On Jewish Unity
By Nachum Mohl
During the period of time referred to as the "three weeks" which is those days between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av we observe a period of mourning for the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of our subsequent exile which has lasted up till now. During this time we are to make an inner accounting of what was the cause of the destruction and what we personally can do to bring about its eventual rebuilding.
Many attribute the devastation to a deep internal hatred between Jewish brethren. Reasoning is that if we can overcome the hatred between Jews, we can restore unity that existed. Therefore there are many who choose this time to speak about Jewish unity. It has become almost traditional to hear the calls to unity by several different groups in the religious arena. Each group has its own ideas on how to build up unity through out the disparate Jewish world.
This is reminiscent of a story of a sick man who went to a doctor. After getting the patient's case history, he performed a thorough examination and told him that he was suffering from a certain disease. He recommended a specific cure for it. The patient was doubtful if that cure would help. The doctor reassured him saying that this cure is a certain cure.
The doubting patient asked the doctor how he knew that it would help.
Replied the doctor, "because I am suffering from the very same ailment!"
Hearing that the doctor substantiated his claim that the cure was effective by claiming expertise based on his own personal experience with the same ailment, the patient exclaimed, "If you have the same illness, and you recommend this cure for me, then why has it not helped you!"
We find ourselves in the same boat. How can we listen to the various groups telling us that unity will bring us our redemption when they themselves can not agree on anything? But absurd as it may be, we do need unity, but not an exterior unity based on an external standard of being. What we need is a unity based on individual acceptance of all Jews as being the children of G-d irrespective of race, religion or national origin.
This may sound strange at first but let us examine it on a deeper level. In the book of Micah (chapter 6), the prophet relates to us that G-d laments that He does not want the multitude of animal offerings which have been brought to the holy Temple. What does G-d desire? Only that man should do justly, perform acts of kindness, and walk modestly with G-d (verse 8).
If we analyze this verse of Micha we can see something very interesting and enlightening. First G-d who has commanded us in the Torah that we should bring sacrifices now tells us that He is not interested in those very sacrifices. He has no personal need for them. They were given to us by divine kindness as a means to achieve closeness to Him through atonement for our sins. However, in the generation of the prophet Micah, the sacrifices became a ceremonial ritual that was performed devoid of the required accompanying internal feeling of contriteness and humility.
In its place G-d tells us through the prophet that it is not the animals that G-d desires. G-d only requires from us three things: two which deal with our relationship with others and the other specifies how our relationship to G-d should be.
Our relationship with others must be based on justice. We are not allowed to cheat, deceive, take advantage of, or disregard our fellow. Further more, even if we have acted in accordance with the letter of the law, we have not done enough, we must go beyond the law to help him. That is the meaning of the first two dictums: man should do justly and perform acts of kindness.
The third dictum, to walk modestly with G-d, means just that. To glorify ourselves in our religiosity is not what the prophet tells us. We are neither to boast to others nor take pride in ostentatious performance of His commandments, but rather we must see to develop an intimate relationship with G-d.
Once we decide that our relationship with G-d is a matter between the individual and his Maker, and we finally are willing to do that kindness to permit our fellow Jew to develop his own intimate, but separate relationship, then we will have the unity that G-d desires: a unity of the heart.
But when unity is based on outside appearances or of comparable external performances of His commandments, then our unity is like that of a cleaning crew. Each member comes from a different background and merely put on a uniform to do their chores. Since they are dressed alike and belong to the same organization, it gives the appearance of unity. But there is really no real unity among them, they put on a uniform and perform their duties only in order to receive a reward. When they finish, they put their uniforms away and separate each to his own abode. Are we to be like them?
Unity is not based on external factors. Rather it is like a family. It is an internal feeling of closeness with a common bond. It requires us to do our best, and help our friends that they in turn may do their best, meaning what is best for them individually.
That is what the prophet told us: man should do justly do what you need to do and do it according to G-d's law; plus perform acts of kindness ensure that your friend is able to do his job in life also for his job is just as important to G-d as yours. Once we do this, then it becomes simple to walk humbly with G-d.
This is the key to ending hatred between Jews, sinat chinam, this is the key to rebuilding our Temple, and this is the key to living safely in our land.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine