Chapter 1: A Nation Is Born
The Birth of the People of Israel
UNITY—AND THEREBY, EQUALITY
Today, our only hope is to unite, because unity, as we will see below, is the direction of the force that drives all of life. Our challenge, therefore, is to learn how to unite. It is possible and plausible, but in a time of crisis, it will require recognizing life’s force and generating a mutual effort to cooperate and collaborate so we can live by this law’s dictates.
It should be noted, however, that unity does not require parity or similarity. Rather, it requires disparity, over which to unite. Today, for example, there are quite a few denominations within the Jewish religion, as well as unaffiliated Jews. Jewish unity would mean that without changing our customs, without converging into a single denomination, we would unite and learn to appreciate, and eventually truly care for one another.
If that may seem impossible, consider a family with several children. In a normative family, each child has his or her unique character. More often than not, those characters clash, as our memories of our childhood quarrels with our kin testify. We often think of our brothers and sisters in such terms as, “If he/she weren’t my brother/sister, I would never want to be around him/her.” But just that fact that we are together with our very different kin proves that when there is love, we can unite above the differences.
This is precisely what we need to do—unite above our differences. In that way we will intensely feel both our diverse, often opposite qualities, and the unity that rides above them. When that happens, we will be able to use our differences to the best, as each of us contributes perspectives, ideas, and modes of action that no one else can, thus forming a stronger whole. Just as our bodies need the different organs to work together to keep us healthy, we need to remain different, and unite above the differences for a common goal of realizing the role of the Jewish people—to bring the light of unity to the nations.
Following Abraham’s departure from Babylon, returning to our previous topic, the city continued to cultivate self-centered abandon. And while there is nothing wrong with pleasure and enjoyment, when it is utterly self-centered, it is eventually self-defeating. The real purpose of life, Abraham found, is to become similar to life’s singular force, to experience oneness and unity with all. Our sages call that unity and oneness, Dvekut [adhesion], and what they mean by that word is that we should eventually acquire the Creator’s qualities and become similar, or even equal to Him.
To quote the words of Rabbi Meir Ben Gabai, “On the part of the Dvekut [adhesion] with the forces of the Great Name and His qualities, you cleave unto the Lord your God, for He is His name, and His name is Him, for you are related and similar to Him, and Dvekut with Him is the real life.”[i] Likewise, the Holy Shlah wrote in Toldot Adam [The Generations of Man], “Our sages said (Sotah 14a), ‘And you who cleave unto the Lord,’ cleave unto His qualities, and then he is called Adam [man], as in, adameh la Elyon [I will be like the most high].”[ii]
In the 20th century, Baal HaSulam elaborated extensively on the term, Dvekut, defining it as “equivalence of form,” meaning acquiring the “form” (qualities) of the Creator. In his “Introduction to the Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” he wrote, “Thus, [the soul] will be fit to receive all the abundance and pleasure included in the Thought of Creation, and will also be in complete Dvekut (adhesion) with Him, in equivalence of form.[iii]
In the “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam adds, “Thus, one buys complete adhesion with Him, for spiritual adhesion is but equivalence of form, as our sages said, ‘How is it possible to cleave unto Him? Rather, cleave on to His qualities.’”[iv]
In time, as mentioned above, Abraham’s group grew into a nation, and the need for a new method of unity arose. Abraham’s teachings held as long as everyone in Israel could be taught. But by the time the people of Israel went out of Egypt, they numbered 600,000 men and some three million people altogether. It was impossible to teach all of them in the same manner that one learns from a teacher.
The solution was found at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, at that pivotal point in the history of our people, the most fundamental tenet of our Torah was given, and is given still today, each day and each moment. That tenet, as Rabbi Akiva put it, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
At the foot of Mount Sinai, explains the great scholar and interpreter, RASHI, we received the Torah, the laws by which we are to unite, because there we agreed wholeheartedly to do so. In his words, “‘And Israel encamped there’—as one man with one heart.”[v] From that moment on, unity has been the prime asset of the Jewish people, the means by which we attain the Creator, acquire His qualities, and obtain Dvekut, equivalence of form (qualities) with Him.
Midrash Tanah De Bei Eliyahu writes, “The Lord said to them, to Israel: ‘My sons, have I lacked anything that I should ask of you? And what do I ask of you? Only that you will love one another, respect one another, and fear one another, and that there will be no transgression, theft, and ugliness among you.’”[vi]
In time, unity became so crucial as to supersede any other commandment in terms of its importance. It became the one and only key to Israel’s spiritual redemption and salvation from its enemies. Midrash Tanhuma writes, “If a person takes a bundle of reeds, he cannot break them all at once. But if he takes one at a time, even an infant breaks them. Likewise, Israel will not be redeemed until they are all one bundle.”[vii]
In the same spirit, Masechet Derech Eretz Zutah writes, “Thus would Rabbi Eleazar ha-Kappar say, ‘Love peace, and loathe division. Great is the peace, for even when Israel practice idol-worship and there is peace among them, the Creator says, ‘I wish not to touch [harm] them,’ as it is written (Hosea, 4:17), ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.’ If there is division among them, what is it said about them (Hos, 10:2)? ‘Their heart is divided, now they will bear their guilt.’’”[viii]
And yet, for all that has just been said about the importance of unity, when we look around us it is evident that the majority of people neither wish to unite, nor find any benefit in unity, certainly not with their neighbors, as the tenet dictates. To understand how such a tenet became so paramount to the existence of our people, and now to the entire world, we need to examine the evolution of reality from a different viewpoint than the one science usually takes. We need to look at reality as an evolution of desires. When we view reality as such, the reasoning behind the preeminence of the desire to unite, and the consequent acquisition of the quality of the Creator, will become crystal clear. Therefore, the evolution of desires will be the topic of the next chapter.
[i] Rabbi Meir Ben Gabai, Avodat HaKodesh [The Holy Work], Part 2, Chapter 16.
[ii] Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (The Holy Shlah), Toldot Adam [The Generations of Man], “The House of David,” 7.
[iii] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to the Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah” (Ashlag Research Institute, Israel, 2009), 155.
[iv] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to the Book of Zohar” (Ashlag Research Institute, Israel, 2009), 432.
[v] Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzhak (RASHI), The RASHI Interpretation on the Torah, “On Exodus,” 19:2.
[vi] Midrash Tanah De Bei Eliyahu Rabah, Chapter 28.
[vii] Midrash Tanhuma, Nitzavim, Chapter 1
[viii] Ithak Eliyahu Landau, Rabbi Shmuel Landau, Masechet Derech Eretz Zutah, Chapter 9, items 28-29 (Vilna: Printer: Rabbi Hillel, 1872), 57-58.