The Extraordinary Power of Unity
There are two generations that disobeyed G-d: The generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion. Let us examine the marvels of our Torah and look into their deeds to see what became of them.
Concerning the generation of the flood, the Torah tells us: “Now the earth had become corrupt before G-d, and the earth had become filled with robbery” (Genesis 6:11). In the name of the Sages (Sanhedrin 57a), Rashi explains that “had become corrupt” refers to immorality and idolatry. As a result, the generation of the flood sinned by giving themselves over to the most forbidden kinds of relationships.
What was their punishment? Why did G-d erase their name from under the heavens, and why did they all die in the flood? On the verse, “the earth had become filled with robbery,” the Sages say: “Come and see how great is the power of robbery, for although the generation of the flood transgressed all laws, their decree of punishment was sealed only because they stretched out their hands to rob” (Sanhedrin 108a).
This is difficult to understand. The generation of the flood committed the gravest sins, yet their fate was only sealed because of robbery? Is such a thing possible? Were their gravest sins not enough to incur punishment, such that they needed to be found guilty of stealing from one another?
If that were not enough, after the generation of the flood came the generation of the dispersion, who wanted to, as it were, “help” the Holy One, blessed be He in protecting the world from ruin. However they also wanted, G-d help us, to wage war against Him (Sanhedrin 109a), and so they built a tower whose top reached to the heavens. Had they lost all reason? After the generation of the flood received such a severe punishment, the generation of the dispersion still denied the Omnipotence of G-d and attempted to wage war with Him?
To top it off, what was the punishment of the generation of the dispersion, which had renounced everything? Hashem came down to see the city and tower that they had built, yet what did He do to them? He scattered them over the entire earth. Is that truly a fitting punishment for one who renounces G-d? The Torah is teaching us a very important principle here. We know that the sins of a person against his fellowman are more serious than those against G-d, since as the Sages have said: “For transgressions between man and the Omnipresent, the Day of Atonement procures atonement. However for transgressions between man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement does not procure atonement until he has pacified his fellow” (Yoma 85b).
It follows that if a person commits these two kinds of sins, it will be easier for him to procure atonement for those which he committed against G-d, for He is filled with mercy and ready to forgive. However if a person does not repent of what he has done against his fellowman, he has not done enough, even if he asks G-d for forgiveness. This is because the essential thing in such a case is for his fellowman to forgive him for what he has done.
From the time that the generation of the flood began to commit sins against their fellowmen, the situation began to change. They started to swindle from each other, and they had neither love for one another nor unity of any kind, and so the entire earth became filled with robbery. Everyone stole and committed abuses, to the point that no one sought the forgiveness of others, for everyone committed the same sins. Since they did not obtain forgiveness, they were erased from the world.
On the other hand, the generation of the dispersion completely renounced G-d, and they wanted to, as it were, fight against Him. Nevertheless, the generation of the dispersion acted in unity and with love for one another, and of them it is said: “The whole earth was of one language and of the same words” (Genesis 11:1), for they did not sin against one another. We know that when one acts in unity, even idolatry is forgiven, for unity is the essential thing. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do as a result? He did not kill them, but simply confused their language and scattered them over the entire earth. Hashem made it such that no one could understood the other, as the Sages have said: “Thus one said to his fellow-worker, ‘Bring me water,’ whereupon he would give him earth, at which point he struck him and split his skull” (Bereshith Rabba 38:10). Hashem did all this so that they would no longer be unified, and thus they would no longer be successful. How much greater, therefore, is the power of unity in serving G-d! When we act in unity with one another, we can achieve their greatest levels of perfection, for unity leads man to listen to what the other is saying. It leads him to lend an ear to the other person’s troubles, to think of him, and to help him in every possible way. It is said that Rabbi Moshe Leib Zatzal, the Rebbe of Sassow, once stated: “Today I learned the meaning of loving a fellow Jew from a passing Gentile. I was walking in the street when I heard a Gentile asking his friend, ‘Tell me, do you love me?’ His friend replied, ‘Of course I love you.’ The Gentile then said, ‘If you love me, then tell me what I lack.’ ”
From here we see the power of unity. Above all else, we can merit the Torah through unity, for “the Torah is acquired through collective study.” Let us do everything possible to arrive at the level of unity and a love for our fellow Jew, for in this way we will merit the greatest virtues.