“The prime defense against calamity is love and unity,” writes Rabbi Kalman Halevi Epstein in the book Maor VaShemesh. “When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them. …Even if they worship idols, but there is bonding among them, and no separation of hearts, they have peace and quiet, and no Satan or evildoer, as by this [unity], all the curses and suffering are removed.”
The Book of Zohar, the seminal book in the wisdom of Kabbalah, was written in that spirit, the spirit of love and unity. In the portion Ki Tissa, the book writes, “All those friends who do not love each other depart the world before their time. All the friends in Rashbi’s time had love of soul and love of spirit among them. …Rabbi Shimon would say, ‘All the friends who do not love each other cause themselves to stray from the right path.’ …Abraham loved Isaac; Isaac loved Abraham; and they were embraced. And they were both gripped in Jacob with love and brotherhood… The friends should be like them and not blemish them, for if love is lacking in them they will blemish their value above.”
Last night, a tragedy of historic proportions struck the people of Israel, as dozens of people were crushed to death on the tomb site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), author of The Book of Zohar. They came there because last night, some nineteen centuries ago, Rashbi and his disciples completed the writing of this book of love and unity. But there, instead of love and unity, thousands were crushed in the stampede, and dozens lost their lives.
The pain and shock are indescribable. It is a time of deep sadness for the whole nation. But when we rise from the grieving, we must take the one and only action that can prevent such tragedies from reoccurring. We must do what our sages throughout the ages have advised us: unite above all our different colors, cultures, beliefs, and opinions.
Masechet Derech Eretz Zuta (Chapter 9), written at approximately the same time as the Talmud, is one of numerous statements in that spirit: “Even when Israel worship idols and there is peace among them, the Lord says, ‘I have no wish to harm them.’ …But if they are disputed, what is it that is said about them? ‘Their heart is divided; now they will bear their guilt.’” Similarly, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein writes in the book Shem MiShmuel (VaYakhel): “When they [Israel] are as one man with one heart, they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil.” But perhaps the most fitting on this mournful day are the words of the Talmud (Taanit 23a): “This is what people say: ‘either friendship or death.’”
[Rescue workers take a dead body into an ambulance on Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, April 30, 2021. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun]