Standing side by side

  • RabbiStern
With patience and wisdom Reb Zalman instructed his young student, Mendel, in the reading of the Torah. Reb Zalman explained: “When you see the two yuds together in the Chumash, do not read the word as it appears. This is G-d’s holy name and that’s the way it should be pronounced.”
by Rabbi Yehuda Stern, Sydenham Shul | May 17, 2018

With this new understanding, Mendel continued to read the verses. However, as he came to the end of each verse, Reb Zalman was puzzled to hear his student say G-d’s name.

“Where do you see the name of G-d after each verse?” he asked.

Mendel pointed to the dots at the end of each verse – the two dots that stand one above the other – that is, the colon. Reb Zalman smiled and explained: “A person is represented by the letter yud. When the two yuds stand side by side in unity, G-d is happy and He dwells there. These two yuds are therefore pronounced as G-d’s name.

“However, if one person stands above the other, just like the two dots of the colon, G-d does not dwell among them, and this should not be pronounced as the name of G-d.”

As we approach the festival of Shavuot and we prepare to re-live the Mount Sinai experience, this story leaves us with a point to ponder. How do we look upon members of a different community? How do we feel when we are in the company of someone who is different from us? Is there common respect between us or do we feel superior to them?

This is the lesson we learn from the Oral Torah, in comparison to the Written Torah. The Written Torah, given directly by G-d, is exact and precise, and it must remain that way. Only a few holy individuals were able to be commentators on the Written Torah, but for the average person it is out of bounds.

The Oral Torah, however, starting from the Mishnah and Talmud, gives each individual the opportunity to contribute their personal views and ideas. While we may not follow the other’s opinion, we are taught to show them respect and acknowledge their perspective.

It is only when we stand side by side with the other that we can objectively analyse and debate the important issues of society. And then we succeed in aligning ourselves with the Divine and His plan that He envisioned for the world.

The last word of the Shema prayer is “Echad”. This word has intrigued many of the commentaries throughout the ages. Echad means “one”, which implies that there is a second, third, etc. But is that the right description for G-d, who is the Only One?

The answer is, that when diverse people from different communities and backgrounds come together for the common goal of serving G-d, this is the greatest accomplishment – and this is exactly where G-d chooses to rest.

Let us not allow for the diversity of the Jewish people to weaken our unity because ultimately, we are “like one man with one heart”.


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