Thursday, March 19, 2015
We often hear Jews around the world talking about achdus - by the Shabbat table, at an Israeli bus stop, or in the blogosphere - and saying they wish the Jewish people had more of it. We might reflect on another community in our city or even in our neighborhood and lament the breach between "us" and "them." Events of national pride or tragedy sometimes jolt us into a state of unity, but then it fades and the old separations reemerge. Achdus is a little like love - it's often elusive, and then sometimes it just seems to happen to us.
Yet I propose that achdus is something we can actively work on, that in fact we need to make achdus a priority goal for the Jewish people. Why should we work for achdus? There must be a reason for every type of Jew - security benefits for the Jews in Israel, stronger and more diverse Diaspora communities, getting many kinds of Jews into Torah study or Tikkun Olam projects. But I think there is a more basic reason, one that's been at the heart of the Jewish people since our family's origin. Achdus is one of the main reasons for the Jewish people's existence - it's what we were made to do.
According to tradition, the original family of Israel, as described in the Torah, achieved a goal that was set for humanity from the beginning - forming a society where brothers and sisters can live together in peace. In the first human family, Adam and Chava's children Cain and Abel had a terrible sibling rivalry, getting us off to a bad start. In the time of Noah, ten generations later, humanity was so caught up in nasty fighting amongst themselves that HaShem decided to start over. And for yet ten more generations, G-d's goal of a world where people could get along still wasn't coming together.
Finally, Abraham and Sarah - the first Jews - enter the scene and things start looking up for humanity. Abraham is the epitome of kindness, and he and Sarah teach the world that there is one benevolent G-d Who wants us to be kind to each other. Yet Abraham's children, Ishmael and Isaac, born of different mothers, can't get along and separate. Isaac carries on the Jewish mission with his wife Rivka. But their children, Esav and Yaakov, start looking a little like Cain and Abel, and Yaakov has to run for his life. Eventually he settles down, has a nice, big Jewish family, and gets the new name Israel.
For many years the family of Israel lives peaceably, with thirteen unique children all getting along, but with some jealously about the favorite son, Joseph. One fateful day that resentment spills over, and most of the brothers gang up on Joseph, nearly deciding to kill him, but in the end only selling him into slavery in Egypt. It looks like hope is lost for the family of Israel, the Jewish people, who could have set an example for all the families of the world. But, after years of pain, repentance, and with a lot of help from G-d, Joseph and his brothers reconcile, and the first book of the Torah closes with all of the Jewish family reunited and living together in harmony, albeit in a foreign land.
From Egypt, where the Jewish people became a nation, until today, when our family spans the world, unity has been key to the Jewish destiny. The family of Israel left Egypt as one people and stood united at Mt. Sinai, accepting as one G-d's call to be a light to the other nations of the world. Under the rule of King David and King Solomon, we lived as a united people in the Land of Israel. Then for many years we struggled with disunity, and conflicts between different parts of the family ultimately led to exile from our Land, and the scattering of the Jewish people all over the world.
When we look around at the Jewish world today and see the different split off parts of our family, remember that these parts were once whole. When we sigh over the breach between "us" and "them" in our city or community, recognize that it's essentially the same longing you'd have for a distant member of your family. That hopeful desire for more achdus among all Jews is like wishing your family could get past its dysfunction and get together happily with each other more often. We can wait for it to happen, or we can take action to reconnect. We're certainly capable of it - we've done it before - and it continues to be our challenge, and our destiny, to do it again.