Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel
A Middos Workshop: Ahavas Yisroel -- the Oneness of the
Just a few weeks ago, we commemorated a monumental experience
the likes of which never occurred before or since. Three
million people stood at the foot of Har Sinai and heard the
voice of Hashem, an event so astounding that their
neshomos actually left them, and they had to be
revived. The words of the posuk tell us, "Vayichan
shom Yisroel negged hohor." Yisroel encamped there
opposite the mountain. The singular vayichan indicates
the complete unity that Bnei Yisroel displayed, in
contrast to their other travels in which there was fighting.
When Hashem saw their achdus, He said, "Now is the
time to give the Torah!"
When Hashem offered them the Torah, they collectively
responded, "Na'aseh venishma." This was not a pre-
planned event. How could they have all responded with the
exact same words at precisely the same moment? If two
nevi'im come and tell us the same nevuah, we know
they are false prophets, because two people do not say things
exactly the same way. So how could three million people
produce the same words at the same time? What brought them to
this unprecedented unity?
When Amolek attacked the Jewish nation--or rather a segment
of the nation that had been spit out of the protective cloud
because of misbehavior--Moshe Rabbenu told Yehoshua to go
outside of the cloud with him to help fight for those
individuals. When Moshe's hands were raised, the Jews were
successful. When his hands fell, the Jews failed. So Yehoshua
helped Moshe Rabbenu raise his hands.
The mishna in Rosh Hashana asks what power lay
in Moshe's hands. The mishna responds that in fact,
Moshe's hands had no power, but when the Yidden looked up at
the hands, they looked towards the heavens and remembered to
put their trust in Hashem. The whole nation focused on this
war fought for a few individuals. They were meshabeid es
libom le'Avihem shebashomayim -- they subjugated their
hearts to their Father in heaven. This common focus unified
the entire Jewish nation.
Similarly, after Aharon Hacohen passed away, the protective
cloud departed. The Canaanim (actually Amolek) managed to
take a captive, a Canaani maidservant who was in the process
of converting. The Jewish people poured out their hearts in
prayer over this one person. They apparently understood the
importance of the individual and of concern for even one
Another example of this concern for the individual occurred
before matan Torah. Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu to make
a fence to separate the people from the intense
kedushoh of the mountain. Hashem warned Moshe,
Venofal mimenu rov, usually translated as "lest many
fall from it." This translation is not accurate, since
venofal indicates singularity.
Rashi comments that Hashem was worried that one individual
would fall. From here we learn that one person amongst the
Jewish people is a lot. Each person is a whole world. At Har
Sinai, Bnei Yisroel sensed the importance of each
person and this awareness unified them to the point that they
were one man with one heart. Two prophets cannot say the same
words, but one person can. The Bnei Yisroel were
literally one person.
Achdus is the natural state of the Jewish people. If
we do not feel that unity or that care for others, it is only
for one reason: the self. Our absorption with ourselves does
not allow for concern for others.
When I do not give special significance to myself, then I can
consider the significance of others. This self- effacement
allows me to notice the unique qualities of others. Chazal
tell us that just as no two people have the same faces,
likewise their characters differ. The less we are concerned
with preserving our self-image, the more we can focus on
others. The barrier between others and myself is, in fact,
When the Jewish people camped at Har Sinai as one unit, they
checked to see if others needed help pitching their tents
before they pitched their own. Previously, they had
prioritized their own needs. But their new awareness of the
importance of others allowed them to take note of the needs
We have countless opportunities to focus on the needs of
others, whether it is as we walk down the street and see
someone carrying heavy packages, or have a new neighbor who
moved into the building. Burdened mothers with strollers
coming off of buses, a small child waiting shyly for someone
to help him cross the street, or a single friend who needs
Shabbos invitations. If we keep our eyes open, we will notice
numerous people in need of help.
In Shaar Hachessed, Rabbeinu Yonah says, "Acts of
kindness--relating to ourselves or to our resources-- are
obligatory, because one's life is for exerting effort for the
good of his nation and others, whether rich or poor, for
their betterment." He points to the posuk, "What does
Hashem ask of you but to do justice, and love chesed .
. . " (Devorim 10:12)
Daily conversation presents a tremendous opportunity for
chesed. How often do we ask a friend how he is and not
actually listen to the answer? When we speak to others, are
we doing so for their sake or for ours? One way of testing
this out is to note whether or not we allow the other to
speak. We should tune into what others are telling us. If
they reply to the question, "How are you?" with "OK," we
should wonder why just "OK"? And we can share their
Once, Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was observing two
drunkards. One asked the other, "Do you love me?" The friend
replied, "Yes." The first one asked, "If you love me, tell me
what is bothering me." His friend said he did not know. The
first one retorted, "So you do not really love me."
True love requires sincere interest in the other's well-
being. If we really cared about others, we would know their
A new family once moved into a certain community. A community
member, Mr. Stein, discovered this new family two days before
Sukkos. When Mr. Stein asked if they needed any help, they
said that they were fine. But Mr. Stein did not leave it at
that and soon found out that they had no sukkah, that
the wood had been ruined when their basement was flooded. Mr.
Stein got to work and built them a sukkah finishing
only ten minutes before candlelighting. This is ahavas
Kol Yisroel areivim zeh bozeh. The entire Jewish
people is responsible for one another. What does
"responsible" mean, and how far does it reach?
The word for "responsible" is areiv, which literally
means a guarantor. When someone takes out a loan, he must
have a guarantor, a co-signer. In case the borrower does not
repay the loan, the guarantor must.
Once, a wealthy man signed for a large loan of an
acquaintance. When the time of payment arrived and the
borrower did not appear, the guarantor had to pay it. From
that point, he refused to guarantee a loan unless he was
prepared to cover for it, in full. Although people often co-
sign for loans, they generally do not contemplate the
enormous responsibility. But this is what an areiv is.
He actually takes the place of the borrower when
And this is the extent of the feeling of responsibility we
should have for one another. I am held responsible for what
you do, as if I did it myself.
The obligation to rebuke falls into this category. Chazal
tell us that whoever could have protested and did not is
charged with that sin.
The Tomar Devorah asks how we can be held responsible
for our friend's actions. He explains that we have a
tremendous misconception of who we really are. The Jewish
people are really one collective entity. We are all segments
of one all-encompassing neshomoh. If one Jew has
committed a sin, the collective entity of Klal Yisroel
has sinned, myself included.
Tomar Devorah continues that we are usually not
responsible for the actions of others, because we could not
prevent them. Although in truth part of our self committed
those offenses, we are not at fault because they were beyond
our control. "However," says Tomar Devorah, "when we
could prevent them, we must do so and cannot claim
In those situations we allowed part of our self to sin and
did not interfere with the offense. Chazal therefore sternly
warn us that if we fail to admonish someone and to prevent
his sin, we are held responsible for it. We cannot absolve
ourselves from someone else's actions because, in truth, part
of our self actually did commit the offense.
When Yaakov Ovinu and his offspring went down to Egypt, the
Torah tells us they were shiv'im nofesh, literally
seventy soul. Why not souls, in plural?
The Chachomim answer that the Jewish people are one soul, in
contrast to non-Jews. Idolatry is rooted in selfishness. An
idol is produced to serve its worshiper. However, the Jewish
people are by definition one soul--one self.
Chazal's classic moshol demonstrates the uniqueness of
this oneness. A man was traveling on a ship with many other
people. He decided to take a drill and bore a hole in the
floor of his cabin. Of course, when he drilled the hole the
entire ship began filling up with water. When the man was
confronted for his dangerous act, he responded that he was
minding his own business and simply drilling in his own
quarters. The lesson is understood--we're all in the same
boat together; one nation with one soul.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that we really are one
neshomoh divided into segments. If we could see beyond
our physical barrier--our body--we would discover that the
root of all our "selves" is one. All our neshomos stem
from one point before branching off into their individual
Since we begin from the same point, we share a fiercely
common bond. Just as one person's body feels the pain of
every limb, so can every Jew sense the pain of his fellow
Jew. If I do not feel it, this indicates that I have placed
barriers between him and me. Unfortunately, sometimes people
choose not to associate with certain acquaintances. This is
as "logical" as one hand choosing not to relate to the other
The sefer Chareidim clarifies how important each
person is in the grand scheme of things. From Hashem's
vantage point, none of us have significance without the
totality, much as body parts are insignificant alone. When
Hashem looks at us, He sees how we fit into the whole and how
we affect it.
When the Jews received the Torah, they were ke'ish echod
beleiv echod. They were not merely beyachad-
together, but echod-one.
Why was it essential for Hashem to share the Torah with a
completely unified nation? Sefer Chareidim explains
that Hashem is one and His Torah is one, therefore it had to
go to one.
Chareidim adds that Hashem only shares his intense
relationship with a collective unity. Being One, Hashem
chooses not to relate to individuals, because they are only
parts of the larger entity, the collective one.
Chareidim continues that we have not merited Moshiach
because we have not yet become a collective unit, Klal
Yisroel. In the Shabbos Mincha service--which
corresponds to the era of Moshiach--we say Atoh Echod
veShimcho Echod umi ke'amcho Yisroel goy echod, You are
One and Your Name is One and who is likened to Yisroel one
nation? When this exile ends, all will recognize Hashem's
Oneness. We can only value this Oneness when we are one.
In response to sinas chinom that stalls Moshiach's
arrival, some well-meaning people promote ahavas
chinom, baseless love.
But unlike hatred, love should have a basis. Ahavas
Yisroel is all about developing our natural appreciation
for our fellow limbs. Why is this so difficult? Because we
tend to focus on one segment and highlight it as more
important than the remainder. With such an outlook, sinas
chinom festers. To combat this tendency, we should look
at others as a part of our neshomoh.
The posuk in Mishlei tells us, "Kemayim ponim el
ponim, ken lev ho'odam el odom." Just as water reflects
the face looking into it, so does a person's heart reflect
the feelings of another. Based on this verse, HaRav Chaim
Volozhiner remarks that if a person is on poor terms with
another and he does not manage to convince the other one to
make up, this indicates that he personally harbors some
hostility in his heart. The other person simply reflects that
inner resentment. If he uproots all negative feelings, the
friend would do likewise.
We counted for forty-nine days, and Shavuos came and went.
From Pesach to Shavuos, we focused on improving our
relationships with others, leading up to the giving of the
Torah which required us to be in a state of national
We now are in the midst of the days of Tammuz and Av, when we
relive the devastation of the Temple's destruction. As we
know, the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless
hatred. If we can carry the lessons of Sefiras HaOmer with
us, perhaps we will merit the building of the third and
permanent Beis Hamikdash bmv'a.
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