A shipwreck survivor showed his rescuers how he survived eating berries, bananas and coconuts, catching fish and rubbing sticks together to make fire.
As the man showed them around his primitive camp, the Captain noticed three huts made of woven. “What are these,” he asked.
The shipwrecked man pointed to the larger grass hut, and said, “This one I live in, staying dry during the tropical rains. The other one is my synagogue.”
“What about the third hut?” the captain asked. “Well, a couple of years ago there was a squabble and that shul split-off.”
The opening verses of Nitzavim, the first of this week’s two Torah portions, begin: “You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, the heads of your tribes, your elders...all the men of Israel...from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”
Concerning these verses, the Midrash states that the Jewish people are likened to a bundle of straw. Each one individually is weak and can be easily broken, but once the straw is gathered into a bundle it is impossible to make it bend. So too is it with the Jewish people. When we are bound together and stand united we are powerful in the face of our enemies. Indeed, Jewish unity is the vessel for containing G-d’s blessing, as we say in our prayers, “Bless us, our Father, together as one.”
The Torah tells us that there is no power in the world that can dominate the Jewish people. But if such is the case, how is it possible for any bad to befall them? This only occurs if we cause a tiny rift in our bond with G-d that allows external factors to enter. It is this self-induced damage in the unity between G-d and His people which makes the Jews vulnerable. When peace and unity reign, the Jews are impervious to attack.
How does the tiny, sometimes very subtle breach first emerge? When a Jew’s attention to their soul and her mitzvos are gradually left by the wayside.
Thus the first step in fortifying our spiritual defenses is to make sure that this initial fissure is never allowed to form. How? Through Jewish unity.
Human nature is such that we are often unaware of our own shortcomings. Our self-love prevents us from being objective. We cannot perceive even great flaws, how much more so the smaller ones. However, when Jews come together, each one can see the shortcomings of his neighbor. A good friend’s gentle admonition can get us back on the correct track, strengthening our fortifications against the Evil Inclination.
Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe, explained why that is so effective. When two Jews unite to improve themselves and their relationship with G-d, their two G-dly souls are fighting only one Evil Inclination, thus it is far easier to emerge victorious. After all the side of negativity is self-focused and really is not interested in the other person.
If this was true generations ago, how much more so is it applicable in our own times, when the darkness of exile has intensified? By maintaining our Jewish unity we will remain invincible, as it states, “You are standing this day, all of you.”
In this season of Rosh Hashanah, reach out and get GENTLY rebuked. :) In other words, find someone to share the desire for individual improvement and spiritual growth!
Ketivah v’chatimah tova – may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Rabbi Shraga Sherman