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The Jewish Nation, like a body, has a general form as well as specific component parts.

Individuality and the Collective

Individuality and the Collective

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Individuality and the Collective
The Jewish Nation, like a body, has a general form as well as specific component parts.

Concealed within the most conventional words in the Torah are secrets not only dealing with the hidden spiritual reality, but also the great impact that comes through individual action in the physical world.

Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzera (1807-1880), the most famous of all the Moroccan kabbalists, teaches that the word "Israel" can be read as an acronym for "Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiot LaTorah", meaning, "There are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah". Therefore, Israel did not leave Egypt until there were six hundred thousand of them, in order for each soul to be supported by one letter in the Torah."

In other words, the 600,000 souls from the Nation of Israel present at the giving of the Torah each had a corresponding letter within the 600,000 letters in the Torah.

Every Jew is connected to one of those 600,000 souls that received the Torah….

As we will see, this single concept hints to several other fundamental mystical concepts concerning the Torah's understanding of the individual and the collective.

The first thing to understand is that every Jew is connected to one of those 600,000 souls that received the Torah. It is as if we ourselves stood at Mt Sinai and witnessed G‑d speaking to the Nation of Israel.

The great 17th Century Italian kabbalist Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, known as the Ramchal, explains that Abraham is the root of the Jewish people, and that all 600,000 branches that represent the souls present during the giving of the Torah connect back to him. Indeed, every Jew since is an outgrowth from those branches and is intrinsically connected to the souls that stood at Sinai. (Derech Hashem 2:4:4) Since each one of us has a connection to a soul that stood at Sinai, then we must also have a connection to one of the letters within the Torah.

But what does it mean to be connected to a letter in the Torah?

The Torah can be pictured in two ways: either in its general aspect…or...as 600,000 individual parts….

The Torah can be pictured in two ways: either in its general aspect, as one complete unit, or in its specific form, as 600,000 individual parts. Just as the Torah has its general and specific form, so too with Israel, which, as the Ari teaches, is compared to a body. The body has its collective form, which is the entity of the Nation as whole, as well as its specific parts, which is compared to the individuals within Israel.

In order for the collective body to be healthy, the specific parts must all be working in harmony, each completing his unique task that responds to the needs of the greater good. Therefore, when we as individuals actualize our potential, every other individual is uplifted, as well as Jewish people as a whole.

But the actualization of our unique individual abilities can only come through working in harmony with the greater body of Israel. If not, we are like a lone thumb working without a hand.

Just before the Nation received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we see a vivid description of Israel as a healthy body with the sum of its parts working in perfect harmony. The Torah states: "And they traveled from Rephadim and came upon the Sinai Desert, and they camped in the desert, and it camped there, Israel, opposite the mountain." (Ex. 19:2)

Perhaps the most famous Torah commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, notices a glaring issue in the passage. In the first part of the passage the plural "they" is used to describe the Nation setting up their camps. But in the second part of the passage, when Israel camps opposite the mountain, the singular "it" is used. Rashi addresses this issue by commenting that Israel at that point in the journey was "as one being, with one heart."

In other words, unlike all the other points in their journey, here everyone was within complete accord with one another, hence the use of the singular form. Here we see Israel as a unit utilizing its individual strengths towards the greater collective good, and in the process making a vessel through which to receive the gift of the Torah.

The Jewish Nation's distinct purpose is to teach the world that G‑d is one….

If we look closely into the words of Rashi, who quotes the Midrash Mechilita, we see a deeper insight. The word "being" also hints to the heightened human level of intellect; "heart" is representative of the emotions within a person. Since we see "being" listed before the word "heart", the Midrash is teaching us that the intellect is guiding the emotions. Only when intellect guides emotion could Israel create a vessel capable of receiving the divine gift of the Torah.

The state of harmony that the body of Israel achieved at Mt. Sinai gave us insight into our national goal. The Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Lowe from Prague (1525-1609), explains that the Jewish Nation's distinct purpose is to teach the world that G‑d is one. We do this through uniting our unique multiple personalities and talents as one dynamic unit all working towards the greater collective good.

Being connected to a letter in the Torah teaches us that each individual is obligated to actualize his unique talents, and to use them towards the greater good of the Jewish People. Just as a Torah must be written with every letter in its proper place, so too, the Jewish people can only reveal their full potential when the individuals work together towards the greater good.


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Jonathan Udren, an Israeli immigrant from the U.S., has split his schedule between freelance writing and yeshivah studies in Jerusalem since 2001. His international syndicated column is printed monthly by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and his feature articles have been printed in newspapers and magazines across the Jewish world.
You can find his blog, “Sparks from the Fire,” where he shares Torah ideas interwoven with personal experiences, at http://sparksfromfire.blogspot.com.
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Sandra johnson Demotte, Indiana January 11, 2011

I guess my comment is gushing with the awe this midrash eludes to . That we are all one tribe. We need each other on earth, as we come closer to this truth maybe we shall find an end to depression and suicide . Reply

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