Any healthy society seeks unity, since division only serves to prevent society from achieving it’s goals. If this is so for all of mankind, how much more it is true concerning the Jewish People. The Almighty chose the Jewish People for a very specific goal: To know Hashem, spread His word, and sanctify His Name in the world. Since this goal is the most lofty of all goals, then certainly unity amongst the Jewish People is a very essential ingredient.From here we learn that the concept of “unity” has limits. It cannot be just lip service. Any unity is achieved when there is a shared objective. On the other hand, when different parts of the society have totally different objectives, and all the more so if these objectives contradict one another, there cannot be unity. We stress this point because the concept of “unity” today has become some kind of buzzword or blanket statement used by all segments of the nation, where people with ulterior motives throw it around as a slogan to further their cause.
“Unity” can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. On one hand, it is a powerful vehicle to actualize an idea, and to arrive at the goal. On the other hand, it can serve as the exact opposite, for it can serve as a vehicle for the blurring over of the truth, and a distancing from it. This occurs when the goal of unity becomes more important than the ideology itself! That is, instead of the unity becoming a means to achieve the goal, it itself becomes the goal at all costs, and certainly at the expense of the ideology. In such a case, the idea and the goal are conceded and blurred over. This is not “unity”, but rather betrayal of one’s ideology and a losing of one’s way.
This is exactly what we learn from the verse in our parsha, (19:2) “And there Israel encamped before the mountain”. Noting how the word for encamped is used in its singular form, the sages tell us that here the Jewish people stood united. Why was this the only place where Israel was able to stand united? Because at the mountain they received Torah! And so clearly, the Jewish People can only be unified when they share the common goal of Torah, since there is no other goal for the Jewish People. Note how Rashi brings down the Mechilta on this verse: “As one man with one heart (mind), but all the other encampments (before Sinai) were with complaints and with strife”. The Hebrew word for complaints used here is “Tarumot” – which is complaints against Hashem. Division amongst the Jewish People begins when its basic goal is questioned. The moment there is “Tarumot” (complaints) against G-d, which is a result of lack of faith, then the entire basis for unity is uprooted. The fact is, that in such a situation, G-d forbid if there is NOT a split amongst the Jewish People! That would mean that the Jewish People were, G-d forbid, united around the goal of complaining against and questioning G-d! But since there will always be authentic believers amongst the Jewish people, it is guaranteed that they will “see to it” that there will always be such division, which in this case is a positive thing.
This is the intention of Rashi saying, “As one man, as one heart”. After all, why the redundancy? Because the “one heart” is vital for unity. There must be the common goal. But if there is not “one heart”, (the goal), then there can be no unity of “as one man”. For one cannot throw around empty slogans of “united we stand” in order to gloss over a common lacking of national destiny.
Many like to point out the words of our sages who say that in the days of King Ahab, there were no war casualties despite the fact that they were idol worshippers, because there was no Lashon Hara amongst them. (BaMidbar Raba, 19) So many want to learn from this that unity by itself without a positive goal can be a good thing. The answer is the following: The fact that no one fell in war was reward for the fact that the Jewish People in that generation did not inform (Lashon Hara) to the wicked kingdom about the prophets who had been hidden in the cave and who Ahab wanted to kill! Again, their unity was around a positive goal. They were not rewarded because they were unified around idol worship.
Let us mention here that Hashem’s prophet chastised the righteous King Yehoshafat for allying himself to the same Ahab, and joining him in battle: As part of his chastisement he states: “And Yehoshafat made peace with he king of Israel”. Yes, making peace with a fellow Jew who is wicked is brought down here as a negative thing. (Kings 1, 22:45, see Radak there)