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.”