Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Yitro (Exodus 18-20)

Ultimate Unity

     They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain. (Exodus 19:2)

The old adage, two Jews- three opinions, is more than a clever observation regarding our tendency to disagree with one another, it’s also a subtle description of the difficulty we face when uniting for a common purpose. In describing the various journeys of the Jewish people as they left Egypt, Rashi notes that the verse consistently uses the plural, which teaches that each encampment was accompanied by discord and strife.

There was, however, one notable exception. As the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai, the verse suddenly switched to the singular, which signified a meaningful change in the mindset of the nation. Immediately prior to receiving the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer divided. Instead, they had become “like one person with one heart.”

How did the Jewish people, the same ones who had been plagued with discord prior to arriving at Mount Sinai, able to achieve this this level of unity in such a short period of time? Kli Yakar answers that the Jewish people’s arrival at the mountain entailed more than simply changing their location. The mountain G-d chose to give His Torah was low and unremarkable—and the message was not lost on the people. In order to be ambassadors for G-d’s instructions for life—the Torah—people would have to move beyond their personal agendas and develop a sense of humility that would allow them to unite prior to achieving any particular goal.

The following story powerfully illustrates this idea: Several years ago, a reserve Israeli army unit was drawing up plans for an upcoming mission. When it became clear that the men could face heavy enemy fire, a heated dispute broke out among the soldiers. The unmarried men in the unit insisted that they go into battle first and that the married men stay back. They reasoned that the married men had families to take care of, while they did not. The married men refused to accept this line of reasoning and insisted that they fight while the unmarried men stay back. They reasoned that if they should fall in battle, they had someone to say Kaddish for them, while the unmarried men did not. 

In many ways, the struggle of our generation is not so much the need to unify around a common goal as it is to unify around a common sense of shared peoplehood. The ability to relate to every Jew a brother or sister, whose essence is no different than our own, is the most powerful unity we can achieve as a people. 

Good Shabbos

(Source: Rabbi David Ordan, Partners in Torah)