A Tale of Two Unities

February 12, 2017 at 2:00 AM , , ,

“…And there Yisrael encamped opposite the mountain…” – Shemos 19:2

וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר  – שמות יט, ב

Bnei Yisrael’s encampment opposite Mount Sinai is described by the Torah using the singular verb form וַיִּחַן, meaning, “and he encamped.” Rashi explains that the singular form used here denotes that Bnei Yisrael camped at Sinai “as one man, with one heart,” harmoniously readying themselves to receive the Torah.

Rashi offers a similar explanation on the verse “And behold, Egypt was advancing behind them” (Shemos 14:10), where the Torah uses the singular verb form נֹסֵעַ to describe the thousands of Egyptians who pursued Bnei Yisrael after they left Egypt. There too, Rashi explains that the Egyptians were unified—“with one heart, as one man,”—in their pursuit of Bnei Yisrael. There is, however, a noticeable difference between Rashi’s explanations in these two places. Regarding the Egyptians, Rashi says that they were “with one heart, as one,” whereas regarding Bnei Yisrael, Rashi reverses the order, saying, they were “as one man, with one heart.”

This distinction draws attention to a significant difference between these two unities.

mount sini

The people of Egypt were obviously a diverse group, as the Torah itself distinguishes between the average Egyptians and the sorcerers, and between “those who feared the word of G-d” (Shemos 9:20) and those who did not. They were unified, however, in their hatred of Bnei Yisrael (see Rashi on 14:7). Their mutual feeling of animosity toward Bnei Yisrael, “with one heart,” led to their unified and uniform actions, “as one man,” against Bnei Yisrael.

Bnei Yisrael’s unity in their preparation for the Giving of the Torah, on the other hand, was not merely a uniform reaction to a common feeling they all shared. Rather, their common feelings were due to an even deeper unity, an inherent unity that is part of our very identity as Jews. This essential Jewish oneness is what caused all Bnei Yisrael to share equal feelings of anticipation and desire to receive the Torah, despite their individual differences.

In other words, because all Bnei Yisrael are essentially “like one man,” they therefore shared a common yearning and anticipation at Sinai—“with one heart”—to receive the Torah.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 21, pp. 102-104


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