Sukkot is a Festival of Jewish Unity. Our Sages teach (Vayikra Rabbah, 30:12) that the mitzvah of the Arba Minim, the Four Species, expresses the concept of the Jewish People united as one, with each of the Four Species symbolizing a different type of Jew.
There are some Jews similar to the Etrog, which has a good taste and a good smell, representing Jews who possess both Torah and mitzvot. There are others who are similar to the Lulav, which has a good taste but no smell, paralleling Jews who learn Torah but do not observe the mitzvot. And then there are Jews who are like the Hadas, which has a good smell but no taste. These Jews fulfill the commandments but don’t study Torah. Lastly, there are those who resemble the Aravah, which has no smell and no taste, symbolizing Jews without Torah or mitzvot. The Midrash concludes that when we hold the Four Species together, we unite these groups, and one atones for the next.
Additionally, the Talmudic Tractate (Sukkot 27B) teaches that it is fitting for all of the Jewish People to sit in one Sukkah. While calls for Jewish unity are very nice in theory, how can unity be achieved with groups who are intent on changing Jewish tradition and law, Halakhah, in order to meet their ideological agendas or personal desires?
I asked several people in Israel for their responses:
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Rabbi of the settlement Har Bracha, and author of the twenty-plus volume, “Pininei Halacha,” replied humbly, “I simply don’t know.”
The Jerusalem Kabbalist, Rabbi Yekutiel Fish, author of the five-volume, “Sod HaHashmal,” maintains: “This Gemara is not coming to teach that we have to make peace with evildoers. The statement, ‘All of Israel are fitting to sit in one Sukkah’ is speaking about Jews who have the name of Yisrael upon them, but those who have purposefully abandoned the yoke of the Torah, like those who seek to change the Laws of Marriage and Conversion, and those who mount a movement to erase the holiness of Jewish family life, they are no longer called by the name Yisrael. They are inciters against the Torah, sinners and they cause the multitude to sin. It is a mitzvah to hate the evilness that is attached to them.”
No everyone expresses things in such a black-and-white fashion.
Rabbi Chanan Morrison has written five books on the teachings of Rabbi Kook. “In the concluding passage of tractate Berachot, Rabbi Elazar, in the name of Rabbi Haninah, teaches that Torah scholars increase peace in the world. Considering the vast number of disagreements and differences of opinion among Torah scholars, Rabbi Haninah’s statement seems rather dubious. This is because people mistakenly believe that unity and peace in the world means that everyone will share common viewpoints and think the same way. So when they see scholars disagreeing about an issue, this appears to be the exact opposite of peace.
"Rabbi Kook, in his commentary to Tractate Berachot, explains that true peace comes precisely through the proliferation of divergent views. When all of the various angles and sides of an issue are exposed, and we are able to clarify how each one has its place — that is true peace. The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ means both peace and completeness. We will only attain complete knowledge when we are able to accommodate all views — even those that appear contradictory - as partial perceptions of the whole truth. Like an interlocking puzzle, together they present a complete picture. When Torah scholars broaden knowledge and provide new insights, they contribute to the increase of peace. We need to recognize that, ‘all of Your children are students of G-d.’ All views, even those that seem contradictory, help reveal knowledge and truth.
“Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook certainly considered some Jews - like Jewish communists who persecuted religious Jews in the Soviet Union - as Jews who had broken all ties to the Jewish people. In other cases - like ‘halutzim’ pioneers on radically anti-religious kibbutzim who wanted to change basic Jewish practices like what day to celebrate Shabbat or Shavuot - he wrote letters threatening to declare them non-Jews and to label the milk they produced, ‘chalav akum’ which is non-kosher milk produced by gentiles. But, with regard to a secular Jew who felt that religion was a relic of the past, yet wanted to contribute to the Jewish People in a different way – according to Rabbi Kook, that person was someone we can love and even learn from by separating the kernels of truth from the chaff.”
Rabbi Avraham Blass is Director of the Jerusalem Talmud Institute. “The main question is who stands at the center of the world – Am Yisrael, the Children of Hashem, or the individual man? The unity of the Nation of Israel can come to pass only with the understanding that the Jewish People have a united mission – Tikun Olam, the rectification of the world according to the Torah. Once this is established, then every group has its unique place in the overall mission of the Nation. In the mosaic of Torah, there is a place for religious beliefs, nationalism, universalism, and Humanism. Once people agree that the Torah is our common foundation, then even people weak in religious observance are partners in our national cosmic endeavor.
"However, the minute the individual takes center stage, and the Torah becomes mere stage decoration, with the conscious goal of minimizing its rightful commanding place, not out of personal passions, but as a public agenda, then this negates one’s partnership in the overall Jewish enterprise and such people forfeit their place in the Sukkah until they alter their ways."
Rabbi Menachem Perl heads the Zomet Institute for Technology and Halakhah. He explains: “The differences of beliefs stem from a shared inner, universal will to worship Hashem. People who lack Torah in their lives choose the path which feels most right for them. The same is true of nations. Most nations are an aggregate of people who are motivated by self-interest and who come together for reasons of security, economic benefit, and the like. In Am Yisrael, however, the connection between people is on a much deeper level, stemming from our sharing the same holy, Divine, national soul of Clal Yisrael, which the Jewish People received at Mount Sinai. We can be scattered, but we cannot be destroyed.
"No other exiled nation returned to its Homeland after 2000 years. Therefore, it is fitting that Am Yisrael sit in one Sukkah, on the basis of our being ‘one Nation in the Land’ with one Divine Torah, serving One G-d. This inner unity is not disrupted should an individual stray after his private yetzer hara, or if, like the early Zionist pioneers, they reject the practice of Judaism but still participate in the rebuilding of the Nation and the revival of the Land, two all-encompassing national mitzvot. But if someone, or a group, states from the outset that they reject the Torah, and strive to change it, then they separate themselves from the very source of our unity, and to the extent that they distance themselves from the Torah, they severe themselves from the Nation, may the Almighty protect us from their evil counsel.”
Rabbi Ouri Cherky, a popular author and lecturer in the Religious Zionist community, is one of the founders of the Torah outreach organization “Rosh Yehudi” and the “Brit Olam Noahide World Center” which aims to raise awareness of the Seven Laws of Noah throughout the world. He explained: “The true test of unity is the ability to sit with someone who does not agree with your opinion or belief. If the condition for sitting together is that the same belief will be agreed upon, this is not unity but forced similarity, the totalitarian demand to stand by the same regime, similar to the plan of the Generation of the Dispersion in building the Tower of Babel. When there is true unity, differences of opinion remain in all of their force. It is precisely through sitting together that arguments can be resolved and decided in favor of the truth.”
Sivan Rahav Meir is a popular Israeli journalist and TV anchorwoman.
“I am not an expert on unity, or a Torah scholar, but as an ordinary person, it seems to me that the unity that is described in our traditional sources usually revolves around the Torah. We received our national identity at Mount Sinai, twelve different tribes, possessing different attributes and talents, but all surrounding the same Torah. Even the Four Sons of the Haggadah all sit at the same Pesach Seder. One again, everyone’s identity derives through the connection to tradition, Judaism, and Jewish Law, whether near or far. In synagogues around the globe, Jewish worshippers of all shapes and sizes find their place around the foundations of Jewish tradition and the Ark containing the Torah.
"In this manner, the common denominator is protected and continues to endure. We also see this in wondrous fashion at the Kotel, during Selichot and the Priestly Blessing. Hundreds of thousands of Jews gather from all walks of life, one different from the next, but all focused around one central landmark of Jewish faith. So too, though we are brothers and sisters of Jews who adhere to totally different beliefs than we do, and though we sincerely respect them as a part of the Tribe, Jewish Law is not some side matter, insignificant to the greater ideal of Unity, rather, Jewish Law is, in and of itself, the very bonfire around which the Jewish People have huddled together for thousands of years.”
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim in the Old City, and author of some 150 books, replied with a smile, “You have described our movement, the ‘Unity Movement.’ It is both new and old. The more people we succeed in attracting to the movement, the greater blessing will result, and a real revolution will follow. However, there are conditions to joining our movement – you have to be filled with faith in the essential holiness of Am Yisrael; filled with great Ahavat Yisrael; impervious to despair; and not closed to horizons you don’t yet see.
"We should have started this movement long ago, but we were afraid, in vain, for this is the movement we all have been waiting for, a movement of unity which transcends the bogged highways of politics, media falsehood, protest demonstrations, spoken threats, mass phobias and fears. It is a movement ‘in favor of’ and not ‘against.’ More than anything else, in favor of the unity of the Nation, where there are no winners and losers, but only winners. A movement from house to house, and from heart to heart.”
Rabbi Haim Drukman, of blessed memory, former Head of Bnei Akiva Yeshivot in Israel and the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva, once told me: “Am Yisrael must be a united Nation, and they can be a united Nation, even if there are harsh differences of opinion. Like a family unit, Am Yisrael is one family. I am acquainted with families in which brothers hold to different beliefs and lifestyles, yet the unity and love in the family is preserved. This is the way it should be with Am Yisrael as well.
"Every segment of the Nation wants what is best for the Nation, according to their understanding. For example, in my opinion most of the Jews who belong to what’s called the Reform Movement want to remain a part of the Jewish Nation. They too want to get closer to Hashem, albeit in a tragically mistaken way. We don’t agree with them, but they are still our brothers. The far more serious problem is the minority who make an agenda out of their beliefs and purposefully fight to impose their philosophies upon others.
"In the State of Israel, Baruch Hashem, the Reform Movement has almost no impact. Granted, in other places, in America, for example, the situation is a disaster. But even with these terrible misguided souls, they are still our brothers. The solution is not to kick them out of the house and close the door behind them. We must keep the door open and talk whenever we can, sit together as one, and explain to them the truth of the Torah, over and over again, with great patience, just like Hashem has been patient with us for thousands of years, no matter how many times we rebelled, no matter how far away we strayed. Bezrat Hashem, all of us shall return.”
In summary, when I asked Harav Yisrael Israeli, of blessed memory, a former head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he answered, “Leave something for Mashiach to do.”