As We Start a New Year, We Must Strive for Unity
The Times of Israel recently reported that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that “Israel will not survive the next 25 years.” Just hours later, that same paper posted the Israeli Prime Minister’s response to Khamenei’s statement: “‘Tyrant’ Khamenei is wrong, Israel is here to stay.” Mr. Netanyahu stated that “Israel is a strong country and it will become even stronger.”
The beginning of a new Hebrew year is a great time for reflection on what constitutes our national strength. Throughout history, Israel’s greatest victories came when we were grossly outnumbered and under-equipped. So how did we win? Was it the fighting spirit? As an Israeli, I can testify that Israelis — unlike how we are portrayed in the media — are not bloodthirsty. It is simply not in our DNA. But we won nonetheless, since we united around a common goal.
That is, our advantage was not our tenacity, but our unity. It was unity that gave us the strength to be tenacious, as well as many other things required to win a war when the odds are strongly against you. These days we are complacent and take the existence of Israel for granted. As a result, we are retreating from our unity, thereby diminishing our strength.
There should be no mistake about it: Iran’s war against Israel is not a physical one; it is a spiritual war — a war over the spirit of unity. If we can muster the strength to unite, we will not be defeated by anyone. We will not even be threatened.
The most impactful law our nation has ever engendered and implemented is “love your neighbor as yourself.” This law is fundamental not only in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (with obvious variations), but is at the heart of all Western thought. In a sense, this tenet is the “ideological progenitor” of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Humanism and of all schools of thought that put the rights of society ahead of the rights of the tyrant.
Unity means power, and tapping into that power was the genius of Abraham, Moses and all our spiritual leaders over the generations. They taught us how to transcend our self-centered selves and unite. This is also why our sages have mourned the ruin of the Temple since its destruction, saying that we lost it only due to unfounded hatred.
What it boils down to it is this: Unity unleashes a power that individuals cannot tap into when they are separated. This is why we feel so good when we unite. The problem is that we unite only when a common enemy threatens us. At that time, we instinctively, by reflex, turn to our unique weapon — unity.
If we can turn unity into a conscious process, we will not need foreboding reminders to direct us toward it. Instead, the nations will come to learn how to tap into this power themselves, because deep down everyone knows that unity is the missing element in our world today.
Today, alienation, fear, suspicion and mistrust reign high and mighty. The only antidote to all of them is unity. When all of humanity can function like a single organism, there will be plenty for everyone. There is more food and natural resources than are required to sustain twice the size of today’s global population. But when we engage in power struggles, everyone loses and people go hungry and die in wars.
The “light unto the nations” that the Jewish people can and should bring is the light of unity. We conceived this tenet, practiced it in our past and spread it throughout the world. Now the world expects us to demonstrate how to implement it. Just as we unite instinctively when we are threatened because we feel that here lies our strength, the world instinctively feels that we are weak when we are separated.
Unity is the only “export” that nations want from us. This is why they adopted this motto unreservedly. Now we have to make it the actual reality of our lives, not just for ourselves, but first and foremost for the rest of the world, and thus become “a light (of unity) unto the nations.”
Rosh Hashanah implies rosh hashinui (Hebrew: the beginning of change). With all that is occurring in the international arena, we see that change is already happening. But we can decide where we want to take that change. If we remain divided and at odds, it will continue on its current course. If we reverse our attitude towards one another and develop mutual responsibility and care, and spread them to the world, a new reality will unfold before us — one of trust, friendship and mutual support.