Judaism: Beshalach: From Many - One
Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
A subtle and often overlooked aspect of the Red Sea split is that many particles of water coalesced into a single wall. From many one, is a common theme in the human quest. We find it in science, logic, art and elsewhere. The idea is always to take disparate pieces and turn them into one. From many one.
The mystical reason for this preoccupation is that we live in perpetual conflict. On the one hand the universe is filled with duality and multiplicity. There is day and night, fire and water, male and female, right and left. In almost every sphere of existence we function in plurality. Yet the universe was created by a single G-d and thus wherever we turn, we find underlying themes of unification.
Unity in Logic and Science
When confronted with a question, it our nature to seek an answer. We are bothered by a lack of understanding because we have an innate distaste of details that don’t fit; nails that stick out, attract our attention. We want everything to flow, we want it to make sense. When a question is asked we cannot rest until it is solved.
We are drawn by our very nature to the unifying factor. We are inherently uncomfortable with discord. The underlying purpose of logic is to demonstrate that multiple ideas are rooted in a single axiom. The more ideas explained by a single theory, the more compelling the proposition becomes.
The same holds true in physics. The more phenomena that a single theory explains, the higher we regard it. When we identify a single cause for varied effects we assume it to be true. Scientists continue to seek a unifying theory that merges the electromagnetic, strong and weak forces because the notion that the universe is governed by multiple forces is inherently dissatisfying. Symmetry and unity appeal to us. We are by nature designed to prefer one neat cause than a messy system of multiple forces.
Science has made great strides in this area when it discovered the atomic and sub atomic particle. What seems on the surface to be separate and different are now known to be of the same atomic material. You and I are made of the same protons and electrons. The tree and the car, the computer and the fire, the mountain and the bird are all composed of the same basic building blocks. You are here and I am there, you lived then and I live now, it doesn’t matter. Our differences fall away when we consider that the root of all things is one. From many one.
Unity in Music and Art
What is music if not the blend of disparate notes in symphonic harmony? Anyone can bang out a couple of chords, but not everyone can fuse notes and chords into a single composition. The true composers were brilliant artists who tapped out entire symphonies in single creative bursts that emerged from deep within their psyche.
Deep within our psyche there is a wellspring of knowledge and information. In this space, everything makes sense, everything falls into place. Not a single false note, not a single incongruous tune. Creative geniuses tune into that space in their minds, their subconscious and beat out a brilliant burst of creative energy that unifies whole tracts of music in ways that astound ordinary people like us.
What is art if not the blending of colors and pigments to create beauty? Anyone can slap paint on a canvas, but only the artist can create beauty by blending contrasting colors. In fact, beautiful art is all about symmetry. If the angles are higher on one side than the other, if the slants are asymmetrical, the picture will be faulty. A beautiful picture is symmetrical and flows seamlessly into itself.
I once read an article about attractive features. It turns out that there is a mathematical formula for pretty faces. When your nose is perfectly positioned in the middle of your face, equidistant to the ends of your face, you are handsome. When your eyes and nose form a perfect triangle, you are beautiful. When your facial features are asymmetrical you are ugly. It turns out that even beauty is rooted in unity.
Speaking of symmetry, the discipline that is most firmly rooted in the idea of ‘from many one’ is mathematics. Mathematical formulas either work or they don’t. If they add up and not a single number stands out, the formula works. If even one number doesn’t fit, the formula fails. Mathematics is all based on combining voluminous digits into a single total. From many one.
Unity in War
We see this theme play out in every facet of life. Ironically, even war emerges from a quest for unity.
When warring factions don’t get along, tension rises and violence ensues. Why can’t they simply live and let live? Why can’t they agree to disagree? On the surface it because of their corrupt desire to control. The deeper subliminal reason is that nature abhors conflict. We seek homogeny wherever we can find it. So long as we get along peacefully we find unity in our commonalities, but when conflict arises, the innate quest for unity is triggered.
Each side seeks to impose this unity on the other. Sadly, each feels that the only way forward is though triumph. It takes sophistication and enlightenment to realize that unity through peaceful resolution is a higher form of homogeny, but that is a work in progress. Slowly, humanity is moving collectively closer to this realization.
From Many - One
Unity plays such a profound role in our lives because G-d is a unifying presence. Whether we are aware of G-d or not, human kind is by nature drawn to oneness in all things because we sense that the world is meant to be one. We are meant to find the handprint of our single creator, our One G-d, in the pluralism and multiplicity of the universe. If we can’t find it, the world doesn’t make sense. It is inherently frustrating and dissatisfying. We crave unity.
This venture was encapsulated by the split of the Red Sea. The one G-d instructed our ancestors to journey forward and millions of water molecules obstructed their path. What was the solution?
From many one. G-d demonstrated that the many are themselves derivatives of the one and thus cannot oppose the will of the one. Many water molecules became a single aqua wall and our ancestors crossed through. Nothing stood in the way of G-d’s will because the opposition itself was created by G-d.
When we devote ourselves to finding oneness in all things we merit the coming of Moshiach, a time when ‘from many one’ will truly be the theme of life. We will see the presence of G-d in all of creation at that time as clearly as we see the universe today.
May that time come speedily in our days, Amen.