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 gone to receive the Torah like a single man, with a single heart (see Mechilta ibid.).

Now 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 does this verse come to tell 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, by revealing Himself to the Children of Israel to give them the Torah, the Eternal uses the singular: “I am the L-RD your G-d, Who has taken you [singular] out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). He did not use the plural form of “you” 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) one for the other (zeh bazeh). This has a numerical value of 26, that of the Name of G-d, which is to say 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 then have any hold on the Jews, and they will refrain from committing sins (Ketubot 66b). For if the evil inclination finds the least fault (which is to say, the least bit of disagreement), the Shechinah will no longer abide with the Children of Israel, and the evil inclination can then present itself and destroy all traces of holiness. However if harmony reigns among them, they can very well find themselves “opposite the mountain” (an allusion to the evil inclination), all while triumphing over it.

Our Sages teach, furthermore, that at the moment the Torah was given, the evil inclination left the heart of the Children of Israel (Song of Songs 1:15). This was due to G-d’s Name being found in their heart 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). Rashi correctly advocates that the Children of Israel encamped before the mountain “with a single heart” since, even if the evil inclination resides between the two parts of the heart (Berachot 61a), because of the harmony that reigned among them and the fact that the evil inclination no longer existed, their heart was uniquely reserved for receiving the Torah.

Why then did G-d have to threaten them under these circumstances by lifting the mountain like a gigit [Rashi: “barrel”] over them so that they accept, under force, the Torah (Shabbat 88a)? Had they not proclaimed, “We will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7)? Did the Eternal have any doubts concerning their sincerity? The Satan was no longer present; he had left them from that point on.

Let us begin by recalling that the Greeks had forced the Jews to renounce the Eternal and His commandments, such as the observance of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision. They didn’t want to exterminate them physically, but rather spiritually. This is why the Greeks defiled all the oil that was found in the Temple, for oil alludes to the soul (see Zohar Chadash, Ruth 108a). They 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 the oil was kept, for they primarily sought to defile the oil (Hashem), which has 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, whose tiny amount of oil would have sufficed to light the Menorah for eight days? That too was a miracle.

The reason for this is that 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 manner of Pinchas, son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron the High Priest. Pinchas “was jealous with My Jealousy in their midst” (Numbers 25:11). Numerous miracles were performed for him (Tanhuma Balak 21) because he wanted to annul the strict sentence pronounced against the Children of Israel.

Furthermore, the flask alludes to the unity that reigns among Jews, which allows for the performance of miracles. The Divine Presence resides among Jews only when they are united with the same heart (soul) as a single body. This is why the miracle occurred with a single flask.

G-d showed them how the Satan, who alludes to the mountain, is like a gigit without end, from which we cannot flee. “If you accept the Torah as a single man,” He told them, “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 entity (Bereshith Rabba 1:5), and also in this world G-d greatly wishes that harmony reigns. 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, “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is a fundamental rule [Klal] of the Torah” (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4). It is only in this way that one can acquire Torah. The Divine commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) includes (Kollel) the Torah in its entirety, and the one who distances himself from this commandment puts all the Jewish people at risk. The Eternal turned the mountain upside down and held it over the Children of Israel like a gigit to frighten and dissuade them from leaving the Klal, the entity of the people.

Concerning this the Gemara cites the case of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir, whom the evil inclination wanted to make sin. G-d, however, rebuked the Satan, who then left them. Yet Rabbi Yochanan, who was a High Priest for 80 years, 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 works hard at inciting sin. Only harmony allows a person to conquer the evil inclination and to get closer to the Holy One, blessed be He. May the Eternal help us to love one another! Amen!


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