A few weeks ago, we celebrated the festival of Sukkot.
Sukkot and the last day of the holiday, called Simchat Torah, are truly festive occasions, during Simchat Torah the Shul’s are full, sweets are abundant, there is dancing, singing, rather a lot of alcohol drunk and in most instances the heartfelt love of our religion is experienced.
There is a custom for people to give out treats to the children, and whilst I do not know where this originated from, it is, according to all children, one of the most enjoyable and fun days. (Although by the end we mothers are fretting and begging our children to trade the sweets for a gift…. dentist fees here we come)
Over the weeklong holiday it is customary for synagogues to have something called a Simchat Beit Hashoevah, the men (and in some synagogues the women) come together and celebrate with dancing and singing, which can go on till the early hours of the morning
Sadly, I do not make it to Shul most Shabbat mornings, usually I am still fast asleep or lying-in bed berating myself for not going, but festivals are a time to be in the synagogue, especially ones such as Simchat Beit Hashoevah.
Standing upstairs, we have a lovely view of the dancing and rejoicing happening, a friend and I chatting happened to glance down and there it was, true Achdut.
4 men, each following a different path to Judaism, hand in hand, together, rejoicing and dancing.
4 Different yarmulkes, each representing the way he chooses to serve God. One in a Strimel, one in a suede yarmulke, one in a Kippa Seruga and one in a black velvet yarmulke. I pointed this out to my friend and we both looked on in silence for a few minutes.
Achdut is a goal. It is an intrinsic part of Judaism, the value of unity is undeniable.
Unity is not uniformity, we do not need to all look the same, dress the same, work in the same industries, send to the same schools or attend the same synagogues. When we talk about Achdut, we are speaking about living together in harmony, each of us with diverse interests and ideals, coming together to respect and cherish the other as another of God’s creations.
In fact, Achdut goes further. We could call it “The brotherhood of man”. There are different stages of knowing another. Some people we are acquainted with, we may know their family, live in the same street or area, work in the same building or send our children the same schools. The next level is friendship, which has so many different aspects and degrees, and if we know someone really really well, we then consider that person a brother. This is the highest point of knowing. Brotherhood.
Biologically this is incorrect, a brother is not necessarily someone with whom you share interests or goals, in fact it can be you have polar opposite views; however, brotherhood transcends any of these feelings, it is something that people share no matter their feelings or friendship with the other. It is a binding, lifelong connection that cannot be undone.
Brotherhood can be seen in many everyday experiences, for example, a sports team often will feel as their fellow teammates are brothers, a club or a class may also become a brotherhood.
We tend to look at others (something I have unfortunately been doing a lot this week) and loose our connection to brotherhood when we focus on external. The way a person looks or dresses, the size of their home or the accolades and letters after their names.
If we could all look away from those things that disconnect us. hold hands with our brother, no matter what yarmulka he is wearing on his head, how awe inspiring would the world we live in be?
A story is told of Moshiach( I do not know if it is a true story, but it is a nice story… and that’s what matters!) who approached God, “God” he begged ” your children have suffered for so long, they are crying out for salvation, please it is time ” God replied, telling Moshiach to spend some time in a certain city. A large city with many synagogues, and then, to come back and tell God if it is really time.
So, Moshiach goes to this city and enters a synagogue, it is a Chassidish Synagogue, and Moshiach is dressed in jeans and a t shirt, with a small yarmulka on his head. A few people glance at this stranger, dressed so unlike them but quickly turn away, no one greets or extends a hand to the stranger in the synagogue. Sadly, Moshiach continues along his way, and enters another synagogue, this time dressed as a religious Jew, with a black hat, and his Tzitzit hanging down by his sides, looking around he sees, the other Shul goers dressed in small kippot, long hair, sweatshirts and casual trousers, again, a few glance at him, but no one stretches out a hand, Moshiach finds himself becoming despondent, he continues along his path, ahead of him shines a beautiful synagogue, the light spreading out in to the night, “surely” he thinks, “such a big beautiful synagogue must be welcoming of all types of people”, Full of hope he enters the majestic doors. Gold and silver decoration and gracefully crafted chairs greet him. Moshiach sees he is in Sephardic clothing, he has darker skin then the other men and holds a different prayer book, no one greets him or offers to assist.
This happens continually, Moshiach goes from Shul to Shul, each time dressed differently, looking incompatible with his surroundings and repeatedly leaves heart broken.
He returns to God, ” I understand now, I see why your people are not ready for me” he sadly says.
Achdut is achievable, it is desirable it is reachable.