I want to share a story, which, although sad, demonstrates the power of achdut (unity) to triumph over the petty strife that often divides our community.
I lived in an “out-of-town” community at the time of this story, which contained two Orthodox schools – one for charedi children and one for Modern Orthodox children. In one of these schools, there was a rebbe who was loved and admired by all. Tragically, this rebbe was taken from this world at a young age after a short, but valiant battle with cancer.
I cannot forget my son crying bitterly over the plight of his dear friend, who was left an orphan. What stands out most in my mind, though, is the unity displayed immediately before and after this rebbe’s passing. Both schools joined to study Torah as a zechut for the rebbe‘s refuah shelaimah. And after he passed, those of us who gathered do the taharah – I was among them – saw no divisions between us despite being from different synagogues with children attending different schools.
But why do we need to wait for a gezairah ra’ah from Heaven to forget our differences? Why can’t we unite before a painful event transpires, which would obviate the need for the painful decree in the first place? The great tzaddik and mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein – who led the Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai during World War II – said that the Jewish nation is only worthy of G-d’s great protection if it behaves as nefesh achat, as one united soul.
In reference to the Purim story, our Sages state (Megillah 13b), “It was well known beforehand to [G-d]…that Haman would pay shekel coins [to destroy] the Jews. Therefore, He caused the shekel coins of the Jewish people to preempt those of Haman, as we learned, ‘The collection of shekalim is announced on the first day of Adar.’”
What’s the connection between our half-shekel donations and Haman’s bribe? In Silver from the Land of Israel, Rabbi Chanan Morrison offers the following interpretation from Rav Abraham Isaac Kook:
“The nations were aware of the special Divine providence protecting the Jewish people and were reluctant to harm them. Haman, however, felt that this protection was only in force when the Jewish people lived together as one people in their own land. But once they were exiled from their land, they were no longer a nation, just a group of individuals – ‘dispersed and separated among the nations’ (Esther 3:8).
“Stripped of their Divine protection, he reasoned that it was now possible to annihilate them. Therefore, he weighed out his silver shekels to purchase the right ‘to destroy them’ (Esther 3:9). G-d, however, thwarted his plot, as the Jewish people are united even when they are in exile. By preceding Haman’s shekels with our shekel donation, we demonstrate the unity and collective holiness of Israel at all times. Even without a spiritual center in Jerusalem, the unity of Israel protects the Jewish people, as the service of each individual contributes to elevate the nation as a whole.”
Since all our souls are of Divine origin, our collective bond with G-d should, by definition, cause us to all feel inextricably interconnected. Why then does achdut seem so tantalizingly unattainable and why does achdut become reawakened when, Heaven forbid, calamity strikes?
Rav Levenstein notes that our common roots in G-d become attenuated by jealousy, desire for honor, and self-promotion. These negative forces fall by the wayside at times of calamity at which time our innate Divine roots are reactivated and natural feelings of achdut reawaken.
Rav Levenstein offers practical advice to help us replace the pettiness and enmity that divides us with feelings of achdut. By focusing, he says, on the immense fortune G-d has bestowed upon us as His treasured nation and recipients of His incomparable love, we can develop a powerful desire to love and become close to each other. For anyone who has dealt with squabbling children, it is evident that G-d, the Father of us all, derives tremendous pleasure when we serve Him as one unit and not as splintered groups with our own individual agendas.
The fact that our Heavenly Father created every person differently indicates that He has deputized each of us with a unique mission. We can “repay” a little of the love Hashem showers upon us by appreciating the unique mission of all G-d’s children, as different as they may be from us. Moreover, we should assist them in their roles by appreciating their virtues and contributions, “rooting” and praying for them to succeed.
The tide turned in the Purim story when Esther relayed to Mordechai, “Go gather all the Jews to be found in Shushan” (Esther 4:15). Gathering the Jews as one unit was the antidote to Haman’s disparaging accusation that the Jews were “dispersed and separated among the nations” – i.e., separate and divided. Soon thereafter, Haman was swinging on the gallows he had designed for us.
Queen Esther’s formula for Jewish survival, achdut, continues to hold true to this very day. Let us study it well.