On September 28th, 2016, Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel, passed away in Ramat Gan, Israel. His death saddened not only the nation but the whole world. World leaders and ordinary people alike felt the loss of this man. This wasn’t for any small reason; it wasn’t because of his incredible age, or his political viewpoints. It was because of his love for peace. Peres was controversial in many ways for the decisions he made in his political life, but he is almost universally admired for his love of peace. As conflict rages on in Israel, between the Jewish nation and it’s neighbours, Peres will be remembered for constantly striving to bring peace to a turbulent nation. He excelled in performing the mitzvah of ahavos Yisroel. As the whole world remembers him, the Jewish people should go a step further, and continue his legacy by spreading peace and love. The message of unity which applied to all he did can be found in this week’s Parsha, Nitzavim, which tells us about the unity of Israel and the strength of the Jewish people.
The Parsha emphasises the importance of equality. It reads: “You stand today, all of you, before the L‑rd your G‑d: your heads, your tribes, your elders, your officers, and every Israelite man; your young ones, your wives, the stranger in your gate; from your wood-hewer to your water-drawer”. This passage makes it clear that we are not to distingush between the rich and the poor; the highly-esteemed and the lowly. We are all one, and indeed we are each other’s ‘guarantors’. That is to say that we are mutually repsonsible for each other, for the Jewish people as a whole. How is this related to ahavos Yisroel? Quite simply, this unity is the basis of love among Jews. We are essentially one family. The Gemara tells a tale of a dead man who’s body is found, anf for whom there are no known living relatives. The rabbis say that this situation is impossible! Initially, this ruling seems irrational, but it actually reveals to us are very important truth; we are family. We are one people.
But sometimes, things get in the way of the unconditional, undying love we should feel for one another. Sometimes people forget that we are all equal. People distingush between classes; they may think, ‘why should I, a talmid chocham (esteemed scholar) associate with a simple tradesman? He could never understand the delicate nature of the Torah!’. Such people forget the greatest truth of the Torah; it is every Jew’s inheritance. It is not just for the scholars, the rabbis, the learned men; it is for every man, woman and child with Jewish roots. Additionally, in olam haba (the World to come) these classes, these distinguishing elements will not exist; every righteous man and woman will be rewarded. In Pesachim 50a, we read the story of Rav Yosef, who fell ill and was at the brink of death when his father’s prayers brought him back to life. When he came to, his father asked him: ‘My son, what did you see (in heaven)?’ Rav Yosef replied: ‘I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here are on the bottom there; and those who are here regarded as lowly are exalted in heaven’.
Of course, that is not to say that a righteous scholar will be punished! However, status is fleeting. It is forgettable. Meaningless. And in the grand scheme of things, riches and social standing account for nothing. What does account for something, then? Dedication to the Torah. Humility and piety. And love for G-d. And how can we best show our love for G-d and His Torah? Through showing love to His creations. Ahavas Yisroel. Love among Jews. Of course, this isn’t always easy to achieve, much less to show. It can be hard to appreciate the simplest man, or one who shows no dedication to the Torah and Mitzvot. But as soon as we begin to shun him, or treat him differently, we are beginning to show a lack of dedication to the Torah and Mitzvot. Instead, we need to remember the sacred nature and special purpose of every Jew.
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya, and first Lubavitcher Rebbe, said; ‘Like the various organs and limbs of a body, each of which complements, serves and fulfills all the others, so too the Jewish people: the simple ‘wood-hewer’ or ‘water-carrier’ contributes something to each and every one of his fellow Jews, including the most exalted ‘head’. That is to say that even those at the lowest rungs of society’s ladder, even those who we dismiss as the ‘lowliest’, are necessary to our own existance, and contribute in the same way that a scholar or leader does. Indeed, such a person also has the Torah as his inheritance, and is also one of G-d’s chosen people.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov interpreted the words ‘You stand upright this day, all of you, before the L‑rd your G‑d’ as referring to the day of Rosh Hashanah. This is because Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbos directly before Rosh Hashanah. Indeed, the New Year is fast approaching. Elul is drawing to a close, and this will be the last Parsha we read this year. Rosh Hashanah is a time for thoughtfulness; for retrospection; for careful examination of our own lives, motives and deeds. Perhaps this year, we should be thinking especially carefully about the words we read in Nitzavim. The best way to immortalise the memory of Israel’s late president, Shimon Peres, would be to dedicate the coming year to love among Jews. We should make 5777 a year of unity, pride and Jewish strength, through acts of ahavos Yisroel. Shanah Tovah!