For the last several days, we have watched in pain the escalating violence in Israel and the meaningless loss of life. The toll of individuals killed and injured rises every day. As sirens wail and babies scream for their mothers, Israel’s citizens are scrambling into bomb shelters and watching rockets surge towards their homes. Young men and women in Tzahal, some even our own children, are preparing to risk their lives for a possible ground war. Images on the news reveal mob violence — Jews against Arabs, Arabs against Jews — that should shock us all. Our hearts break as we witness and share in the suffering of our fellow Jews, our brothers and sisters in Israel. And while we must unhesitatingly condemn the murderous actions of Hamas, we also mourn the loss of innocent human life on both sides.
As we watch and feel all that is happening in Israel, it is hard to put ourselves in a joyous mood for this upcoming Zman Matan Torateinu. Perhaps this Shavuot, the message is not meant to be one of joy. Perhaps it is meant to be one of unity and of family.
The Sages teach us that when the Israelites encamped by Mt. Sinai, they did so “as one person, with one heart.” The order here is critical. Because the Jews are, at their deepest core, one people, with a unity that binds them together despite all their differences and in-fighting, they have the capacity to bring that unity to the surface. The entire Jewish people shares one heart, and one sense of purpose, when great or tragic events face them all. If nothing else, the terrible violence of recent days has brought so many of us together, to draw strength from one another, and to put aside differences, petty or otherwise, as we reconnect to the deep unity that binds us all.
We always have been a family whose members have wildly different opinions from each other. In the Israelite camp in the wilderness, some tribes dwelled on the right, some on the left, and some didn’t fit easily into any right/left divide. Yet, despite their disagreements, the Jews moved together as one camp and as one person.
The Israelite camp that departed Mt. Sinai also teaches us about family and belonging. Large-scale unity is not enough. We need homes and families, mishpihotam li’veit avotam. These structures can provide us with a great sense of belonging, of anchoring, and of strength. This is something of which we are now all in urgent need.
As we prepare to enter Shavuot, we are as one people experiencing the current upheaval and violence. Some of us are living outside of Israel, anxious for the fate of our Israeli brothers and sisters, and for our friends and families who are living there. Some of us are residents of Israel, facing the violence, explosions, fear and risk of life on a daily basis.
Whoever and wherever we are, let us draw strength from our unity and our shared fate as a people. Let us draw comfort from our homes and families, which nurture us each day. Let us hold and be held by those closest to us during this time.
May this Chag Matan Torah also be a Chag of Geulah for us all.
Rabbi Dov Linzer