Unity Brings About Torah Study
Commenting on the verse that states, “And Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2), Rashi explains that the Children of Israel had journeyed to receive the Torah like a single man, with a single heart (see Mechilta ibid.).
Now as we have explained several times before, this was precisely the very goal of their departure from Egypt, as it is written: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). What, therefore, does this verse reveal to us?
It comes to teach us the importance of the unity of the Children of Israel. Due to the fact that the majority of mitzvot deal with relationships between man and his fellow, we can only accomplish them by impregnating ourselves with the virtues of peace, harmony, and love. Moreover, in revealing Himself to the Children of Israel as He gave them the Torah, Hashem used the singular: “I am the L-RD your G-d, Who has taken you [singular] out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). The plural form is not used in Hebrew. The most complete harmony was to reign among the Children of Israel when they were to receive the Torah. They were to be guarantors (arevim) for one another (zeh bazeh), The latter expression has a numerical value of 26, equal to that of G-d’s Name (Havayah), meaning that if harmony reigned among them, the Shechinah would reside in their midst (see Sanhedrin 27b).
Consequently, only perfect unity allows for the study of Torah and the acceptance of the yoke of the mitzvot. Neither the evil inclination nor foreign nations will have any power over Jews if they refrain from committing sins (Ketubot 66b). If the evil inclination finds the slightest fault (i.e., the least bit of disagreement) among them, the Shechinah will no longer abide with the Jewish people, and the evil inclination can then come and destroy all traces of holiness. However if harmony reigns among the Jewish people, they can very well find themselves “opposite the mountain” (an allusion to the evil inclination), all while triumphing over it.
Our Sages also teach that at the giving of the Torah, the evil inclination left the hearts of the Children of Israel (Shabbat 146a). This was due to G-d’s Name being found in their hearts because of their unity. They were then crowned with two crowns, one for having proclaimed, “we will do,” and the other for having proclaimed, “we will listen” (Shabbat 88a). Although the evil inclination resides between the two parts of the heart (Berachot 61a), Rashi specifically asserts that the Children of Israel encamped before the mountain “with a single heart.” This is because harmony reigned among them at that point and the evil inclination no longer resided in their hearts. Thus their hearts were reserved solely for receiving the Torah.
Yet if so, then why did G-d have to threaten them by lifting the mountain over their heads like a barrel, thus forcing them to accept the Torah (Shabbat 88a)? Had they not proclaimed, “We will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7)? Did Hashem have any doubts concerning their sincerity? The Satan was no longer present, for it had left them from that point on.
Let us begin by recalling that the Greeks had forced the Jews to renounce Hashem and His commandments, such as the observance of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision. They did not want to exterminate them physically, but rather spiritually. This is why the Greeks defiled all the oil in the Temple, for oil alludes to the soul (see Zohar Chadash, Ruth 108a). They also prohibited the Jews from lighting the Menorah, which alludes to the body. Thus the Greeks were content with defiling all the oil (Shabbat 21b), without completely breaking the flasks in which it was kept, for their primary aim was to desecrate the oil (hashmen), which is composed of the same letters as the word soul (neshama). They did not seek to destroy the flasks, which allude to the body.
A miracle nevertheless occurred, and there remained a small flask of pure oil, sealed with the stamp of the High Priest (Shabbat 21a). Why did there not remain two or three flasks, containing just enough oil to light the Menorah for eight days? That too was a miracle.
The reason for this is because the flask alludes to the unity of the Creator, Who blesses abundantly starting from one. The Holy One, blessed be He, wanted the Jews to understand that by sacrificing body and soul in order not to be defiled by the Greeks, they took on the aspect of Pinchas, son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron the High Priest. Pinchas “was jealous with My Jealousy in their midst” (Numbers 25:11), and many miracles were performed for him (Tanhuma Balak 21) because he wished to annul the strict sentence pronounced against the Children of Israel.
Furthermore, the flask alludes to the unity that reigns among the Jewish people, which enables miracles to be performed. The Divine Presence resides among Jews only when they are united, having one heart (soul) as a single body. This is why the miracle occurred with a single flask.
G-d caphah (forced) the mountain on them to show them the importance of unity. The letters of cephyah can be rearranged to form pachyah. In other words, Hashem (Y-h) united the Children of Israel in a single pach (flask) that, as we saw above, alludes to the body. He showed them how the Satan, which alludes to the mountain, is like a barrel without end, from which we cannot flee. Thus G-d told them: “If you accept My Torah as a single man, with a single heart, you will be happy. If not, this mountain will become your grave. You will not be able to escape from the evil inclination [the mountain] that lives with you.”
We therefore see the importance of unity in the eyes of the Holy One, blessed be He. Before the creation of the world, the Children of Israel were a uniform whole (Bereshith Rabba 1:5), and G-d greatly desires that harmony reign in this world as well. Thus Hillel declared to a future convert: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man” (Shabbat 31a), and Rabbi Akiva added, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18] is a fundamental rule [klal] of the Torah” (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4). It is only in this way that one can acquire the Torah. The Divine commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” embodies kolel, the Torah in its entirety, and the one who distances himself from this commandment puts the entire Jewish people at risk. Hashem turned the mountain upside down and held it over the Children of Israel like a barrel in order to frighten and dissuade them from leaving the klal, the people as a whole.
Regarding this subject, the Gemara cites the case of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir, whom the evil inclination desired to make sin (Kiddushin 81a). However G-d rebuked the Satan, which then left them. Yet Rabbi Yochanan, who was a High Priest for 80 years, nevertheless became a Sadducee near the end of his life (Berachot 29a), and Elisha the son of Avuya, one of the Tannaim, became a heretic (Hagigah 14b). This shows us just how the evil inclination strives at inciting sin. Only harmony allows a person to conquer the evil inclination and come closer to the Holy One, blessed be He. May Hashem help all of us to love one another! Amen!