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Home » Shemot Parshah

Shemot: We Are One

Submitted by on December 19, 2010 – 5:38 pmNo Comment | 8,061 views

The Organism

Why is it that when my shoes are too tight I get a headache? The human body works in interesting ways. An illness in one organ often presents symptoms in another and doctors have their work cut out for them. Their work would have been much easier if cardiac disease only affected the heart, but when patients complain of tingling in their arms doctors have to check the heart.

This is because the entire body is a single organism. No organ acts alone; each is interdependent on others. The heart affects the feet as profoundly as the liver affects the spleen. Neurological and biological connections bind them all; even the brain suffers for an ailment in the toe.

Our people are the same. We are one unit. There might be millions of Jews across the world, but from a soul perspective we are a single entity; sparks from a common flame. G-d directed Moses to tell Pharaoh that the Jewish nation is unique. “My child, my first born, Israel. Not my children, in the plural, but my child, in the singular for indeed, we are but one entity.

The pain of one affects the whole. We might not sense the effect in our immediate vicinity, but we are certainly affected. This is similar to the effect a sprained ankle exerts upon the finger. We might not feel pain in the finger, but the entire body is weakened, forcing every limb, including the finger, to compensate for the ankle.

When a single Jew hurts the entire nation suffers. We cannot flourish, succeed or be blessed when a single Jew is in pain. How much more so when this pain goes unnoticed by the rest of us. How much more so when we cause the pain and proceed to ignore it.


This is why it is so important to refrain from gossip. Our words augur joy, pain, life and death. When we broadcast stories that the subject would have liked to keep private, we hurt not only others, but also ourselves. We might not feel this pain, but it is there.

This is why Moses, upon witnessing gossipmongers among the Jews in Egypt declared, “The matter is known.” In previous years we discussed the Talmud’s explanation that Moses was addressing the suffering and length of the Jewish exile in Egypt. He failed to understand why the Jews had to suffer as long as they did. But when he observed the gossip mongers he understood.

When we gossip, the subject of our gossip is imprisoned; they are made to feel self-conscious in public and they avoid this humiliation whenever possible. Our gossip has the effect of imprisoning them. The nation cannot be liberated when some of its members are still imprisoned. This is because part of us is in the person we have imprisoned and part of that person is in us. We cannot be truly free when a part of us remains captive.

Gossip is not a deliberate sin. We don’t set out to cause pain and wreak havoc. On the contrary, we rarely notice the deleterious and hurtful effect of our words. This makes it difficult to guard against.

Loaded Questions

At times our intentions are actually noble and we don’t realize the horrible effect of our words.

I speak here of a phenomenon that crosses community lines and causes terrible anguish though we remain largely oblivious. I speak of the plight of women who are asked whether they are expectant with child. Our intention is to share a Simcha, but the question can only cause discomfort.

Consider, if the woman is with child and has not gone public she must have a reason for her silence, she does not want to be cornered into revealing it before she is ready to do so. Consider further that one can only keep these things quiet for so long. At some point the expecting couple realizes that their secret will soon be obvious and are quite anxious about it. They are often self conscious as they try to conceal their happy news from prying eyes and don’t look forward to such intrusion with joy.

If they are trying to conceal what our prying eyes inadvertently noticed, let’s do them the decency of looking the other way. Let’s not approach the young woman who is clearly trying to conceal what we happened to discern. Let us eave a private affair, private.

I know we are burning with curiosity, but let us remember this. Sooner or later we will all know the truth. What do we stand to gain from gleaning this knowledge today? Surely we don’t intend to share her secret with others; that would be a horrible thing to do. It is simply a matter of satisfying a personal curiosity. Is it worth causing anguish and discomfort only to satisfy a curious urge?

There is another side to this equation. What if we are wrong? What if this woman is not at all pregnant, but is trying mightily to conceive. She might be hoping and praying for a blessing every day and our question might only underscore her suffering and pain. Not to mention serve to make her self conscious about her image.

Some have found a remarkable solution to this dilemma. They don’t want to cause pain, but they also don’t want to stifle their curiosity so instead of approaching the woman they approach the husband. In all honesty, is it proper to ask this of a married man? Is this not an abject intrusion into his privacy? Does this not cause him anguish as he considers what others are thinking with respect to his wife?

In summation such questions accomplish little that won’t be discovered in good time; they produce only anxiety, shame and pain. We must consider that our nation is a single entity; what hurts others hurts us. Would I be willing to assume such pain and discomfort just to satisfy a curiosity? On the other hand, would I be willing to go without the information if in return I can spare myself so much pain?

What we don’t want done unto us, we don’t do unto others. Period.