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Friday, 8 September, 2017 - 9:00 am

A little girl asked her mother for $2 to give to an old woman in the park. Her mother was touched by the child's kindness. "Here you are, sweetie," said the mom. "I guess she is too old to work?"

"Oh no," came the reply. "She sells ice cream."

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, opens with a discussion of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, the First Fruits. Upon the ripening of the first fruits of the season (any of the seven species associated with the Land of Israel), a farmer would fill a basket with the ripened fruits and bring it to the Temple in Jerusalem, and offer it as a gift to the Kohen, to declare thanks to G-d for the goodness He bestowed upon the farmer.

This Shabbat, when we read about the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, coincides with the 18th day of Elul, the birthday of two of the greatest thinkers and leaders in the history of our people. The 18th of Elul marks the birthdays of the Baal Shem Tov (in 1698), founder of the Chassidic movement, and his spiritual heir, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (in 1745), also known as The First Rebbe, the founder of Chabad.

The theme of Jewish Unity has a prominent place in Judaism. The concept of the interdependence and connectedness of the Jewish people is expressed in the famous adage appearing throughout Jewish thought, and even in Jewish Law: “All of Israel are guarantors for one another.”

This, in turn, has its roots in the Biblical imperative of “Ahavat Israel,” loving one’s fellow as one’s self. These are powerful, beautiful, statements, reminding us of our responsibilities towards our fellow Jews, and urging us to foster deep love and compassion between us all. But, in truth, they seem to set an impossibly high standard. How can I love you as I love myself? Why should I be your guarantor?

It was the Baal Shem Tov and the First Rebbe who presented the magnificent answer. If I really love me, then automatically I really love you, because on a soul level, you and I are one. We share the same soul; only our bodies are divided.

In his book Tanya, the cornerstone of Chabad Chassidic thought, the First Rebbe explains that since the Jewish soul is part of G-d, therefore, by dint of that common soul-source, every Jewish person is essentially one. According to this, every single Jew forms one cohesive spiritual identity. The truest, deepest, and most essential aspects of our identities are deeply connected. Everything else—the superficial aspects of our personalities, our bodies, lifestyles, ideologies, our countries—the things that separate us—are just the clothing we wear. 

This earth-shattering idea is one of the central tenets of Chassidic thought. This understanding of our profound unity is essential to an understanding of our own nature. Therefore, the principles of Ahavat Israel leap off every page of Chassidic literature. The Baal Shem Tov and First Rebbe personified these values in the purest way, and their stories, songs, and teachings are steeped in love of their fellow man.

If I only love my external self, my body, my garments, my job, my home, my car, my watch, my iPhone, then I look at you as a stranger. But when I fall in love with my deepest I, with my soul, with the Divine light within me, then naturally I love and cherish you too, because our soul is one. We have one large soul that has been dispersed in distinct bodies and countries.

Since Jewish unity is rooted in the fact that all our souls are part of one G-d, it follows that by extension, the entire world is one. The more we relate to our common source in one G-d, the more we can appreciate the true underlying unity of all humanity, and of the entire universe. When we declare G-d is one, we are not only talking of G-d. We are talking of each other, of our entire planet. If G-d is one, and we all come from Him, then WE are one.

As the world becomes increasingly globalized, this interconnectedness has become even clearer. While in years past, the United States may have been well insulated from economic turmoil in Europe, recently we have seen uncertainty in the Eurozone play out on Wall Street. The Global Financial Crisis may have had its roots in some bad American mortgages, but its effects shook the entire world. Despite the cool ties between the US and China, both powers understand that their economies are so deeply intertwined that if one suffers, then the other inevitably will, too. Each needs the other: Your success is my success, and your failure is my failure.

A man bought a ticket to ride on a large ferry. As he approached the boarding area, he was disappointed to find that his seat was located far away from any of the windows, and try as he might, he could barely catch a glimpse of the water.

“I only got a ticket so I could see the water,” he told himself angrily. Frustrated, he decided to go with the obvious option, and began banging away at the floor of the boat in order to drill a hole so he could see some of that lovely blue water. The alarmed sailors quickly stopped and seized the man, and hauled him before the captain, reporting exactly what the passenger had done.

“What in the blazes do you think you were doing?” demanded the furious captain.

“I was just trying to make a hole under my seat,” said the man, “after all, I paid for that seat with my own money. I should be able do whatever I want with it!”

“You fool,” said the captain. “If you make a hole in the ship, we will ALL sink.”

No, we can never be blind to the challenges and travesties that occur around us, or anywhere in the world. Remember, if you lose I lose. For me to win, I need you to win.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky



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