01 Feb 2018 Parshas Yisro: Accepting the Torah as One
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, the Israelite nation finds itself in the Wilderness of Sinai. בַּחֹדֶשׁ, הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, לְצֵאת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם–בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי – In the third month from when the Children of Israel left the land of Egypt, on that day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai (Shemos 19:1). Rashi teaches that the nation arrived there on Rosh Chodesh (Sivan).
וַיִּסְע֣וּ מֵרְפִידִ֗ים וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ מִדְבַּ֣ר סִינַ֔י וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר – And they journeyed from Refidim, and they came to the Wilderness of Sinai, and they camped in the desert; and Israel camped there opposite the mountain (19:2).
And Israel camped opposite the mountain is written in the singular form – yet the nation was about 2 million strong! Why is lashon yachid (singular form) used to describe millions of people? Should the Torah not say “And they camped there, opposite the mountain”? Rashi famously teaches:
ויחן שם ישראל. כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, אֲבָל שְׁאָר כָּל הַחֲנִיּוֹת בְּתַרְעוּמוֹת וּבְמַחֲלוֹקֶת – And Israel (as one) camped there: like one man with one heart. But all other desert encampments were with strife and quarrel.
It’s a teaching we may have heard before: the prerequisite for Kabbalas Ha’Torah (the receiving of the Torah) is achdus – unity – from the word echad – one. When Israel is like one man with one heart, Hashem, Who is One, bestows the redeeming, redemptive, ennobling and glorious gift of Torah upon us, His nation.
Which leaves us to ponder…when we lack unity, what else is lacking? Can we really be a nation true to Torah ways, Torah ideals, Torah values, Torah teachings, when we lack unity?
Is Torah for one sect, one style of kippah, one nussach of Tefillah, one hashkafah, one community, one Beis Medrash, one Beit Knesset… or is it for each and every Jew?
Avichai Peretz – who lost two of his brothers while they were serving in the IDF: Uriel HY”D (1976-1998) and Eliraz HY”D (1978-2010) – writes, “But I no longer ask G-d why. I chose to accept His actions, although it’s not an easy choice. People ask me how it is that I, who have all the reasons in the world to be sad, am able to be happy and make others happy. I answer that my strength comes from the fact that I accept all of Gd’s actions, and instead of questioning them, I say thank you. I believe with full faith that the day will come when Moshiach will arrive, and then I’ll see the three of them – Uriel, Abba and Eliraz.
“Until that dream is fulfilled, I don’t live surrounded by death; I live with them. I take them with me to work, they go with me to my studies, and to Beit Knesset. On Friday night, when I welcome Shabbat and sing “shalom aleichem malachei ha’shalom,” I mean them – the three people who continue to live in my heart and in the hearts of tens of thousands of other people.
“To me, visiting Har Herzl is not a punishment, it’s a family outing. More than a quarter of my family is there. When they were buried, something of me was buried along with them, and when I go to the cemetery, I’m going to visit myself as well…
“No one knows yet how universal peace will be obtained. R’ Yehoshua Zuckerman, head of Har Homah Yeshiva in Jerusalem, explained to me that peace, shalom, doesn’t mean making peace with one another, it means making each other shalem, completing one another. Peace is the knowledge that you are not perfect, and that I, although I’m missing something myself, am destined to complete you. We are all halves that can complete each other, and out of this recognition, each one of us can relate to the other. A religious person can embrace a secular person, a left-wing activist can embrace a right-winger. In this way, we can complete each other, and then we truly will be a light unto the nations” (Miriam’s Song, p.271-273).
If we strive for peace, shalom, we must strive for completion, shlaimus; and the clear and undeniable reality is that only when our people are united as one, can we ever hope to be complete.
Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a’h (d. 2015, J’lem) adds a beautiful dimension to this idea. She teaches that וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר means each person saw the חן (chein), the charm, the gem, the beauty, the inherent goodness, in every other person. And because they saw the חן in their fellow Jews, Hashem, in turn, saw the חן in the nation and deemed it worthy for Kabbalas Ha’Torah.
Rashi teaches שֶׁיִּהְיוּ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה חֲדָשִׁים עָלֶיךָ כְּאִלּוּ הַיּוֹם נְתָנָם – that every day the words of Torah should be new to us, as if they were given that day (Rashi to 19:1).
If we should view the Torah as new, as exciting, as powerful, as fundamental as the day it was given, perhaps we have to view the prerequisite to and requirement for Torah – the necessity to be b’achdus (united as one) – as new every day as well.
We must each find ways, in our everyday lives, to enhance and renew unity amongst ourselves and our fellow Jews. For when we are shalem, we will surely be b’shalom. And this tranquility will only come when we find the חן – the beauty and grace, the charm and goodness – in each and every Jew.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,