For the past day and a half, all Jewish eyes were on Mumbai, formerly known to us in the west as Bombay, named for two Hindu godesses. Nine popular tourist sites were attacked, locations that attracted many American and British citizens. Nine tourist sites… and one Chabad House.
Jews around the world suddenly took an interest in IBN, CNN’s partner in India. Streaming audio or video available live, listening to the reporter telling the story from outside. Occasionally interrupting her reporting to duck down or tell her cameraman to shut off his lights as shots fire out.
Why the Jews?
Why again the Jews?
Once upon a time, all of humanity got along. We used that beautiful unity improperly, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in heaven, and we will make ourselves famous; lest we get scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And Hashem responds, “Yes, they are one nation and they have one language, and this is what they begin to do…” (Bereishis 11:4,6)
There were few families who did not participate. One of them was that of Avraham. (Others include Malkhitzedeq / Sheim, Eiver, and Ashur the forefather of Assyria, who thereby merited the Torah script, Ashuris.) Avraham refused a unity committed to evil.
And 502 years later his children stood at Mount Sinai. “וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר – … and Israel camped there, under the mountain.” (Shemos 19:2) The Mekhilta (quoted by Rashi) notes the use of the singular for the verb, as though Israel were an individual, and writes, “כאיש אחד בלב אחד – Like one person, with one heart.” And with that moment of unity, we merited to be the recipients of the Torah.
Unlike the unity of the Egyptians six weeks earlier, at the Red Sea. “וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם — … and here, Egypt is chasing after them.” Also with a singular verb. And one of Rashi’s explanations is “בלב אחד כאיש אחד — with one heart, like one person.” In opposite order, first the heart, than the unity like a single person.
The Egyptians had no inherent unity. They had a single heart, a single desire and goal, and they unified behind that goal. Had they lived long enough for that goal to evaporate they would have once again been divided. The giving of the Torah, however, required unity as a precondition, not a consequence. As we say in the Hagaddah about the evil son’s use of the word you when asking “What is this work for you?” “Since he took himself out of the community, he denied the essence [of Judaism].” Our doxology is not only “Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”, it first begins “Hear Israel”.
The “ish echad“, the unity of the people, precedes the “leiv echad“, the common mission. Perhaps this is why Rabbi Aqiva’s students passed away in the period of Omer in particular, in the period of transition between conditional unity and love based on a common goal, and the inherent unity as a precondition to Sinai. A utilitarian unity is not the basis of respect, it’s unity so as to use the other. (In this case, as a tool for one’s own learning.) And so the students who died “because they did not show respect one for the other” were sentenced during that time in our calendar; they didn’t survive the transition from Pesach to Shavu’os.
לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְ-הוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכָּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃ כִּי֩ מֵֽאַהֲבַ֨ת יְ-הוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשָּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙…
It is not because you are more plentiful than other nations that Hashem holds you dear and chose you; for you are few from among the nations. Rather, from the love of G-d of you, and from His keeping the promise…
Cheisheq, holding someone dear, is described as something that can be conditional (in this case, on our size). Ahavah, true love, is inherent, without reason or cause. Ahavah without an adjective is ahavas chinam.
Terrorism is an echoing of the generation of the Tower of Babel’s call, “let us make ourselves a reputation”. When they rise up they are unified like the Eqyptians. Not inherently, but functionally, behind a common cause. In Babel as Pirqei deR’ Eliezer describes it, if a person fell off the tower, worked proceeded. If a brick fell, they mourned. R’ Hirsch describes this as the first Totalitarian government — humanity was subdued to the cause. In terrorism, this is expressed in a willingness to kill innocents, to die, even to raise one’s own children with dreams of becoming “shuhada“, martyrs for the cause.
Why again the Jews?
Because in Judaism, unity is inherent, love is to be unconditional, and the value of a cause defined by the value it brings to humanity.
Why again the Jews?
Because when there is a terror attack in some exotic city, and the fate of two people I never meet hangs in the balance, everything stops. Jews in every time zone track the news obsessively. We are Benei Yisrael, the Children of Israel, siblings. All our petty (and perhaps not so petty) squabbles forgotten. Little Moishe is out safely?! Thank G-d. His parents? “About these I cry; my eyes, my eyes, spill water.”
This Shabbos (which began already in Mumbai), Moishe turned two and became an orphan. May the Omnipresent comfort the family amongst all of us mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim.