As one man, with one heart
Rabbi Pesach Fishman,
Coming so closely on the heels of the attacks in Paris one would naturally expect that the reaction of the world would be somewhat similar: an outpouring of global solidarity with the victims, universal condemnation of the acts of violence and international expressions of resolve to uproot terrorism.
A unique feature in the days following the Paris attacks were the ubiquitous signs on a black background of “Je Suis Charlie – I am Charlie”, and to a lesser degree “Je Suis Juif – I am a Jew”. These slogans also trended on social media as #JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisJuif.
While the world has (as usual) been silent in condemning the attacks in Tel Aviv, one particularly disturbing reaction has been the widespread appearance on social media of “#JeSuisCouteau – I am a Knife”.
The motto “I am…” has been hijacked and rather than expressing solidarity with the victims, it is an expression of support for terrorists; rather than aspiring to peace it is a glorification of violence.
The Torah’s description of two pivotal events sheds light on these different reactions:
In describing the Egyptian pursuit of the Jews immediately following their flight from slavery, the Torah says that the Egyptians were “nosay’ah”, meaning “he pursued”. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the primary commentary on the Torah explains that the Torah does not say “they pursued“ (which would be more correct referring to the multitude of Egyptians) because their pursuit was “with one heart and as one man”.
The Egyptians were unified at that moment and acted with a singular purpose and the cohesiveness of a single person in recapturing the Jews, therefore the Torah describes them in the singular.
Sometime afterwards the Jews arrive at Mt Sinai and the Torah says that “he encamped”. Again Rashi comments on the use of the singular “he” to describe an act of millions of people. Rashi says that the Jews acted “as one man, with one heart” in preparation for receiving the Torah, and therefore the Torah views them as one person.
At first glance the Egyptians’ pursuit “with one heart, and as one man” and the Jews’ encampment as “as one man with one heart”, are both acts that deeply unite a diversity of people. On closer examination, however, they are worlds apart.
The Egyptians were motivated by the powerful swirling emotion of hatred of the Jews. Overcoming their usual divisiveness they acted as one in a final, desperate attempt at destruction. Recklessly they pursued the Jews into the raging waters of the sea, which eventually swirled about their heads and engulfed them.
The Jews at Mt Sinai were motivated by something deeper: a calm sense of true peoplehood that would withstand unparalleled challenges in the future. As a result of this they had a deep-rooted love for each other, a love of G-d, and were ready to lovingly accept His Torah.
The Egyptians were a divided people who, motivated by hatred, momentarily acted as one nation. The Jews were one nation that expressed their love in many ways.
We live in an era of protests, marches, boycotts, #hashtags, online petitions and viral campaigns. A simple litmus test of their legitimacy is their motivation: Is it the momentary facade of solidarity by people who have nothing in common except for their common hatred (often of Israel and the Jews), a modern version of the ancient Egyptians, or is it a harmony driven by true unity and love?
Obviously, people of values and morality would be motivated by love and unity.
I wish you and yours a Shabbat Shalom!