by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 7, 2013
We read (Sh’mot 19:1-2), “In the third month from the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai. And they journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.”
As regards the singular form of the phrase “Israel encamped there,” as opposed to the rest of the aforementioned verses that speak of the Israelites in plural, the great Biblical exegete and Talmudic scholar known as Rashi notes that at that instance in time during this particular encampment the people of Israel behaved “as one man with one heart.” There were no complaints and no disagreement – total one-minded unity – unlike any other encampment.
After miraculously being delivered from the torturous hands of the Egyptians who ruthlessly subjugated them in abject slavery and persecution for decades, as the Divine Presence accompanied them and protected them on an otherwise terrifying trek through the desert, as they approach a mountain “in the middle of nowhere” to receive the Torah, an outline of how to live life to the fullest from none other than G-d the Al-Mighty Himself, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob put all aside – all quarrels and all concerns – in harmonious unity. They are overcome by the great unfathomable kindness bestowed upon them by G-d in extricating them from the cruel Egyptians and they are overwhelmed by the glorious gift that they are about to be bequeathed with G-d’s own blueprint for life – the Torah. As a result, little else matters and lovely harmonious unity among all sets in.
In the wake of the holiday of Pesach (Passover), as we celebrate the Israelites’ being saved from Egyptian persecution, when we also celebrate the many dangers and fears that we have since escaped, while other peoples have experienced similar problems and sunk into the drain hole of past history, and as we approach the holiday of Shavuot, where we celebrate such an unusual and precious gift as the Torah from G-d Himself, may we too focus on the importance of these phenomena, setting aside other matters that pale in comparison. We should set aside quarrels and disagreements. We should set aside needless arguments and strife.
We should come together in harmonious unity. We should care for one another. We should care about one another. We should do for one another. Others’ concerns should be ours. Others’ needs should be ours. Others’ pains should be ours. Just as we would want to help ourselves when we have concerns or when we have needs or when we experience pains, so we should want to do for our fellow Jew – in the true spirit of the Torah and in devotion to G-d Who bequeathed it to us.