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When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
Why did he announce that he had sojourned with Laban, …

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Home » Vayetze

Vayetze: The Jewish Oneness

Submitted by on November 15, 2015 – 2:55 pmNo Comment | 1,593 views

Twelve Sons

Jacob had twelve sons, each was a little different from the others. But they were much more alike than Isaac’s or Abraham’s children were. They were different parts of the same spectrum. Different colors of the same rainbow. Intrinsically, they were one.

Isaac and Yishmael were worlds apart. Jacob and Esau were miles apart. The differences between Jacob’s sons could be measured in inches. The question is, which way to look at it. You can look at the minute differences and complain or at the similarities and celebrate.

It is essentially the difference between optimism and pessimism. Winston Churchill once said that the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. There will always be opportunity and difficulties; you can’t change that, but you can choose which to look at.

Same with the Jewish people. There are nuanced shades and differences between us, but unless you choose to accentuate our differences, you will see that we are essentially one.

The astute reader will ask, isn’t this all hyperbole? We often pay lip service to our inherent oneness, but the fact is that we have significant differences. Sure we can call up pithy platitudes like, “that which unites us is greater than that which divides us,” but exactly how is it greater? Our divides are huge.

Two Covenants

The answer can be found in the two covenants presented in the book of Genesis. The first was between G-d and Abraham, the second was between Abraham and Abimelech, king of the Philistines.

G-d struck a covenant with Abraham that He would forever care for Abraham’s children; even when they were distant from Him, they would be connected. Abraham struck a covenant with Abimelech that they would leave each other alone and respect each other’s boundaries.

In a word, G-d’s covenant said, I will never abandon you, I will always be with you. Abimelech’s covenant said, I will never bother you, I will leave you alone. Accordingly, G-d’s covenant was struck by cutting a single (dead) sheep into two halves. Abimelech’s covenant was struck by separating seven complete sheep from the others and setting them aside.

The message is this: G-d and Abraham are one even when they appear to be separated. They sometimes look like two separate halves, but they are essentially one.[1] Abimelech and Abraham are inherently separate, distinct entities that don’t belong together. They can form an alliance so long as they respect each other’s boundaries, but only from a distance. They can get along, but they can’t be one.

The upshot is that oneness isn’t measured by how different or similar we are. Oneness is a matter of fact. We are either one or we aren’t. We can be one despite our differences and we can separate despite our similarities. Because differences play out on the surface and oneness is at the core.

Abimelech and Abraham can strike a covenant, they can get along and behave in similar ways, but they are separate at the core. Two Jews might be very different, they might disagree on every matter and have completely opposite dispositions, but they are one at the core.[2] This doesn’t mean that every opinion espoused by a Jew is kosher. Opinions that aren’t kosher, aren’t Jewish. This is about the Jew, not the opinion. Non Halachic opinions aren’t Jewish, but the Jews who espouse them are.

Emotions and Intellect

Take for example your emotions and intellect. On the surface they could not be more different. Emotions are subjective, intellect is objective. Emotions are hot and passionate, intellect is impersonal and analytic. Emotions are not guided by reason, intellect is guided only by reason.

Yet they are both part of you. You have both emotions and intellect. At your core both are present; they are part of you and part of each other. They don’t “get along” with each other, they “are” each other. Just like you don’t get along with you, you are you. Yet when they emerge, they are as different as different can be.

By rights, they should be in perpetual conflict, yet somehow they get along. They get along on the surface because they are one at the core.

The Jewish Spectrum

This is precisely what happens to our people. We are inherently one. There is one Jewish soul splintered into an untold number of individual souls. No two people or movements have the same mindset; we are not alike. Some Jewish groups emphasize prayer, others emphasize study. Some accentuate Tikun Olam and others accentuate interpersonal relationships.

We can respond to this dual reality – the oneness at the core and the differences on the surface in two ways. We can embrace our core or our surface. If we embrace our core we will connect despite our surface differences.[3] If we embrace our surface and ignore our core, we will fight continually.

When they say there is more that unites us than divides us they don’t mean that we are all the same on the surface because we are not. They mean that being one at the core is more important than any difference we might have on the surface. Isaac and Ishmael were worlds apart at the core. Jacob and Esau were miles apart at the core. Jacob’s sons were one at the core. They had significant differences on the surface, but in the larger picture those differences were measurable in inches.

In conclusion: If we feel threatened by the very fact that some Jews think differently from us, we are too focused on our surface. If we grow defensive and fight against our fellow Jew, it means we have forgotten that we are part of each other. If we become factional and delegitimize everyone, but ourselves, it means we have lost touch with our own core.

If we encounter a fellow Jew and feel love despite our disagreements, it means that we have found our core.[4] Surface differences can be resolved or even ignored. Core oneness can shine forever.[5]

[1] Even deeper: Neither half is of any significance without the other. Neither stands alone. They are, but half.

[2] See Toras Menachem v. 17 p. 63.

[3] Where both sides are rooted in Torah we will each grow sharper through debate.

[4] This doesn’t mean that we abandon our allegiance to Torah, it means that we love each other despite our deep differences.

[5] Based on the Mamar Heicholtzu 5680 chapters 4 – 10.

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