One People

I live in Los Angeles and was horrified by the shootings a few years ago at our Jewish community center. I heard that after the shootings, law enforcement officials found a map in the shooter’s van. Apparently, he had thought about initially targeting other Jewish organizations, but changed his mind when he noticed the tight security. One was the Weisenthal Center, home of the Museum of Tolerance – founded by Orthodox Jews. Another was the University of Judaism – founded by Conservative Jews. The third potential target was the Skirball Museum – founded by Reform Jews.

Just as Hitler never asked about a Jew's denomination before sending him to the gas chamber, so too this maniac was uninterested in the denomination of those Jews he sought to destroy. If, heaven forbid, he had stepped inside a synagogue and began shooting, there would have been unanimous outrage. But unfortunately, there also might have been a few shaking their finger silently, viewing it as an attack on a single group. But because he did his horrible act at a JCC, the attitude is completely different. His choice removes the issue of religious differences from the picture altogether.

The rest of the world sees us as one people. We should too.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Indeed, the concept of the Jewish people standing together as one is deeply engrained in our national heritage.

In the days of Joshua, when Achan violated the prohibition against collecting the spoils of the battle of Jericho, the entire nation was held accountable and suffered enormous casualties.

Why? The Jewish people are one unit. The Kabbalists say that we are really one collective soul, all part of the same reality. The spiritual health of our collective national body is affected for good or bad by every member; therefore the destiny of each Jew is inextricably tied with the action of his neighbor. An individual cannot say "I myself am holy and am not affected by the actions of others."

When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham challenged God, "If I can find 50 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorra, will you spare the cities?" God said, "No problem, I won't destroy it." Abraham bargained with God until God said, "If you can find 10 righteous people I won't destroy it."

Why did Abraham stop at 10? Why didn't he bargain God down to one person?

Because Abraham knew that with a group of 10 righteous people, society might turn around. But less than that constitutes separate individuals – not enough to save Sodom and Gomorra.

Another question: Now that God decided to destroy it, do these righteous individuals merit to be spared themselves? The answer is that while these individuals were not the catalyst for the disaster, now that the disaster is going to happen, they'd need a tremendous amount of merit to be saved from it in a miraculous way. Because God deals with us both on a national realm and an individual realm.

The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) recounts a fascinating exchange between God and the angels which teaches us a profound lesson about the depth of our mutual responsibility.

When God sought to punish the residents of Jerusalem, He told the angel: "Go through Jerusalem and make a mark with ink on the foreheads of the righteous, so they should be spared by the angels of destruction. Then make a mark with blood on the foreheads of the wicked, so they should be attacked." The Attribute of Justice said before God, "Master of the Universe, why should one group be different than the other – given that the righteous were able to protest and did not do so." God said, "Even if they would have protested, it wouldn't have had any effect." The Attribute of Justice countered, "Yes, but the righteous didn't know that – and they never tried to protest!" Thus God ordered the angels of destruction to slaughter the Sages first – because they did not correct the wicked.

As shocking as it sounds, that is the reality of being part of a single national unit. For as The Talmud says: "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh" – every Jew is responsible one for another.

The story is told of the religious man who died and went to heaven. There, he appeared before the Heavenly Tribunal to hear a listing of his good deeds and bad. The man was quite satisfied to hear of all his mitzvahs. But he was shocked to have included amongst his transgressions the prohibition of eating pork.

"What?!" the man protested, "but I never once ate pork!"

"True," spoke the Tribunal, "but for 20 years you lived next door to a man who ate pork, and you never made an effort to influence him. For that, you are responsible."

We have to reach out and try to make a difference in the world. And if we aren't altruistic enough to do so for the sake of others, then at least we should do so for ourselves. Because the reality is that no matter how hard we may try to insulate ourselves, some "bad" does seep in. And if we don't do something to help fix it – in the end it will get us as well.

It's like the story of two guys on a boat, and one of them is drilling a hole in the bottom. "What are you doing?!" his friend shouts. "Oh, don't worry," replies the first, "I'm only drilling under my OWN seat."

The hole in the ozone layer does not discriminate. Drugs and theft and violence have no boundaries. And when there's a terrorist attack in Israel, we all feel it. As the prophet says "The Jewish people are like a flock of sheep" – because when one is attacked, they all go into hysteria.

Indeed, we are one people with one destiny.

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