United We Stand . . . Be It Obama Or McCain
One day when walking across a bridge, I encountered a man who was about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don't do that!"
"Why not," he asked. "Well, there's so much to live for.” I replied."Like what," he asked.
"Well...are you Jewish," I asked. “I’m Jewish," He said. "Me too, I replied.
“Are you Orthodox or Reform?" He said "Orthodox." I said, "Me too. Are you Charedi or Modern?" He said "Charedi." I said, "Me too!
“Are you Litfish or Chassidish? "He said "Litfish." I said, "Wow! Me too.
Are you a Litfish Yerushalmi or a Litfish Bnei-Braker?" He said “Litfish Yerushalmi." I said "Me too!
“Are you a Litfish Yerushalmi Mussarnik, or are you a Litfish Yerushalmi Brisker?" He said "Litfish Yerushalmi Mussarnik" I said, "Imagine that! Me too!
“Are you a Litfish Yerushalmi Mussarnik Slobodker, or a Litfish Yerushalmi Mussarnik Kelmer?" He said "Litfish Yerushalmi Mussarnik Slobodker!"Apikores (heretic) that you are!” I shouted, and proceeded to push him off the bridge.
“Unity,” what a beautiful thing. Its virtuous properties are frequently echoed by politicians, clergy and activists of all ilk and class. The word conjures up fuzzy feelings of an idyllic time and place. A world where there is no strife – where humanity is bound by a single goal and a single means, with a single mind and heart.
But is there really such a thing as unity, or is it fantasy? Can humanity ever really come together, with a single heart and mind towards even a single objective?
We humans are so different from each other. We possess extremely diverse inclinations, desires and interests. This is not only because of our selfish and animal nature and agenda, which, to be sure, has its due influence on our aptitude for dissonance and contention. But even by mere biological design our minds tend to operate on different frequencies.
Mankind does not think alike, nor were we meant to. The Talmud states: “Just as no two people are alike in image, no two people are alike in the way they think.” Each of our brains is wired slightly different. And that’s how it was meant to be. Given the above can we even dream of unity and single mindedness?
The pending presidential election serves as a perfect case in point. America has become pulverized by the intense nature of this race. Feelings run so deep; it is causing division and even hatred amongst fellow citizens.
The friction has even penetrated the walls of our Jewish family. There is enormous contention and discord within all segments of the Jewish community over this issue. We cannot even agree on which candidate will better serve our Jewish values and interests, let alone other issues. The election process is clearly not a shining example of man’s capacity for tolerance and accord.
And yet, Judaism asserts that unity is not only a desirable and attainable trait but actually a necessity and prerequisite for Divine revelation and blessing. How is this possible? If I’m for Obama and you’re for McCain, how can we be united?
The answer is that Unity does not dictate that everyone be or act the same. Quite the contrary, unity by definition exists in light and in spite of our unique individuality and differences.
This is to say that we must never try to deny the reality of our (or anyone else’s) individuality. Not only do we all have the “right” to be distinct in our behavior and thought, it is in fact very much part of our “Divine mission and purpose.” It is G-d, after all, who created us this way, as one wife said to her husband: “if we would always think the same way, then one of our minds would be unnecessary!”
Implied in the above is the imperative that we must not try to silence those who disagree with us. We should likewise not badger our opponents into accepting our viewpoint or will. Similarly, our differences of opinion and views do not constitute just grounds for animosity and hate.
So, where then does unity fit in? The philosophy of “agree to disagree,” while very benevolent, does not sound like a recipe for unity but rather the antithesis thereof. Can individuality and unity coexist, and how so?
Unity is the ability to master and harness our individuality and diversity towards a common and higher objective. Not to “deny” our inherent differences but to “unite” them. To utilize them as a means towards a higher end and not as the end of a higher means.
In practical terms, this means that we allow ourselves to be bound by that which is higher than ourselves – higher than our individuality and diversity. For true unity to exist there must be the recognition of higher (Divine) morals and principles for which we are willing to yield our individual mind and heart.
Much as you don’t create light by beating-out the darkness with a stick, but rather by lighting a candle, you don’t create unity by beating-out your opponent’s individuality – a tactic that failed miserably throughout history – but rather by emphasizing and accentuating the higher morals and values which are greater than our individuality and separateness.
This is precisely what the Torah asserts in the beginning of our Parsha – Nitzavim: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers, that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day.” (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)
While the Torah emphasizes the awesome unity that prevailed among the people at that historic gathering – on the day of Moshe’s passing – it does not gloss-over the various different classes and categories that comprised the legendary assembly. Yes there was perfect unity and individuality at the same moment – leaders, elders, officers, children, women, converts, woodcutters and water drawers.
How was this possible? The answer is because they were “All standing this day before the Lord, your G-d.” they were cognizant of a higher existence and creed – “The covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day.”
In face of higher reality and purpose, our individuality and diversity fuse together and complement each other like the sundry instruments in a symphony.
I came across a charming little thought: There are some minor variations in the text of our prayers. In the Shacharis (morning) service, there is for example, a difference in the order of the first prayer. Chassidim say Hodu before Baruch She-amar, while Misnagdim say it after.
However, before the prayer of Yehie Ch’vod Hashem – which translate: “May the glory of G-d [be forever]” – both groups find themselves aligned.
The point of the thought is that when it comes to the glory of the G-d, both Chassidim and Misnagdim – different as their ideas may be – find themselves on the same page. This, as stated above, is precisely the message of our Parsha – unity is attained through higher awareness and commitment – which in light of the predominant election atmosphere, appears astoundingly relevant and timely.
Among the numerous factors taken into account by our Sages when they arranged the Jewish calendar, is when each Torah portion will be read. Not only was the goal to complete the cycle of reading the Torah by the last days of the holiday of Sukkos, but also to make sure certain portions of the Torah would be read at particular times of the year.
Nitzavim is always read the week preceding Rosh Hashanah, which gives it even deeper relevance. The words in our Parsha: “You are all standing this day before the Lord ‘this day,’” according to Chassidic philosophy, also refers to the day of Rosh Hashanah.
The message, accordingly, is that by standing together “this day” of Rosh Hashanah – through true Jewish unity, as described above – we all merit Divine revelation and blessing. We are certain to be inscribed and sealed for a happy healthy and sweet new year. May this be the case for us all. Amen!