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Shabbat Noach 5778 – ‘The Human Gift for Unity’

10/30/2017 04:54:22 PM

Oct30

Shabbat Noach 5778 – ‘The Human Gift for Unity’

 

Hineh ma tovu u manim shevet achim gam yachad

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sit together in unity.

 

It is amazing what human beings can accomplish when they work together.

 

I can remember the first times, even as a child, that we had to do group work. There was always one person who ended up doing more, usually me. However, there was also the experience of bringing a diversity of people together and their skills. One person does the work. The other provides the humor. The third has their parents do research. The fourth makes the cookies. However, together it creates something special, a better presentation that one person can manage on their own.

 

 At times, it can go even beyond that, to a synchronicity where we truly become more than the sum of our parts. It is what every team, manager, coach aims for. The feeling of people working together seamlessly towards a goal, with a shared purpose, even a shared mind. In the best teams, you do not even have to finish the sentences of your colleagues. You are all working together in harmony to accomplish your goal. Almost as different components of the same machine or body. It can even feel as if you are losing a part of yourself in the moment, so that you can be working with the others.

 

In my mind, I have the image, of the Amish, or even on a Kibbutz, of barn raising, working together on a house in the community together. Doing a mitzvah for one of the families. Completing a home in a much shorter time because everybody comes together to give of their time and expertise.

 

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sit together in unity.

 

That is where you get the strange phenomenon of work places spouses. People who know a side of you so well, they are almost like your spouse. Usually, you real spouse is happy there is somebody else you can talk to and irritate.

 

Nevertheless, it is a profound part of being a human being. Our ability to fuse ourselves in pursuit of a goal.

 

As we see in our parashah this week, Noach, a portion that comes at the beginning of the Torah, in our prehistory, as the book of Genesis teaches us about human nature and its complexities.

 

After the flood and Noah, God promises never to destroy humanity again, and Noah and his family begin to spread and repopulate humanity. As the Torah says, from these, the nations branched out over the earth. Soon great cities and civilizations are created.

 

And then we have the story of the tower of Babel.

 

The Torah states, everyone on earth had the same language and the same words.

 

The Midrash explains that the people had a natural unity, a gift from God. They imagine that with this unity of purpose and of thought, they could have built anything. They could have built the Temple in Jerusalem, the most beautiful structure of history, which was a dwelling place for the Divine, a meeting place for God and humanity.

 

They had, even in that ancient prehistory, the means and the power, because of their unity to accomplish that.

 

But instead of building the Temple, the people used their unity to attempt to build the tower of Babel. Moreover, the Torah uses the story to reveal to us the other side of our ability to unite and work together.

 

The tower of Babel was a tower to challenge God, to dominate other peoples. Ultimately, God is forced to take away their natural unity and confuse their languages. To make unity harder to achieve.

Because as much as we know the power of unity to do wonders, we also know its dangers.

 

 Our ability to work as one has led to some of the worst evils of history.

 

When people come together, they can lose themselves and their values among the crowd mentality.

 

Negative emotions and ideas are reinforced and gather intensity and power.

 

Suddenly sides to people that we had never seen or imagined can come out and become the norm.

 

People fall into behaviors.

 

Instead of expressing their individualism and their own thoughts, they speak one language, the same language and the same words.

 

It is only after disaster has struck that they wake up from their spell:

 

 ‘How could we have done that? We didn’t really think that. Somehow we allowed ourselves to walk down a path that was not ours.’

 

You see it happening in the events of history and you see it happening in daily life. How people are treated in a workplace, in the schoolyard. We have all seen how children can fall into group thinking and cause each other pain.

 

The message of the Torah is that the ability to work together is a Divine gift and it is a profound part of being human, but it is also dangerous and can lead entire groups to disaster. God has to destroy the generation of Noah.

The Torah’s contemplation on unity comes to completion later, in the book of Exodus, where it demonstrates what unity should look like.

 

After leaving Egypt, all of the children of Israel, arrive at Mount Sinai to meet the God who freed them from their slave masters.

 

 The Torah says, veyechen, and he encamped. The commentators ask why is it in the singular? Shouldn’t it be they encamped? They answer: because they all were united together. As Rashi says, they were am echad belev echad, they were one people with one heart.

 

Despite their frustrations and disagreements among each other. Eating of the mana every day. Travelling through the wilderness. Jealous of this one for being favored by Moses and God while this one was not. Not knowing what the future would look like. Yearning for the normalcy of their old lives. – They were united, with one heart.

 

 In the moment they encamped, they were able to put it all side, and they felt the anticipation of what was about to happen. They were to meet the God of their ancestors. They were to be gifted a new purpose and mission in the world. Life would never be the same. Excitement, joy, and love spread throughout the camp, from heart to heart, until they were of one heart. One mind. They were ready.

 When God presented them – through Moses - His offer that they become His treasured people, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, they said, ha am yachdav, the people together as one, yes.

 

 We will do and we will understand.

 

 They spoke with the same language, the same words, not under a spell, but with clarity and purpose. With self-understanding and vision.

 

 It is the Torah’s lesson.

 

About the power of our ability to come together, how it can change the world, enable us to reach the heavens, or drag us down into the lowest hell.

 

 It is up to us – as humans – to learn how to wield this divine gift. As a positive force that flows from our hearts to unite with others, and never letting our minds be mesmerized by the negative words and emotions that can lead us to disaster.

 

Shabbat shalom

 

 

 

Mon, February 18 2019 13 Adar I 5779