In Focus

Torah United

Ever since the horrific massacre on October 7, one word has been heard over and over: unity. Searching for some light in the midst of all this darkness, many writers, podcast hosts and Jewish media personalities have focused on the incredible achdus that has emerged from this tragedy in countless ways—Chareidim barbecuing for chayalim, left-wing peace activists using their vast social networks to help the evacuees, Dati Leumi volunteers bringing toys to displaced children from secular homes. 

The obvious question is: How do we sustain this level of Jewish unity once the war is over?

Many predict that the extraordinary sense of unity in Israel will not last. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the emotions we experience as the Yamim Noraim approach. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, one tends to feel an (often unwarranted) sense of despair: “I haven’t changed, so why bother?” Similarly, some contend that the tremendous sense of unity is sure to dissipate, so what’s the point? 

To be sure, when we speak of unity, what many of us really mean is that the “other” will abandon his views and adopt our clearly superior position. Now that we’ve all been shaken up by October 7, we figure our ideological opponents will clearly see what we have seen all along, and they’ll come over to our side. Unfortunately, those on the other side of the ideological spectrum are likely thinking the same thing. So the question remains—how will we ever achieve long-lasting unity?

I don’t have all the answers. I do know one thing, though. I have seen the tremendous power of the Torah to bring the Jewish people together. 

As the director of the OU’s All Torah platform, I have the opportunity to interact with Jews across the Orthodox spectrum—from the Chassidic community in Brooklyn to the Modern Orthodox community in Beverly Hills, California, from Sephardim in Panama City to Yeshivish guys in Lakewood. 

I used to be surprised when a young man sporting peyos and learning in a Jerusalem kollel would tell me that his favorite maggid shiur is a musmach of Yeshiva University, or when a graying lawyer with a white-knitted yarmulke from Deerfield Beach, Florida, would say he’s a loyal devotee of Rabbi Sruly Bornstein’s Lakewood Daf Yomi. But since launching All Daf in 2020, I have come across these stories so frequently, they no longer surprise me. 

I can’t forget the time I met “Shia,” a Chassid from Williamsburg, New York. Shia signed up to join Zichru, a unique memory program created by Rabbi Avraham Goldhar and Barry Lebovits from Passaic, New Jersey, to help Daf Yomi learners retain what they learn each day. Drawing upon scientifically proven methods for memorization, the program, which is hosted on All Daf’s platform, uses “simanim” for each daf, that is, signs or mnemonic devices to aid in remembering the material. When the word “cheetah” was used as a siman for Daf Tzadi-Tes (99), Shia, whose command of the English language is weak, found himself Googling the word cheetah, which he was unfamiliar with. Determined to bring Zichru to his fellow Chassidim, Shia subsequently created a Yiddish version of the program and had Rabbi Goldhar visit various Chassidic communities to train them in effectively using the program. 

When the Jewish nation is in pain and suffering, there is no need for a reminder that we love and respect each other. 

But the notion of Torah serving as a force to unify the Jewish people isn’t new. In Parashas Yisro, when G-d gives the Torah on Mount Sinai, Rashi cites a famous teaching of Chazal that the Jewish people were “k’ish echad b’lev echad—as one man with one heart.” But this wasn’t a moment of unity that just happened on that occasion. Rather, it was absolutely necessary for the Jewish people at that time to feel as if they were “one person with one heart”—unity was a prerequisite for accepting the Torah and becoming the Chosen Nation.

Why specifically before the Giving of the Torah was it necessary for the Jewish people to be unified? Why not just as we were about to leave Egypt? Or before the Splitting of the Sea? Wouldn’t these momentous events have been easier had we all been unified, without any disagreements, sharing a goal and vision?

I once heard an explanation from Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York, who quoted Rabbi Kalman Epstein, rosh yeshivah of Shaar HaTorah in Queens. Rabbi Epstein spent one Yom Kippur in Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan with his wife, who was very ill at the time. Joining a minyan for Neilah, he found himself in the hospital chapel, where a group of about thirty Jews from across the religious spectrum had gathered for the final and most important prayer of the day. At a time of such pain and vulnerability, everyone in the chapel felt deeply connected to one another. Right before Neilah was about to begin, a Satmar Chassid got up and asked if he could speak. 

With obvious emotion, he said, “Today we are all here witnessing the suffering and the pain of our loved ones,” he said. “Eventually, we will go home and resume our regular lives. Do we need to be in a hospital chapel on Yom Kippur to remember that we’re all part of one family, the Jewish people? Let’s remember the feeling of unity and connection we all feel so intensely at this very moment during this time of pain and crisis, and try to hold onto this incredible sense of achdus even as we go back to living our regular lives.”

Rabbi Epstein explained that when the Jewish nation is in pain and suffering, there is no need for a reminder that we love and respect each other. An inherent sense of unity is keenly felt. It’s during a time of joy and excitement, such as the Giving of the Torah, that we need the reminder.

Whether by learning with someone who doesn’t share our exact religious outlook or political view, or by sharing a Torah thought with a business colleague, let us use Torah as our unifying anchor.

During wartime we can easily put aside differences and remember that we are family, but during peaceful times, when we are mystified and distressed by how other Jews view things differently and don’t share our deeply held convictions, we can connect, unite and build through our shared heritage: the Torah. 

*The All Torah platform began in 2020 with the All Daf app and has expanded to include All Mishnah and All Parsha. All Torah is a collection of free Torah apps and websites created under the auspices of the Orthodox Union. Users enjoy world-class shiurim, content, and resources in a curated, user-friendly platform.  


Rabbi Moshe Schwed serves as the director of the OU’s All Torah Platform.

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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