Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Our Rabbis make the point that when the Jewish people left Egypt and began their trek through the desert to eventually reach Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, there was unity in action. The Jewish nation was “K’ish echad b’lev echad,” one unified people with one heart.

Yet at the beginning of the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah describes the encampment of the Jewish people and how they were separated under different flags symbolizing different tribes, each having a distinct mission and agenda. It would seem that their unity had been compromised, and now when they encamped, they were fractured into 12 different sections.

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At the same time, it is inconceivable to believe that when we exited Egypt everyone in Israel had the same views on every subject and did not have the distinctiveness and uniqueness that make our people, and each individual, so important.

Equally, when the Jews entered the sea, the Midrash explains that it split into 12 parts so that each tribe would have its own path through the sea. This would lead one to conclude that the Jewish people were not as unified as they appeared to be. For if so, why would each tribe cross separately?

What is also fascinating – and the common denominator in all these occurrences – is that although the Jewish people were all separated and moving distinctly on their own paths, they were all going in the same direction. Likewise, though the encampments in the desert would indicate separateness and distinctiveness, what is more important was that they were all surrounding the Tabernacle, the center and the core of the Jewish people.

Although there are differences amongst our people, the critical and vital aspect is that we are all facing in the same direction. We all believe in the Torah and we all have faith in Almighty G-d. This lesson is so essential for the Jewish people today. Jews must learn that although a person espouses different views, it does not give anyone the right to belittle and insult that person. We have a right to disagree on the issues, but we don’t have the right to insult and mock. For although we have different opinions on how we follow Jewish law, we are all believers and share in the destiny of the Jewish people.

I remember once when my wife, Dvorah, and I were spending time at my daughter Sahra’s home in Israel. My wife was particularly incensed about an opinion expressed by a religious leader, and she began to rave and rant on the inappropriateness of his view. When things got really hot and heavy, my son-in-law, Rav Levi Cooper, said to my wife, “Ema! I’m sure he loves Hashem as much as we do!”

The argument was over.

The Rambam (Maimonides) wrote the most monumental books on Jewish law, and his seforim are used as the mainstay of Talmud study today. His works when they appeared were an innovation, for Judaism had never been presented before in that format. Yet after he passed away, the Jewish community criticized his works brutally, eventually burning them and excommunicating him. They were unable to separate the man from his ideas.

Today this message should reverberate louder than ever. Jewish leaders and organizations routinely attempt to destroy the very worth of a person because he or she espouses a different view, yet they know that the individual is dedicated to Torah and mitzvot as much as they who are leveling these insults.

People have a right to differ in their opinions and disagree with an idea or concept, but when we tear down the worth of individuals, even those we know are also believers, then we have gone too far.

We must always keep in mind that in essence we are all moving in the same direction. Sometimes we just get there in different ways.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.
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