Nitzavim – Finding Unity

 

By Rabbi Mendy Wolf

 

You know those fantastic stories about ancient monarchs and their outrageous whims? Well, one such character decided that he had to have a glass of milk – but not just any milk. The king had a craving for the milk of a lioness.

So he called upon his main servant and gave him the order. The servant’s surprise was surpassed only by his fright. How would he get close enough to a lioness to milk her, and still come back alive?

To make a long story short, the servant trapped the beast, and, using a long tool, procured his prize. As he triumphantly headed home, the man’s various limbs and organs each began claiming credit for his success, vying for the honorary title of Most Important Part of the Body. Said the brain: “It was my wisdom that got you the milk.” The legs countered, “You would have gotten nowhere without us.”

And so it went, until the mouth declared, “All of you are worthless. I am the most important here.” To the fierce opposition of the others, the mouth insisted, “Just wait and see.”

Sure enough, when the big moment arrived and the servant proudly presented his treasure to the king, the mouth messed everything up. “Here, your majesty,” the man heard himself say, “I have brought you dog’s milk.”

The servant was promptly thrown into prison, and he would have languished there forever, had his wonderful mouth not come to his aid and placated the king with a sincere apology and insistence that indeed, it had been the lioness’s milk after all.

In this week’s Parsha, Moses addresses all the Jewish people as one: “You stand here today… your leaders, your elders… your wood-choppers and your water-carriers.” A powerful lesson in unity, indeed, but isn’t it a bit much to equate the water-carrier with the elder? What about the quality, experience, and virtue of the leader; is he, in fact, no different than the layman?

He is different, greater even, and nothing can take that away. But the Torah is teaching us that no matter how superior the head is, every other limb of the body is equally significant in that it fills a unique role. Some positions may be more powerful and prestigious, but ultimately, every individual is needed, his personal contribution vital to the success of the whole. Sometimes, the mouth can do what the brain cannot.

This message, important as it is, may often be obscured by the circumstances of daily living. In our competitive, dog-eat-dog society, people judge themselves vis-à-vis others and strive to be the top – the wealthiest, most famous, most influential etc. We ask ourselves, “How can I be the leader, the elder?” We categorize others and build walls.

On one day of the year, Rosh Hashana, the labels that divide us fall away. Crowded into the synagogue on this Holy Day, we feel an innate sense of brotherhood and kinship with the Jew in adjacent seat, whoever he may be. We are all praying to the same G-d. We are one people.

Rosh Hashana literally means, “Head of the Year.” As such, the feeling of unity on this day can be compared to the clear realization of how connected all parts of the body are. Although it may not be noticeable on the surface, this fact becomes obvious upon examination of the head – the brain.

But clarity doesn’t have to fade. This Rosh Hashana, take a good look around you. See the bond that unites every Jew, and let its power penetrate your being. And when you leave the synagogue to start a new year, don’t leave the clarity behind. You’ve seen the truth, so apparent in the “head”, and that’s the real thing. Take it with you.

 

Rabbi Mendy Wolf is the educational director for the Institute of American & Talmudic Law, and the director for Project Life, an organization which promotes Jewish values throughout the business community in NYC. R’ Mendy is a sought after teacher and lecturer and resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and family. Contact Rabbi Mendy to book him to speak or with feedback at mwolf@iatlaw.org.

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