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Home » D'varim Parshah

Devarim: Family Unity

Submitted by on August 4, 2019 – 9:03 pmNo Comment | 3,215 views

Family unity is the most important part of Judaism, and the most elusive. Why is that?

What are the Jewish people? We aren’t a race since there are Jews from all different races, white Jews, black, Jews, Hispanic Jews, etc. We aren’t a nation since there are Jews from all different nations, Asian Jews, European Jews, American Jews, etc. We are a religion, but not just a religion since we also have a country that belongs to us. What are we then? We are a family.

We originated with one Jew and evolved into twelve tribes. But beyond the divisions of our tribes and individual families, we are a collective family.[1] As it is with all families, there are differences and squabbles, but in the end, we are all Jewish. In fact, most of our squabbles center on what being Jewish means because, in the end, our Jewishness is what we share.

In Israel, every tribe was assigned its own section of the land, but at times of war, they all united under a single leader. At times of joy (festivals), they all gathered under one roof with one high priest. And at the time of destruction, they all lamented with one voice. In the end, what unites us is more significant, more germane to our intrinsic being, than what divides us.

Yet, it is odd that there are so many factions and divisions among Jews. Israel is one of the smallest democracies in the world, yet it probably has more political parties than any other country in the world. In Israel, oral wrestling is a national sport. If we are a family, why are we so disunited?

The truth is that polarization and divisiveness exist everywhere in the modern-day. Listen to the political rhetoric in the United States and you will see deep angry divisions. But as angry as it is, the rhetoric isn’t nearly as offensive and hurtful as it is in Israel.

I submit to you that this is because we are family. Among strangers, one tends to be polite. Among family, one tends to be real. In a family, we feel comfortable expressing our true feelings. Although we should be more sensitive toward our loved ones, the fact is that we let our guard down among family.

Why? It is not because we love each other so much. It is because we are intrinsically connected. We are so deeply ingrained inside each other that we sometimes feel stifled by family. We push back against this intimacy because we are too close. When you are so close, you tend to step on each other’s toes.

However, no matter how much we fight, we can’t undo our bond. We might not talk to each other for decades, but we can’t change the fact that we belong to each other. Therefore, at extraordinary family moments, when everyone comes together, our unity is palpable and powerful. We aren’t separate factions making common cause. We are a single organism returning to our original and rightful state.

When a family comes together, there is integrity and consistency. All is right in their world because they are as they ought to be. When a family squabbles, all is wrong in their world. Families fight hard and unite hard. That is family.

When Moses recounted the Jewish victory against the Bashanites, he wrote, “And we conquered all his cities at that time; there was not a kiryah that we did not take from them.”[2] In modern Hebrew it is not unusual to refer to a township as a kiryah, but in biblical Hebrew, kiryah is an unusual word. It is especially strange since, eer, the usual Hebrew word for city, was employed earlier in the same verse.

There are those who translate kiryah as a walled city. Thus, the Torah says, we conquered all the cities, including the walled cities. But this translation isn’t acceptable because the very next verse states explicitly, “All these cities were fortified with high walls.” If walls had already been mentioned in the previous verse, there would be no need to mention it again.

Another translation of kiryah is a city with a large population. Again, this translation is not sufficient because the fact that the cities were well populated is also mentioned explicitly in this chapter. This leaves us with a question. What does the Torah mean when it describes the cities as a kiryah?

It has been suggested that a kiryah is a city with a large population that has coalesced into a cohesive community. Most cities comprise multiple communities. They have a common cause of sorts in that they are all invested in the city’s welfare, but their particular circles, cultures, and lives are not connected. In a kiryah, the population is a cohesive group that thinks, talks, and behaves alike.

They join in each other’s happiness and mourn for each other’s losses. They strive for the same things and work toward collective goals. They enjoy a unified culture and speak the same dialect. They are more than a city. They are a kiryah. This is not so unusual in small towns, and indeed, in Israel today, many of the kiryahs are small towns, but in a large city this is, indeed, unusual.

Military Implications
The fact that the name kiryah is employed in the description of the victory implies that being unified has military implications. When the city coalesces into a single unit, the citizens fight ferociously for each other. They defend every morsel of land as if it is their own. They protect every member of their fighting units as if they are family. They think in concert, they plan in concert, and they fight in concert.

One can well imagine that such an enemy is difficult to conquer. Yet, the Torah informs us that not a single kiryah withstood the Jewish army. To what can the Jews attribute this victory?

To an even greater level of unity than that of a kiryah. After all is said and done, the residents of a kiryah are not related to each other. They make common cause, have common interests, and enjoy a common culture, but they aren’t actually a family. The Jewish people are an actual family.

By definition this means that in ordinary times we don’t behave like a kiryah. We squabble and fight as families do and by rights, a kiryah should expect to triumph over us. But because we come together in times of need (such as war) like only a family can, nothing, not even a kiryah, can stand in our way.

During this time of year, when we mourn the destruction of the Temple, which was destroyed because our people suffered a distinct lack of unity, unity must prevail. Let us unite and may G-d smile upon us and send us Mashiach, speedily in our days Amen.[3]

[1] All of humanity descends from Adam and later from Noah, which implies that all nations are also a single family. But this is not so. After the Torah lists the names of Noah’s descendants, the Torah says (Genesis 10:32), “and from these, the nations were separated upon the earth. The nations are separate entities. The Jews are a single family.

[2] Deuteronomy 3:4.

[3] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, vol. 29, pp. 1-8.

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