When Henry Kissinger became secretary of state, Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel, wrote him a congratulatory letter, expressing hope for a solid relationship between the two countries. Suspecting she might think he would let his Jewish background increase his sympathy for the Jewish State, he quickly wrote to remind her that he was “first American, then Secretary of State, and last of all a Jew.” Golda Meir shot back an answer, reminding him that in Israel they always read from right to left.
Cute story, but isn’t it incredible that in so many aspects of our lives just a little adjustment of perspective can go a long way to make a major change in how we see ourselves and the world around us?
Look at the world. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the diversity of values people espouse to the point of it appearing that they are totally incompatible. We wonder how we can create oneness and unity out of such chaos and separation. We easily assume that aspects of the world we live in are irreconcilable and that people of different viewpoints are inherently apart.
Our sages teach, “Just like their faces are not the same, so their opinions are not the same.” Just as every human being has the right to a unique face, and nobody complains about that right, so it is that we all have a right to different opinions.
This is the “beis” view of life, after the first letter of the word Bereishis. This second letter of the Hebrew alphabet (with a numerical value of two) is the first in the Torah, but represents the creation of a world of duality.
Then there is the “alef” view, that the universe, with all its complexities, is really part of a total unity, created by a Power of One. The alef is the first letter of the alphabet (with a numerical value of one, representing G-d and Oneness). It is also the first letter of “Anochi,” the first word of the Ten Commandments.
An easy example of the alef view at work would be a quick look at the human body beneath the surface level. The body is a complicated composite of millions of cells, electrical conduits, organs, bones, water, minerals, and miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries. However, as much as we learn about the body and its incredible complexities, we still look at a person and refer to him as one body, not the parts that make up the whole.
The Torah states that man was created in the image of G-d, and the sages comment that our total makeup is really a “small world” that is reflective of the “big world” — the universe we live in. With both “worlds,” the more we look beneath the surface, the more we see both complexity and unity.
But even as we understand the inherent oneness of nature, we are still overwhelmed at times with the great lack of oneness amongst human beings. How do we bring unity into a realm that appears so disparate? The obvious question that jumps out at us is: “Why?” Why is there so much diversity amongst people? Why did Hashem create the world so that left and right, good and evil, light and darkness can sometimes be so extreme? Why is it sometimes easier to hate than to love, to destroy than to build, to not believe than to believe? Why is it so difficult to see this unity?
The Chassidic Masters explain that the word for “world” (olam) has the same root in Hebrew as the word for “hiddenness” (helem). G-d created the world deliberately in such a way that the truth of this inherent unity would be well-hidden in order that we should choose to look beneath the surface and find the unity on our own. This unity is found in the spark of G-d in each person, the soul of their being. If this unity were easily apparent, we would not have free choice and our accomplishments would be minimized.
G-d gave human beings the challenge, and the basic tools, to bring this unity closer to the surface. This role makes us “partners” with the Creator in the process of uniting the spiritual realm, a place of unity, with the physical realm, a place of apparent diversity, in order to show the inherent Oneness of both. Our challenge is simply to see how we can bring that inherent oneness that is part and parcel of the universe’s makeup closer to the surface.
In other words, we are meant to bring the alef into the beis. Every time we do a mitzvah, or a good deed, every opportunity we use to choose light over darkness or create peace between opposing forces, we are creating a greater level of Oneness.
The goal is to work towards a world in which oneness and unity will be a reality, when the alef and the beis will be united, and we will not have even a thought that diversity could in any way be a cause of conflict. “On that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.”
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, “Eight Paths Of Purpose” is available at Amazon.com. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.orgor Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.