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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5782

Parashat Hashavua: Connecting to the Torah through Unity

Harav Shaul Yisraeli from Siach Shaul, p. 236-7

The midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 15:18) connects the pasuk “Gather for Me seventy men” (Bamidbar 11:16) to the pasuk “… His bundle on the earth He founded” (Amos 9:6), and posits (to the extent this can be said) that Hashem’s throne is secure only when Bnei Yisrael make themselves one bundle (i.e., are unified). Why is unity in Israel so critical? Chazal also comment on Hoshea 4:17 that even if one worships idols, if he is well connected to his compatriots, he will be left without immediate severe punishment (Bereishit Rabba 38:6). Why is the unity of even the wicked of such value?

The gemara (Shabbat 88a) learns from the pasuk “They stood at the bottom of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17) that Hashem held the mountain over Bnei Yisrael’s head. A related midrash (Shemot Rabba 42:8) implies that the nation’s response of “We shall do and hear” was not fully sincere. How could that be, considering that they received great praise and prizes for that statement (Shabbat ibid.)?

Hashem raised up our spiritual level in an unprecedented manner of “jumping up in levels,” as alluded to by the pasuk “I carried you on the wings of eagles” (Shemot 19:4). This took the nation from the 49th rung of impurity to the highest level of sanctity and preparedness to receive the Torah. This occurred in a revolutionary manner, by the miracles and the divine revelation the people witnessed, especially at the splitting of the sea (Mechilta, Beshalach 3). This revelation left no room for doubters of Hashem. How could one refuse to accept Hashem’s Torah and mitzvot after seeing Him and His power in the most wondrous manner?! This is what was meant by the “holding of the mountain over their heads.” It was not that they spoke insincerely “We will do and hear,” but that since they were under the influence of short-term amazement, it did not have a chance to be absorbed fully in their long-term psyche.

Still, how did they reach such a lofty level? This is connected to the idea that the nation’s encampment at Sinai (where the people were referenced with a singular-form verb) was done with “one heart” (Rashi, Shemot 19:1). The importance of the unity is in the fact that every Jew has two sets of strengths: a special spiritual quality (segula) and the power to act properly. When we say that “A Jew remains a Jew even if he has sinned” (Sanhedrin 44a), this is a result of the segula. But this segula is powerful only when the people are interconnected and unified as a special society/nation. Then when all the parts of the segula join together, the process of life causes the spiritual power of Israel to show itself.

For that reason, only after the nation crossed the Jordan into Eretz Yisrael was the nation responsible for the sins of individuals committed privately (Sanhedrin 43b). Because the nation was one “body,” when one limb is infected, the whole body feels it. On the positive side, when there is unity, the segula of the Nation of Israel shines with full brightness. Then one cannot stray from the way of the Torah because the nation’s natural power is connected to the fulfillment of the Torah. Thus, national unity makes a connection to Torah a definite fact. The national community will, sooner or later, return to full practice of the Torah to which it is connected.     

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