Yitro: Unity for Good, Unity for Evil

So much is heard these days on the need to be united. “Unity” or “achdus” in Hebrew, has become one of the major “buzz” words in the vernacular of the Jew who seeks to offer solutions to Jewish problems. If only we were united, we would overcome our enemies, we would bring the redemption, and simply put, everything would be O.K. Even from the most outspoken and uncompromising types, it is amazing to hear them talking about “unity” as the most important thing. And so the question that must be asked here is: Is it truly so? Is it correct that unity is the cure-all?

In Parshas Yitro, we find a rare moment of unity for the Jewish People. The moment they arrived at Mount Sinai, it is written, “And Israel encamped near the mountain”. The sages, noting how the word “encamped” is written in singular form (vayichan) tell us “as one man, as one heart”. What an awesome thing! The Jewish People are standing at Mount Sinai about to receive the Torah, and the Torah reveals to us (the point is stressed in the Mechilta on the same verse) that this particular situation was unlike any other. This time there were no quarrels, no bickering. This very special happening of “Matan Torah” was from the point of view of “Vayichan” – and they encamped “as one man”. Everyone is united for one idea and goal. The sages praise this rare moment of unification that has been attained on this momentous occasion, and without a doubt, the responsibility of all Jews to be mutual guarantors to one another is an expression of this much needed unity among Jews, who are called “Goy Echad” – one Nation.

But there is a tremendous difference between this kind of unity and the kind of unity that the so-called leaders of today babble about. There is an essential difference between the unity of “one man, one heart” mentioned in our parsha, and the unity to which politicians pay lip service to. For the question isn’t whether unity is good or bad, but rather what is the cause you are uniting around? For what goal and purpose?

G-d dispersed the generation of the Tower of Babel because they were united on behalf of evil, and despite their unity,they were branded with the name “Dor Haflaga” – the Hebrew word ‘haflaga’ derived from the root ‘pilug’ which means a split or a schism. For all of their unity was based around an evil purpose. There was a unity of wicked people, ‘split’ or separated from G-d.

In contrast to this, the unity of the Jewish people that our rabbis find praise worthy and vital is the unity of ‘Matan Torah’ – when everyone is united to receive Torah and fulfill it. Indeed, not only is the unity a positive thing, but it is a very necessary ingredient for the feeling of mutual bonding of every Jew to one another, and it is a critical component of ‘Matan Torah’. Nonetheless, unity of the wicked is a bad thing, as the sages comment, “The scattering of the wicked is good for them and good for the world”, and unity for the purpose of an evil goals is abhorrence.

The leaders and scholars should pay heed to the words that they speak. By preaching ‘Achdus’ or unity in such loose terms, they are misleading the nation. Even unity has its limits – it must be for the doing of good. It is for this reason that our sages often group and pair the word ‘Shalom’, with ‘Emes’, the truth, for true unity can only be achieved when it is based around truth.

In these days of darkness and confusion everything is upside down. When you finally find someone who is willing to speak out and take a stand they become popular and comfortable activists. Why the Arabs and leftists don’t have such activists I will never know? Modern day Jewish activists like to be ‘safe activists’ who don’t upset anyone on the left or in the middle, whatever that means.They can’t call Rabin a traitor because that may cause disunity. They can’t define the problems or offer the true solutions to our critical problems because that too may alienate someone, somewhere. So they play politics and lie to themselves seeking some halachic justification for their fears and weaknesses. They forget the first golden rule of activism that it doesn’t matter how unpopular we may become as a result of saying and doing that which is right.

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