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Focusing on Unity

We have now entered the Hebrew month of Av, and the period known as The Nine Days. During this time, we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

Why was the Beis HaMikdash destroyed? Why are we still in exile?

Chazal1 teach that the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because the Jews were involved in the “3 big sins” of idolatry, murder, and adultery.

But the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed for a different reason… which the Gemara2 says was equally serious! Hashem allowed the second Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed because the Jews had Sinas Chinam (baseless hatred) toward each other.

Hashem allowed the second Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed because the Jews had Sinas Chinam (baseless hatred) toward each other.

Although we are living many centuries after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, the fact that we are still in exile means that we have not yet done our part in rectifying the sin of Sinas Chinam. This month, let’s see what we can do to rid our hearts of sinas chinam and replace it with loving our fellow Jews instead. 

Let’s first try to understand: What causes sinas chinam? Where does it stem from?

The Root of Sinas Chinam

A story is told of a Rebbe who asked his students: “Do you know what Balak(בלק) is an acronym for? It stands for V‘ohavta L‘reiacha Kamocha (ואהבת לרעך כמוך) – the mitzvah to love your fellow Jews.”

“But, Rebbe,” the students questioned, “Balak is spelled Beis-Lamed-Kuf (ב-ל-ק), whereas the first letters of V’ohavta L’reiacha Kamocha are Vav-Lamed-Chaf (ו–ל–כ)! Two of the three letters are not the same!”

“Ahah!” replied the Rebbe. “That’s exactly the point! If you keep focusing on the differences, then it’s impossible to love your fellow Jews.”

When we look at other Jews, it’s easy to get caught up in how different we are: I wear a hat and he wears a shtreimel. I wear blue shirts and he wears only white shirts. I daven Nusach Ashkenaz and he davens Nusach Sfard. I’m Litvish and she’s Chabad. I’m so outgoing and she’s so quiet. I watch the Super Bowl and he doesn’t.

The more we focus on our differences, the more we build walls of separation between us and our Jewish brothers and sisters. We feel like we are so different from each other and sometimes find it hard to relate to people who are different from us. The more we focus on these differences, the more we feel cold and distant from each other. This sense of distance is what sows the seeds for sinas chinam.

The more we focus on our differences, the more we build walls of separation between us and our Jewish brothers and sisters.

As Rabbeinu Bachye3 explains, the root of all hatred is separation, and the root of all love is unity. (In fact, the Hebrew word for love, Ahavah, and the Hebrew word for unity, Achdus, have the same gematria of 13. This hints to the fact that love and unity are interrelated.)

The root of all hatred is separation, and the root of all love is unity.

But how do we develop this sense of unity? What do we have in common with other Jews? On the surface, it seems like we are all so different. But if we dig deeper, we can find many points of commonality between us and our fellow Jews. 

Yes, my classmate might have a more stylish haircut, but she wants to make a good impression on her friends just like I do. Yes, my roommate may be more outgoing, but she struggles with many of the same insecurities that I do. Yes, he may not have internet in his house, but he is trying to grow in his Yiddishkeit just like I am. Yes, he may work as an accountant, but he cares about his kids just as much as I do. 

We may look different on the outside, have different styles, customs, and personalities… but deep down, we all have a lot in common. Deep down, we all want to be loved, cared for, and appreciated. We all want to be successful. We all want to make a good impression on other people. We all have the very human needs of wanting to be happy, healthy, safe, and comfortable.

In order to feel any sense of unity, we have to shift our focus to see the bigger picture – see how much we have in common – and let those differences fade away.

The Deepest Sense of Unity

When we try to find a point of connection with other Jews, it’s not just about finding things in common like we both like cherry-flavored toothpaste. The deepest way to feel connected to other Jews is to understand that we are all the same, on the deepest level of our identity.

What is the deepest level of our identity? It’s who we are. Why we are here. All Jews share this common identity: We are servants of Hashem and we were created to fulfill His Will. Yes, we may accomplish this goal in different ways, but deep down we all have that same shared purpose.

We are servants of Hashem and we were created to fulfill His Will.

Yes, he wears a shtreimel, but he serves to the same Creator as I do. Yes, he davens Nusach Sefard, but we direct our tefillos to the same Creator! Yes, she only wear tichels, but she cooks for Shabbos just like I do. Yes, she wears fancier outfits than I do, but we both try to wear things that are tznius.

Although we are all so different, we share the common goal of serving Hashem. This common goal makes it as if we are all part of the same “body” known as Klal Yisrael.

In explaining the prohibition of revenge, the Gemara Yerushalmi4 writes: “One who is cutting with a knife in one hand, and accidentally cut his other hand… would the injured hand slap (or stab) the ‘guilty’ hand out of revenge?” Of course not! Your hands are both part of the same body so one would never want to hurt the other.

So too, every member of Klal Yisrael is part of the same “body” known as the Jewish people. We are all working toward the same goal of serving Hashem, so we need to work together and see ourselves as One. Hurting another Jew is like hurting a part of myself.

So too, every member of Klal Yisrael is part of the same “body” known as the Jewish people.

Indeed, the Shem Mishmuel5 writes that in order to be “K’Ish Echad B’lev Echad – like one People with one heart”6 – we cannot do it unless we are all focused on our higher shared purpose of serving Hashem. If we each focus too much on our own individual goals (I’m trying to do my homework; I’m trying to seal this business deal; I’m trying or organize the shul dinner; I’m trying to succeed in my drama club) then we wont be able to feel any sense of unity. Only when we focus on our common goal of serving Hashem can we truly feel love and unified with each other.

The Purpose of the Beis Hamikdash

It’s easy to get lost in our everyday goals of school, work, community, and everything else we are involved in. But there was one thing that reminded us of our shared purpose on this earth – the Beis HaMikdash.

The Sfas Emes7 writes that every Shevet had its own unique path in serving Hashem, but there was one place on earth where everyone came together, unified for the same purpose. That place was the Beis HaMikdash. When Jews came to the Beis Hamikdash, they focused on their shared goal of serving Hashem, and all the differences faded away. In the Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish people became One. The purpose of the Beis Hamikdash was to unify the Jewish people and remind us of our common goal of serving Hashem. 

Perhaps we can now understand why sinas chinam destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. When the Jewish people had sinas chinam, the Beis HaMikdash was failing in its purpose of creating unity among Jews. By taking the Beis Hamikdash away from us, Hashem is reminding us that we are lacking in our unity. He is showing us how we need to improve.

This week, let’s practice remembering that we are all here together for the same purpose – to serve Hashem. In this way, we can tap into our feeling of connection and similarity and begin to uproot feelings of Sinas Chinam.

SOURCES: [1] Yuma 9b; [2] ibid.; [3] Kad HaKemach: Sinas Chinam, also see HaKtav V’HaKabbalah: Shemos 23:4; [4] Nedarim 9:4; [5] Shemini 675; [6] Shemos 19:2; [7] Vayigash 647

Your Challenge

Once a day, when you look at another Jew, smile, and think of what you have in common: “This person is a part of me because we are both part of the Jewish people. This person is also here to serve Hashem.”

Torah Questions

  1. When does it say that Bnai Yisrael camped together, unified as one nation? For what purpose were they camping? (See Shemos 19:2)
  2. In Parshas Noach, there was a group of people who were so unified that Hashem called them “one people with one language.” What were these people planning to do? What was their shared goal? (See Bereishis 11:6)
  3. The Gemara (Sukkah 45b) says that just as a certain tree has only one “heart” – so too, the Jewish people have only “one heart” for our Father in Heaven. Which tree has only 1 heart?
  4. Which group of 70 people in the Torah were called “one soul”? (See Shemos 1:5)
  5. One of the items in the Beis HaMikdash was formed out of a single solid block of gold. instead of being made of different pieces stuck together. The Seforno writes that this symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people. Which item was it? 
  6. According to Rashi on Devarim 33:5, what good thing happens when the Jewish people are united and living in peace with each other?

Questions to Ponder

  1. Are there some people in your life whom you feel very different or separate from? What can you do to help bridge that gap and feel closer to them?
  2. How do you think your thoughts, feelings, or interactions would be different if you saw every Jewish person as a part of one unified “body” called Klal Yisrael?
  3. The Ramchal writes that wherever there is more Kedusha (holiness), there is more unification, and wherever there is more Tum’ah (impurity), there is more separation. Why do you think this is necessarily the case? Can you think of any examples in the Torah or halachah where tum’ah is associated with separation, and kedusha is associated with unification?
  4. Can you think of any times or experiences when you felt unified with other Jews? What thoughts or situations produced those feelings?
  5. The Maharal writes that separation is essentially physical, and unity is essentially spiritual. What do you think that means? Isn’t it possible to separate spiritual things, or to unify physical things?

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