Modesty Brings About Unity
The Torah commands us: “Three times a year all your males should appear before the L-RD your G-d in the place that He will choose, on the Festival of Matzot…” (Deuteronomy 16:16). The matzot remind us of the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate while in Egypt. They symbolize humility, the virtue that helps us unite with our fellowman and brings us closer to G-d, as it is written: “Anyone with whom his fellowmen are pleased, G-d is pleased with him” (Perkei Avoth 3:13).
Our Sages teach that on one hand, the wars that occurred during King Saul’s reign produced many victims, even though his generation was upright. They explain this by the fact that the Children of Israel spoke ill of one another during his reign (Devarim Rabba 5:10). On the other hand, the Sages also teach that during the reign of Ahab, even though the Children of Israel worshipped idols, they were always victorious in battle because they did not speak ill of one another (Vayikra Rabba 26:2). Thus we see just how unity and harmony work to the Children of Israel’s advantage. Commenting on this, the Midrash explains that the passage, “Ephraim is attached to idols; let him be” (Hosea 4:17) means that when harmony reigns among Jews, no nation can conquer them, even if they worship idols (Bereshith Rabba 38:6). The pilgrimage to Jerusalem, “built like a city that is united together” (Psalms 122:3) – which unites all segments of the Jewish people and makes love reign among them (Yerushalmi Hagigah 3:6), and which unites their hearts together (Mechilta, Yitro 19) – brings this unity about.
In leaving Egypt, the Children of Israel started preparing for Shavuot, the first festival that they were to celebrate. It was this preparation that would help them during the year and throughout the generations whenever they had to ascend to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage. They were thus unanimously prepared to receive the Torah. The verse that states, “Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2), uses the singular form of the word “encamped,” meaning that they encamped there “as one person, with one heart” (Rashi, ad loc.). It denotes submission and obedience, thanks to which we can bind ourselves in friendship to our fellowman, return to Hashem through the performance of His mitzvot, and attain the Torah.
Several places in the Torah indicate the connection between unity and humility.
Before giving them the Torah, Hashem warned the Children of Israel to become guarantors for one another (Sanhedrin 27b). If a person does not take care of his fellowman or pay attention to what he lacks, but rather hates him, such a person defiles the Torah and does not merit receiving it [for each letter of the Torah is directly connected to a Jewish soul]. The commandments that a person performs connects to those that others perform, and what then occurs is that all Jews are considered as having performed all the mitzvot. For that matter, this is why we recite, “In a perfect union in the name of all Israel” before performing any mitzvah.
When harmony reigns among Jews, when kol Israel arevim zeh bazeh (“All Israel are guarantors for one another” – note that the numerical value of zeh bazeh is 26, corresponding to G-d’s Name), Hashem connects to them through their soul, which is a part of G-d (Zohar III:29b). Only a modest man can be a guarantor for his fellow, and only a modest man can honor and respect him. Proof for this is as follows: The numerical value of the initials of kol Israel arevim (, * 3 = 20+10+70 = 100) added to the numerical value of zeh bazeh (26) added to the number of words in the expression kol Israel arevim zeh bazeh (5) is equal to the numerical value (131) of anavah (“modesty” – the virtue that counters the Satan [Samakel = 131]).
To the verse that states, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), the great Tanna Rabbi Akiva added: Zeh Klal Gadol baTorah (“This is a great principle of Torah” – Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4). Normally he should have said: Davar Gadol (“It is a great…”). Nevertheless, if we love our fellowman as ourselves, we become a part of Klal Israel, and we perform all the mitzvot at the same time as they do. The commandment, “You shall love your fellow” kollel (includes) the Torah in its entirely, and the one who refrains from it distances himself from the Jewish people (G-d forbid).
Concerning this, let us recall the story of the gentile who came before Shammai and asked him to be converted on condition that he teach him the Torah while standing on one foot. When Shammai rejected this gentile, he went to Hillel and was told: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it” (Shabbat 31a). No doubt the gentile wanted to know which mitzvah all the others were founded upon, like a foot that supports the entire body.
It remains to be understood why Shammai rejected the gentile. Shammai was also aware of this principle, but he knew that the stranger before him, who wanted to learn but one Torah mitzvah, was very ignorant. He was incapable of understanding the essence of the Torah, which is to love one’s fellow as oneself, to be sure to supply what he is missing, and to save his life as if it were one’s very own. Only the diligent study of Torah allows a person to eliminate his negative traits and reach a level of genuine love for his fellowman.
The reason that Hillel did not reject him was because he knew that even a gentile could understand the negatively-phrased principle that he gave him to follow. If he were to make it a basic principle in his life, he would arrive at loving his fellowman and thus demonstrate his humility. He taught him this on one regel (foot), which alludes to the regalim, the three festivals during which time Jews were to ascend to Jerusalem as one.
The Midrash teaches, “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘I would have preferred that the Children of Israel forget Me rather than they forget My Torah, whose light brings a man to the right path’ ” (Yerushalmi Hagigah 1:7). The destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple were brought about by baseless hatred (Yoma 9b) and by the neglect of Torah study and its fundamental principle: “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”
As we saw above, if Ahab’s soldiers were victorious despite the fact that the entire generation worshipped idols, it was primarily because in his modesty, Ahab honored the Torah (cf. Sanhedrin 102b). Humility leads to unity and the study of Torah.