Beshalach - The Heart of the Matter
by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
When Pharaoh was giving chase to the Children of Israel the verse uses a
singular verb to describe the traveling of the Egyptians. This seems to
imply that they were somehow unified in their journey. Rashi apparently
lends credence to this approach by describing that they were at that time
"with one heart, as one man."
Strangely, Rashi uses a similar expression when the verse uses a singular
verb to describe the camping of the Nation of Israel opposite Mount Sinai
to receive the Torah. There Rashi says they were "as one man, with one
heart". What is the implied difference in these nearly identical statements?
The Mishnah at the end of Tractate Sota offers a portrait of the world just
prior to the entry of the final glorious chapter of human history. One of
the ideas expressed is that "truth will evaporate". The phrase used to
express "evaporate" is a word that refers to flocks. The Talmud is
therefore explaining the meaning of the Mishnah as such: "truth will go off
in flocks, namely, groups and groups". What does this mean?
Perhaps we can take a simple look at the world around us and ask where is
the concept of truth held in high esteem? The process of government is
based on public opinion. Small interest groups compete for attention and
votes. The need for big money to survive the campaign trail erodes the
fairness of the process. Truth seems to be up for a vote, though would
never rely on such a process for making medical decisions or deciding the
laws of physics.
In a world absent of a reliable moral compass, strange compromises and
coalitions unite to meet common political ends. When certain groups get
together it is even heralded as some new watershed of human progress on the
road to peace. What in fact happens to principles in a world of political
expedience? The truth evaporates.
Rashi, with one swipe of the pen, hints to us a subtle distinction between
the ambition and unity of Pharaoh and his legions to reach The Children of
Israel by the sea and the quality of unity experienced by the Nation of
Israel as they camped by Mount Sinai.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner in one of his essays about Pesach explains that
Pharaoh's army was a coalition of component parts unified by a common goal.
They were motivated by the desire to retrieve the monies and riches which
were escaping in the rightful possession of the Jews. Wanting it for
themselves. That was what united them. They tolerated each other. They even
cooperated as a powerful team. Even as they functioned as a single unit,
each one had his separated desires for the spoils. The prime principal was
not unity. They happened to share an overlapping interest.
In such cases, when the goal is achieved or the common enemy is vanquished,
we can expect the force of entropy to dominate the social structure. To be
"with one heart as one man" means not to really be one, but to function
temporarily as a single unit.
On the other side, to be "like one man with one heart" is the picture of an
organically unified group which is essentially one as a familial unit.
There, next to Sinai the hearts of the Jews merged. They were focused
singularly on the highest common denominator. It was _true_ unity based on
eternal principles which united them. It was and is, an unbreakable bond.
The Jewish People have experienced the force of thousands of years of
exile, dispersed and separate. The pressure of powerful cultural forces may
have eroded but have not really dented the essential oneness established so
long ago. The Jews are like one person, albeit fractured and disturbed as
even an individual can be. Unity must continue to be the goal. Not through
the force of "groups and groups" but rather, only through connecting to the
flow of wisdom from the highest source can a single heart be forged.
We would like to thank Rabbi Label Lam for contributing this week's Davar
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.