“Vayichan sham Yisrael neged ha’har – the Jews encamped in front of [Mt. Sinai].” The commentaries immediately pounce on the word “vayichan,” which is in the singular despite the fact that the Jews numbered some two million people. Why doesn’t the Torah use the plural “vayachanu”?
Rashi famously explains that we were unified “like one man with one heart.” At the foot of Har Sinai, we achieved the dream of achdus – national oneness. One of the primary messages of Shavuos, therefore, is: Strive to replicate this achievement.
Achieving unity is actually one of the major aims of the Torah. The Rambam teaches us at the end of Hilchos Chanukah that the whole Torah was given to bring peace to the world. “Deracheha darchei noam, v’chol nesivoseha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are paths of peace.”
It’s an amazing thought. The Rambam is teaching us that running through all the 613 mitzvahs is the golden thread of pursuing peace. Thus, it’s no wonder that the sages didn’t let their disciples stand up for the scholarly Geniva for, although he was a great sage, he was a very controversial figure.
Whether we’re Daf Yomi attendees, yeshiva bachurim, or women who staunchly support the Torah study of our families, must make sure we’re in sync with the major thrust of Torah – namely the pursuit and maintenance of peace and tranquility.
To illustrate the nexus of Torah and, let’s take a look at an amazing passage in the Gemara. We’re taught in Masechtas Sukkos that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Elazer had to seek refuge from the government for many years in a cave. They stayed there, deep in Torah learning, for over a decade. When they finally exited, their eyes burned any mundane sight, so Hashem commanded them to return to their cave.
Rav Reuvain Feinstein, shlit”a, asks: If their assiduous Torah study caused them to reach such a lofty and rarefied holiness, wouldn’t returning to the cave to study more Torah cause them to be even more out of touch with the mundane world? How would returning to the cave help them?
He explains that Hashem told them to go back to the cave to learn the Torah of shalom, the Torah of peace and tranquility. And they studied it well. When they emerged a year later, they witnessed ordinary people giving honor to Shabbos and saw in it the aura of Shabbos’s special peace and tranquility.
“Achdus” is a much misused and maligned term. It’s amazing to me how people hurl it at others as an accusation. “Why, they have no sense of achdus!” Or use it as a defense for their own misbehavior, criticizing people for lacking achdus because they dared rebuke them. The Torah teaches us that at times it’s not only proper, but obligatory to chastise others and even distance ourselves from them.
What, then, is true achdus?
I believe that achdus is primarily what we ourselves do. It’s how we reach out to others and – with much self-control – look away from those who belittle or insult us. Others will learn from us for this kind of behavior is truly infections. (I’d like to reiterate: If you’re among those who primarily tout achdus to others, it’s time for a little soul-searching.)
The Gemara teaches us that tzadikim “nelavin v’einam olvim – are insulted but don’t answer back” and “shomim cherpason v’einam m’shivim – hear words of disgrace but are silent.” At first glance, this behavior sounds admirable, but it raises an obvious question: Why shouldn’t a righteous person rebuke insensitivity directed toward him? What about chastising wrongdoers? If he stands meekly by, won’t his silence encourage the perpetrator to be insensitive to others?
I believe the Gemara means that tzadikim hold back when facing people who simply don’t listen. Whether it’s because they’re too rigid to change or too arrogant to listen – with such people, the correct response is to look away.
Thus, the Gemara asks, “What is a person’s profession in this world?” And answers, “To train yourself to be like a mute.” It also notes, “The world survives on the one who knows how to shut his mouth during a quarrel.”
Whether in the arena of marital harmony, parental relationships, raising children; whether in the synagogue or in the workplace – the steadfast pursuit of peace will serve us well and surely yield us success in all our endeavors.