This year, let us be “a light unto nations” for the first time in modern history.
Each year, as the (usually extended) family gathers around the Rosh Hashanah table, a lively chatter fills the air. Yet, often, a very Jewish narrative takes over, and the peaceful chitchat turns into a banter, which in turn becomes the Jewish all-time favorite: “The Blame Game.” So this year, if argue we must, let’s at least do it over a really contentious topic: unity. Or, more precisely, the unity of the Jewish people.
But what is unity anyway and who needs it? Unity is a feeling of belonging, of mutual concern and responsibility. It is caring for another person so dearly that his or her desires become yours, too. Unity is what a real family feels like. Who would not want that?
And yet, why should we unite with people we don’t like? Can’t we have everything we want without uniting with strangers? Materialistically speaking, we probably could have most everything we want. But if material goods made us happy, our wealthy Western society would not be plagued with depression, aggression, escapism and narcissism. The missing ingredient to happiness in our lives is positive interconnections. If we ejected suspicion, alienation and hatred from our lives and placed instead trust, closeness and cooperation, would we ever be unhappy?
Indeed, when you get to the bottom of all our problems, you find that the root cause of all human suffering is human nature itself. Cure this, and you have cured everything.
Our (Fore) Fathers and Mothers Knew It First
Abraham was the first to notice that the ego is the root of our problems. The Midrash (Beresheet Rabah) tells us that when Abraham noticed that his country folk were becoming self-centered and alienated from each other, he and Sarah opened their tent to everyone and taught them about mercy and camaraderie.
After Nimrod expelled Abraham from Babylon for spreading his ideas of unity, he wandered off with his entourage to Canaan and along the way picked up anyone who valued the idea of unity.
This was the nucleus of the people of Israel. It turns out that our ancestors were a unique phenomenon, forming a nation that is not based on a shared culture, language, or biological kinship, but on a common idea—that unity is the key to our happiness.
When we came out of Egypt, Moses took our unity a step further as we committed to be “as one man with one heart.” Only after we committed to this tenet did we “officially” become a nation.
Like Abraham, Moses did not intend to keep unity exclusively for the Jews. Ramchal writes (The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah) that “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time, but he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”
Therefore, instead of complete correction, Moses bequeathed us with a task: to be “a light unto nations” by conveying the unity to all the people who could not receive it through Abraham or Moses.
Fighting for Love
It was not easy, but our forefathers tried very hard to maintain their unity. They, too, experienced bursts of egoism, but they learned how to solidify their bond by balancing their egos with love of others.
The Book of Zohar (Aharei Mot) describes the intense hatred that the early Jews experienced and how they kept at heart the final goal—to bring unity and love of others to the entire world: “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together.’ The friends, as they sit together, first they seem like men at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. …And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part … And by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
Approximately two millennia ago, we failed to shift from wanting to kill one another, as the above excerpt from the The Zohar put it, to loving one another as brothers. Intense hatred erupted among us and caused our exile. Worse yet, without loving one another, without unity, we became unable to be a light unto nations. Through our hatred, we have sealed off the door to the world’s happiness.
Today’s Western society is by and large consists of the descendants of the Babylonians whom Abraham and Moses tried to unite. Without our unity, who will show them the way?
Once we, the intended leaders toward cohesion, fell into unfounded hatred, the nations of the world unconsciously began to blame us for their troubles. Because they cannot articulate the nature of our fault, they accuse us of whatever trouble they are facing. At the same time, we, the nation that once considered “love your neighbor as yourself” the epitome of our law, abandoned our unity, forgot our task, and could not understand the nations’ anger with us. Thus began what we now define as antisemitism.
The Greater the Ego, the Greater Their Hatred
With each passing generation, the human ego intensifies, causing us to seek to ruin one another more intently and more viciously. Without an antidote to our growing malice, we will destroy ourselves and our planet.
The ego intensifies in waves that take over the world and then subside and give humanity repose for introspection and correction. The most recent wave was during World War II. Now we are approaching yet another wave, and as always, the anger will turn against the Jews first. And since our egos are more nefarious than ever, as we can easily tell by looking at the world around us, we should expect the next round of Jew-hatred to be proportionally more sinister.
Back to the Basics
Despite all the above, we can reverse the ominous trend if we return to the basics of our tribe. It does not matter that the nations do not know that what they need from us is unity or that we have forgotten its merits. All we have to do is remember that “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes” (Proverbs 10:12).
The brotherly love between us will awaken once we stir it into motion through our efforts. Immediately thereafter we will begin to be once more “a light unto nations,” and the world will start changing its attitude toward us. This is why it is written, “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them” (Maor VaShemesh).
Hoping to save his brothers in Poland prior to the Holocaust, Rav Yehuda Ashlag wrote, “The Israeli nation was established as a conduit through which sparks of purification will flow on to the entire human race throughout the world.” At the time, his cry went unheeded. We must not let this happen again.
Quitting the Blame Game
This year, let’s give The Blame Game a final shove out the window. Rosh Hashanah is not only the beginning of a new year; it is also Rosh Hashinui (the beginning of change). The world’s hatred toward us causes it to watch our every movement. Let us use this to our benefit, and to that of the world. Let us unite and show that we can “cover our crimes with love.” Let us pave the way to peace by making peace among ourselves. This year, let us be “a light unto nations” for the first time in modern history, and let us make this year the year of change.*
Happy New Year
* In Israel and around the world, many organizations and movements have taken it upon themselves to help unify the Jewish people. The Arvut (mutual guarantee) movement, for instance, carries out dozens of activities each week—from Connection Circles on the Tel Aviv Boardwalk to Integral Education discussions in correction facilities. Also, Round Table discussions have been conducted around the world in order to promote the value of unity. New York and San Francisco (USA), Toronto (Canada), Frankfurt and Nuremberg (Germany), Rome (Italy), Barcelona (Spain), St. Petersburg and Perm (Russia), are just some of the many places where these unity activities take place, and with the same resounding success as in Israel.
Featured in The Jerusalem Post