ישיבת נחלת יוסף  חוגגת את שחרור החטופים
ישיבת נחלת יוסף חוגגת את שחרור החטופיםצילום: באדיבות המצלם

Rabbi Yonason Johnson is Director of the Maor Centre, Melbourne Australia

This past Motzai Shabbos, we were greeted with the incredible news that four of the Israeli hostages had been freed from captivity in Gaza. After 8 months of pain and suffering, we witnessed a miracle from Hashem, as the holy soldiers of the IDF risked their lives and brought 4 of the hostages back home to safety.

Instinctively, hundreds of Jews from across Melbourne converged near Beit Weizman on Hawthorn Rd to celebrate. They sang and danced in an expression of true joy, thanksgiving and Jewish pride. The lifeguard on the Tel Avvi Beach announced on his microphone, ending with "Am Yisrael Chai" - the people of israel lives! as people cheered and shouted.

They came from all backgrounds and demographics, representing the full spectrum of our community. Young and old, more observant, less observant and non observant. It did not matter. We were united in celebrating the fact that 4 of our brothers and sisters were home.

Scenes such as these were replicated across the world, in Sydney, New York, Europe, Canada and of course the Holy Land.

What was it that drove such an outpouring of emotion? Why were Jews in every corner of the world so elated? We have never met Noa, Almog, Andrei or Shlomi. We do not know them personally and we may have nothing in common with them. Yet we all feel instinctively bound to them, like family. We celebrated their release as if they were our own children or siblings.

In a similar way, Jews around the world felt the pain on Simchas Torah, October 7th, when over 1200 Israelis were barbarically slaughtered and over 200 Israelis were taken captive to Gaza.

They too were people that we had never met and knew nothing about. Many of them, we would have nothing in common with and we might possibly be disapproving of their lifestyles or the fact that they were at a dance party on a Jewish festival. But again, these considerations did not matter. We instinctively and intimately felt the pain and loss.

These responses, in times of tragedy and in moments of joy, stem from the unique and wonderous unity of the Jewish people; a unity and connection that defies logic and cannot be found amongst any people in the world.

It was because of this unity, that Hashem found the Jewish people worthy and deserving of His greatest gift to them and to the world, the Torah.

Bnei Yisrael arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. When the Torah describes how their arrival, it records ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר, “And Yisrael camped there opposite the Mountain”. The commentators note that even though the verse refers to the entire Jewish people which numbered in the millions, the verb “camped” is written in singular form - ויחן, “and he camped”.

From this nuance, the Sages understood that the Torah is teaching us something about how Bnei Yisrael camped.

In that moment, they were כאיש אחד בלב אחד, like one man, with one heart. This teaching, sourced in the Midrash, is recorded by Rashi in his commentary on the Torah.

We find a similar comment on an earlier verse. When the Egyptians pursued the Jewish people as they left Egypt and headed towards the Red Sea, the Torah states וירדוף אחרי בני ישראל, “and he pursued after Bnei Yisrael.” In this instance too, the Torah uses the singular form “and he pursued”, even though it was describing all of the soldiers of Pharaoh’s army.

The Sages comment that in that moment as well, they wereבלב אחד כאיש אחד, with one heart, like one man.

Whilst these explanations of the sages seem the same, there is a fundamental difference between the two. When describing the unity of the Jewish people at Har Sinai, the sages teach that they were firstly כאיש אחד - like one man, and in addition, they were בלב אחד - with one heart. But when describing the unity of the Egyptians, they were firstly בלב אחד -with one heart, and only after, כאיש אחד - like one man.

The heart, the seat of our emotions, represent our desires. Being with one heart means that we share a common desire, pursuit or ambition. In a broader sense, it means that we share similar beliefs, attitudes or lifestyles.

Being one man, means that we are essentially one, just as one person is implicitly whole and one within themselves, due to no other reason than simple, immutable truth. This type of unity is not dependent on or limited by sharing common interests, objectives, ideas or desires.

The Egyptians were not essentially “one man”. They were united in their hearts’ desire to recapture their slaves and reclaim the wealth that Bnei Yisrael had taken with them. Their “one heart” brought them together as “one man”, a unity that was conditioned on their shared agenda.

But the unity of the Jewish people is different. We are first and foremost “one man”. Through our common and shared souls, we are essentially one, sharing a bond that transcends any differences that could separate and divide us. At Matan Torah this oneness also reflected in the one heart, their desire to receive the Torah. But their unity was not because of being of one heart, it was because they were one man.

The Gemara asks what is written in the Tefillin of Hashem, the Master of the World. Our Tefillin contain the passage Shema Yisrael, in which we proclaim the Oneness of Hashem.

Hashem’s Tefillin contain the verse מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ, “who is like Your people Israel, one nation within the world.” The words גוי אחד can also mean a nation that is one and unified. This is the superior quality of the Jewish people that Hashem “adorns” Himself with.

In 1913, in the former Soviet Union, the Jewish people in Kiev were subjected to a blood libel. A Ukrainian boy had been found murdered and a simple Jewish peasant by the name of Mendel Beilis, was arrested and accused of slaughtering the boy for the ritual use of his blood in the Pesach Matzos.

Jews around the world rallied behind Mendel Beilis, anxiously following the case and gathering in prayer on his behalf. Public protests were held across the globe, in Berlin, Chicago, New York and Denver.

Talmudic literature was under scrutiny, as the prosecutors tried to distort the Torah’s teachings to prove that Jews believed that non-Jews were subhuman and inferior. Rabbinic scholars worked together to defend the accused, putting aside any historical differences between the Chassidim and non-Chassidim.

One of the teachings of the Talmud that they presented was the statement “you (the Jewish people) are called Adam whereas the nations of the world are not called Adam.” This teaching applied to the Torah law of impurity imparted by a corpse, that applies only to the body of a Jew but not to that of a non-Jew. The Torah derives this distinction from the Torah’s use of the word Adam. The prosecutors sought to prove that the Jews do not consider the gentiles to be human beings.

The great Jewish scholar, Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin wrote an explanation of this Talmudic passage, which he sent to Rabbi Mazeh, the chief Rabbi Russia, to present at the trial. His answer was based on the Talmudic statement כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה, every Jew is responsible for one another, encapsulating the unique unity of the Jewish people.

To illustrate this point, he wrote “therefore the fate of Mendel Beilis, one single, simple Jew from Russia, touches the entire Jewish people….The Jewish people tremble for his welfare and would do everything in their power to remove the prisoner’s collar from upon him.”

He continued, “How would the non-Jewish world react if one non-Jewish individual had been accused of the same crime and was standing trial in a far away country? No more than his own town would show any interest. Perhaps at most, the people in other parts of his country would criticise the case. But people in other countries? They wouldn’t take any in interest in him at all.”

In Lashon Hakodesh, the holy language, there are different forms of nouns for plural and singular. There are different words that mean man, such as Gever and Ish. Each of these words posses singular form as well as plural form; Gevarim or Anashim. But the word Adam has not plural form.

Rav Meir Shapiro concluded, “This is the difference between the Jews and all other peoples. The Jewish people are considered Adam, describing the oneness and solidarity that they possess. When one Mendel Beilis is standing trial, the entire Jewish people stand united with him. This would not happen with any other nation. They may be described as Anashim, but they cannot be called Adam”.

Ultimately Meir Beilis was miraculously acquitted, despite all of the odds, facing an antisemitic judge in a corrupt and antisemitic land.

The words of the great Rav Meir Shapiro ring so true in our current situation and encapsulate why Jews around the world were so struck and consumed by the deaths and abductions of our fellow Jews on October 7th.

They explain why for 8 months, Jews around the world are praying and saying Tehillim for the hostages and for the brave and holy soldiers. They explain why we passionately follow every piece of news and have flooded social media with calls for their release and to bring them home. They explain why week-in-week-out, we take to the streets to protest and never Chas Veshalom forget them.

And with Rav Meir Shapiro’s words we can understand why Jews around the world went out into the streets last weekend to celebrate, with unbridled joy the redemption of Noa, Amog, Shlomi and Andrei and why we mourned the death of Arnon Zamora who sacrificed his life to save them.

אשרי העם שככה לו, how fortunate we are to belong to such a people. מי כעמך ישראל, look Hashem and see, who is like Your people, a גוי אחד בארץ, a nation united and one.

As we stand on the eve of Shavuos, ready to receive the Torah once more, we too need to prepare ourselves to be worthy of this gift. Like our ancestors at Har Sinai, we need to strengthen our unity, love and oneness for our fellow Jews. We need to see, feel and act as כאיש אחד, as one man, and not let the external differences of our backgrounds, political beliefs, levels of religious observance or community Hashkafa ever separate us.

Hopefully we can be united in "one heart" as well, in the common desire and pursuit of serving Hashem and embracing His Torah. But even if we have not reached this stage, it does not detract from or weaken our essential unity as "one man".

When this war is over and all of the captives are returned immediately and safely, we need to hold onto the unity and oneness that we felt last Shabbat and never let anything make us forget it again.

In the merit of our unity, the source of Hashem’s greatest Nachas from His children, may we merit the culmination of Matan Torah, and an end to all war, suffering and evil, with the coming of Moshiach, when we will return to our Holy Land to live together once more as one people, proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem.