13 May 2021 Shavuos 5781
Chag Ha’Shavuos 5781. Zman Matan Tora’sainu.
Last week saw the Meron Tragedy with its staggering, incomprehensible losses, the murder of 19 year old Hesder student Yehuda Guetta HY”D, shot in the head in a terror attack at the Tapuah Junction in the Shomron, and this week we are witnessing terror, fires and rocket attacks unfolding across our Holy Land, Hashem yerachem aleinu. And yet, despite our national pain, bewilderment, fear and mourning, Chag Ha’Shavuos is upon us and on yomtov we will rejoice in the giving of the Torah. Perhaps a timely lesson from Matan Torah is in order.
The pasuk tells us that when the Israelites arrived in the Wilderness of Sinai, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (Shemos 19:1 with Rashi), they traveled from Refidim, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai, they camped in the dessert… וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר – and Israel, in the singular, camped opposite the mountain (v.2). Why does the Torah describe a nation of millions of people in the singular?
Rashi (ibid) famously teaches: כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, they were like one man with one heart. With unity, the Bnei Yisrael, united as one, stood poised at the foothills of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.
Rav Yaakov Bender, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivas Darchei Torah, offers a unique perspective into this oft quoted Rashi, in the name of Rav Kalman Epstein. Rav Bender writes, “The question is why the Torah reveals this unity to us specifically here, as they faced Har Sinai. Were they not united as they stood at the shores of the Yam Suf, watching their Egyptian oppressors (chasing after them)? … And what about in the throes of the Egyptian enslavement, their pain apparent as the Mitzri cracked a whip above their tired backs; did they not understand and empathize and feel deeply with one another?”
What about unity when it was “every male baby that is born shall be thrown into the river” (Ex.1:22)? What about when Pharaoh was slaughtering their babies and bathing in their blood (Rashi to Ex.2:23), were they not united then? Surely, the nation faced many difficulties during their years of enslavement and subsequent Exodus, surely the nation banded together to face the common enemy… Why does Rashi wait till the foothills of Sinai to teach us that the nation was united, like one man with one heart?
Rav Bender answers powerfully. “It is easy to feel connected and identify with one another at times of distress and pain, when we are all victims, sharing misery with one another. It is in good times, when there is no pain, no urgency, no emergency and no pressure, that real unity is an accomplishment.
“That is why the Torah teaches us this lesson here, that davka at the best of times – when there was no enemy breathing down our necks, no sea before us waiting to envelop us in its waves, no whip of the Egyptian taskmaster – the peak of our national history at the time of the giving of the Torah, we were also united, one person with one heart…
“Har Sinai teaches us of our potential for unity, to be close and connected – not only when things are bad! – but even when things are good! It is true on a tzibbur (communal) level, and it is true on a personal level.
“The velt says over that to feel pain when your friend is suffering means you are a mentch, but to feel simcha when your friend is successful takes a malach.” To be united with each other, despite our myriad of differences, when life is smooth, when all is well, when there is no crises, this is true gadlus, “This is Torah, and perhaps, this is why we learn it here, at the Mountain of Sinai” (Rav Yaakov Bender on Chumash, Artscroll, p.145-147).
For the victims of the Meron Tragedy we cry, we daven, we learn in their memories and merit, we all feel the pain. Of course we are united! For our brothers and sisters facing sirens, rocket attacks, balloon-terror fires, rioting and stoning, we daven, we beseech Shomayim, we do whatever we can to be with them in their pain! Surely, we are like one man with one heart.
But we must ask ourselves a harsh question… when times are good, when there is no urgency, no emergency and no national pain… are we united then? Are we able to come together, all different factions and sects of Jewry, in good times? Do we then see each other as brothers and sisters, like one man with one heart…?
This is the key to Kabalas HaTorah, and this is the message of וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר. It’s not just that the nation was like one man with one heart prior to Matan Torah! It’s that even though times were good, specifically then, the nation achieved unity.
And this is a goal we must strive to make a reality in our day and time. Yes, we cry together; yes, we mourn together; yes, we pray together; yes, we face the enemy together. The challenge is to love each other as brothers when life is good.
At the levaya for his 13 year old son, Yedidya a’h, who was niftar in Meron, R’ Avigdor Hayut was maspid and said, “I spent Shabbos (after the tragedy) in Ziv Hospital – believe me, that’s where you learn what achdus really means… We were all together. There in the hospital, no one checks who or what you are. We shouldn’t have to reach the point where we need those kinds of circumstances – we must, right this very minute, figure out how to achieve achdus (unity). We’re a small country, just a tiny bit of Jews against the entire world… let’s join together. Not a single Jew should hate another, no one should speak negatively of another. We’re in this together, that’s my message for you all. And if Yedidya would be able to speak now, that’s what he would say” (Quoted in Mishpacha, Issue 859, p.102).
With heartfelt tefillos for בשורות טובות for our people and our Land, and best wishes for a meaningful and uplifting yomtov,