Monday, November 9, 2009

The Power of Unity

Chazal, our ancient Torah scholars, explain a rather troubling difference between the reigns of King David and King Ahab. While David is generally regarded as one of the greatest figures in Jewish history, Ahab is described in very harsh terms because of his rogue monarch. Yet, when these two kings ever had to go to war, David's army would consistently suffer significant casualties; Ahab's army was always victorious with very few casualties. What reason could possibly be given for such a distinction? Even though Ahab's reign was marred with condemnation, the people were still united and cooperative. And despite the fact that David's reign was largely praiseworthy, the people were nevertheless filled with hatred and division.

There is a great lesson to be drawn from this that is applicable today. No matter how educated and professionally successful certain Jews are, or how ritually observant and spiritual other Jews may be, as long as unity and cooperation are the exception rather than the rule, we are vulnerable. This is the case from both a practical and spiritual standpoint. On the practical level, a people cannot expect to thrive for very long without general cooperation and goodwill in national pursuits. On the spiritual level, God cannot bring the Final Redemption and subsequent peace on earth until the underlying flaw that brought exile in the first place, sinat chinam, is rectified. Whichever way you look at it, the lack of interpersonal decency is a national problem that must be corrected.

In order for unity to emerge, there is a very important prerequisite: tolerating other people's imperfections. Included in the understanding of the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" is that just as we all wish for people to overlook our shortcomings, so too should we be able to cut others a little bit of slack for not being perfect. While this obviously does not include overlooking objective evils (e.g. if someone is a murderer or rapist, there must be accountability and punishment), it does apply to all those petty, annoying things we encounter from people in our everyday lives. If we do our best to incorporate this principle into our overall character, it could reap very beneficial results. You, God, and everyone around you will see the difference.

Whether in ancient times or today, never underestimate the power of unity.

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