Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Language of Unity

The penultimate chapter of the Book of Leviticus begins with a description of the myriad benefits of following in the path of the Torah. Some of the promises include: rains in their proper season (26:4), peace in the land (26:6) and the ability to “eat old grain and remove the old to make way for the new” (26:10). The second half of the chapter, however, records the terrible price to be paid for departing from the path of Torah. These include illness (26:16), infertile lands (26:20) and war (26:25).

This chapter is both inspiring and intimidating. Most significantly, the entire chapter is written in second person plural. The blessings and curses, mapped out in Leviticus 26, and read as part of Parashat Bechukotai, are addressed to the Children of Israel as a whole. The significance of this fact underscores one of the reasons why Jewish unity is so important.

According to Jewish tradition, the destruction of the Second Temple and the current diaspora that the Jewish people have experienced for the last 2,000 plus years is primarily a result of a lack of unity. Beyond interpersonal disputes, there was, at the time of the Second Temple, a terrible amount of infighting; Saduccees verses Pharisees and zealots fighting the Romans against those who wished to make peace.

Some of the terrible curses of Leviticus 26 seem to have come to pass, and yet the Jewish people continue to frequently strive against one another. History is full of the sad tales of Jews putting their differences first, with tragic results. However, it is also full of wonderful instances where Jews
came together and reflected to incredible strength, and beauty, of Jewish unity.

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