifetimes. It would be a horrible mistake to miss such a teaching moment.

May we soon see the realization of the prophecy of Zechariah, “Hashem will be King over the entire earth. On that day, Hashem will be One, and His name One.”

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10 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Here in our special exile in Indianapolis, it’s not clear yet if woke, socialist-leaning Jews who dominate community organizations are seriously reflecting on recent events. I’m hoping that the least ideologically committed will take a fresh look at their life priorities.

    To the degree that such organizations continue to promote abortion and LGBwhatnot, make common cause with local Muslims, and do other such things that they openly represent as Jewish values, real cooperation seems distant.

  2. Chana Siegel says:

    Old habits rarely change overnight. Still, there does seem to be some improvement. “Two steps forward, one step back.”
    I have heard many, many Israelis, from a variety of sectors, saying that after this war, these new experiences of unity are going to leave us all demanding something better. Something beyond our old sectorialism, from our communal and political leaders, from our government, from the IDF, and most of all, from ourselves.

    • Bob Miller says:

      How do the government and voters clean house in view of the system as it is? It’s the Peter Principle run amok. One retread politician vs. another. Multiple failed parties and coalitions who look out only for #1, meaning themselves. Zero accountability to anyone, including to the citizens as a group. Supreme Court allowed to have veto power over everything.

  3. Steven Brizel says:

    I think we are seeing in response to 10/7 a communal wide and individual rethinking of priorities and assumptions that were viewed as almost sacred prior thereto which Chazal view as Hirhurei Teshuvah

  4. Steven Brizel says:

    We all are aware of the views of the Satmar Rav ZL on Zionism and Israel but R Yoel ZL was very adamant that such views never be aired or used as an argument against Israel during wartime because such a view would endanger Jewish lives in EY .It’s is a disgrace that a prominent Jewish congressman spoke on the floor of Congress about the Satmar shirts when in fact Satmar has long disavowed any connection with or support for the actions and activities of NK

    • Bob Miller says:

      Many prominent Jewish Members of Congress are far more hip to socialism than to Judaism.

  5. Schmerel says:

    The existence of the Bernie Sanders types, the George Soros’, the Neturei Karta goons, don’t put a dent into this. The point is that when the non-Jewish world looks at the Jewish people, they see the majority of Jews, not the marginals

    I wish that were the case and I wish that the the Bernie Sanders types were really so marginal in the secular Jewish community, Even so I’m sure that when Hashem he looks at the Jewish community he looks at the majority who identify with it and have shown remarkable achdus. Not the Bernie Sanders (or Neturei Karta) types whose message is addressed to and the purpose of ingratiating themselves with the non-Jewish community


    Both the rise in Achdut and the first valid polling that tells us it is hardly as widespread as is often claimed are IMHO positive. I was exuberant when I learned that Rav Shaul Alter recently gave a shiur at Har Etzion and the Belzer Rebbe held a special Tish for talmidim and Rabbeim of Har Etzion.

    Nonetheless, I keep remembering the first entry in Tzidkat ha’Tzaddik that taught me that original exuberance must be followed by slow and measured adoption. Polls tell us that slow process has hardly begun.

    Though I pray for unity, it will take more time; hopefully, this original driver of unity will live on and cause a slow but necessary movement towards greater unity.

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    In the spirit of the afterglow of Chanukah, below are some links I have found inspiring, and which also point, in each case, to a continuation of the originator’s legacy:

    In this heartwarming video, Japanese citizens are seen singing “Hoshea Es Amecha” in Hebrew in a gathering of solidarity with Israel. This can feel like a balm to the soul at a time when there is so much anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a connection to Chanukah, there is a menorah on the table, although the link was posted about a month ago. I am sure the tune’s composer, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, who requested that no eulogies be recited at his funeral and that the participants instead sing only this song, is smiling in Shomayim.

    While I have wondered how Rabbi Jonathan Sacks would respond to the current situation, his ideas have taken root and are being presented to a new generation. Below are links to the “Sparks of Hope” series, which have inspiring quotes for these challenging times from Rabbi Sacks and short videos from educators with further insights on each quote. The second link is to the “Fragments of Light” series on Chanukah, with the theme of providing fragments of light from within the darkness, which have ideas from R. Sacks, a discussion by a Sacks Scholar, as well as an accompanying video from Rabbi Sacks.

    Dedi Graucher, the popular singer who passed away this September, had an infectious smile both on and off stage. As Bibi Netanyahu wrote, “all he had to do was walk into the room and we all broke out in tremendous smiles.” His son, Shai, is continuing his father’s chasadim by working almost non-stop in the wake of the October 7th attacks, raising money and distributing it to the survivors, soldiers, and others. In the video below, he brings a smile to a teenage victim of the Givat Shaul bus stop shooting by immediately promising $26,000 to help her father’s kollel so he shouldn’t have to fly to America and fundraise that month as well as bringing singer Mordechai Shapiro to raise her spirits.

  8. Shades of Gray says:

    Reading here the Maharal and Ramchal’s discussion of unity and apparent diversity in the universe reminded me of another reference to unity I saw in Shev Shmaytsa, of all places. At the very beginning of his lengthy introduction, R. Aryeh Leib Heller lyrically praises Hashem for the heavens, earth, seas and other creations, and says one should think of the Kabalistic formula of “L’shem Yichud” and “v’ahavta l’rei’acha ka’mocha” before any good deed or Torah study. He quotes from the Moreh Nevuchim in this context:

    והנה כל היצורים והנבראים אלה הם בכללם איש אחד וזה מופת על אחדותו ית”ש כמ”ש הרמב”ם בספר המורה ח”א פ’ ע”ב כי האחד אמנם ברא אחד

    “And behold, all of these beings and creatures are all together one “man.” And this is a sign of His oneness, may His name be blessed. [For] it is like Rambam writes in the Guide for the Perplexed, Part 1:72, that the One has in fact created one.”

    The Rambam’s point, quoted by Shev Shmaytsa, is that the unitary world reflects a unitary God. The underlying current of the entire above referenced perek of Moreh Nevuchim is man as “Olam Katan,” a microcosm of the world, as pointed out by R. Daniel Korobkin. There are recorded shiurim on this and on other chapters of the Moreh Nevuchim by R. Daniel Korobkin and R. Aaron Lopiansky which are available online.

    It was a pleasant surprise for me to discover a reference to the Moreh Nevuchim in a bedrock of yeshivah lomdus. There are several more quotes of Moreh Nevuchim in Shev Shmaytsa’s introduction as well as a quote of Sefer HaShorashim of Radak (in Letter Ches), among other interesting seforim quoted. See the above-referenced portion of Shev Shmaytsa with translation by R. Francis Nataf:'ta%2C_Introduction.3?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=he

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