Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Imagine what the world would be like if people felt a genuine awareness of the common oneness that bonds all people. Imagine how different it would be. Would we wage war and use our resources to build weapons of mass destruction? Would we need police and courts to stop us from taking advantage of one another? Would we seek to manipulate economic systems and risk the security of others for personal gain? Would we rob the earth of its riches without thinking of the effects on our own children, let alone our neighbors? Would we be so cold and uncaring as we pass each other in the streets? Would we be so absorbed in our selfishness that we would ignore the needs of others?
When I look at the realities of the world we live in, this dream seems a bit far-fetched, I admit. I don’t even see unity among my own people, and I see other nations and groups suffering the same pain, so how can we hope for unity amongst the diversity nations?
Given the profound change for good that a paradigm shift in the perception of human unity would almost certainly and instantly achieve, I find it surprising that among Judaism’s 613 commandments governing the minutia of human life – including the percentage of our income that should be given to charity, the best way to slaughter an animal, the proper order for tying one’s shoes, and how to correctly wipe one’s appendages after using the bathroom – I do not find any mention of a directive calling for unity. Perhaps unity is not as important as we assume. Perhaps the need for unity is rooted in some psychological weakness or primordial herd mentality, rather than a higher ideal. Or maybe the heavenly court finds our petty arguments and unending divisiveness to be entertaining – a source of amusement they are reluctant to relinquish. But given the undeniable benevolence that would result from unity, it is difficult to argue that Judaism, the linchpin of human morality, could overlook such an obvious way to improve and perhaps even perfect human civilization.
It is true that, by nature, humans abhor fragmentation. We have this need, perhaps bordering on obsession, to make sense of things. Have you ever lived your life for a few weeks without making enough time to process events? Personally, I am tortured by that unhealthy, disconnected feeling that results from the hundreds of random daily tasks I fulfill that, on the surface, seem to have no common thread. Without taking time to process where I’m going and what I’m doing, coming to some vision of purpose within this mundane reality and creating some semblance of order within the chaos, my sanity starts to slip.
One of the cornerstone Kabbalistic teachings is that everything in existence, and all people, are one. So perhaps there is no need for a unity directive, since unity is something that already exists, albeit on a metaphysical level. But that’s exactly the point: The same thing could be said about so many of Judaism’s teachings. The edict to “be holy,” for example, seems superfluous in light of the fact that every individual is already holy by virtue of the soul. The purpose of these commandments is not to create a new reality, but to coax a hidden spiritual reality into the forefront of our consciousness and our material lives by guiding us to seek it, uncover it, and transform the latent potential into reality.
So, the question becomes what sort of ethos would enable the inherent oneness to shine? What is the secret to unity? If there was true unity, then we would act with sensitivity and openness toward each and every individual we encounter. Or, more accurately, if there was love between each and every individual, then by default there would be unity all around. And if not… well, we are all quite familiar with the “if not” reality, for it is the reality we find ourselves in today.
I saw a sign hanging on someone’s balcony in Jerusalem that spoke to a sentiment I’ve always felt - one that has been strengthened as I witness the strife among my people: “There are no religious. There are no secular. There are no gays. There are no straights. There are no right-wingers. There are no left-wingers. There are only Jews.” This is very much in line with Judaism’s view of the individual, especially as expressed in Chassidic teachings. Each individual is a unique and precious soul, the exact preciousness and sanctity of which is impossible to measure or comprehend. Everything else is widow dressing, a result of the traps and trapping of living in a body and the earthly existence that comes with it.
The problem is that it’s much easier to manage three major religions, a handful of ethnicities, a few demographic groups, a few dozen interest groups, a few hundred nationalities — rather than a few billion individuals. But while these groupings are in the interest of marketers and politicians, both of whom seek to divide and conquer so they can enslave their subjects, they do not serve the interest of world peace, or even meaningful living on a personal level. For that, we need to recognize the stereotypes for the superficial nonsense that they are, and seek deeper, more personal relationships with the people we encounter. And when we see disturbing actions taken or vile words spoken that feed the ugliness, we should consider that these are the deeds and words of misinformed or misguided individuals, not of a group, and that they do not necessarily represent the views and ideals of others who happen to look or dress the same way.
If we have love between individuals, then the sum total will be unity. If not, then all the banners, slogans, and conferences in the world dedicated to the ideal of unity will not get us there. It’s easier to wave a banner, chant a slogan and attend a conference then it is to really engage, accept and appreciate another person as an individual. But any directive toward unity is decidedly futile. Love, not unity, is the answer.
Izzy Greenberg is a writer, scholar and teacher of Jewish thought and mysticism, as well as the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative (tekiyah.com). To learn more and read his writings, visit izzygreenberg.com.