Unity through Diversity

Rabbi Yehuda and Estee Stern

Sydenham Shul

And the Jewish people encamped next to the mountain, like one man with one heart.

(Rashi, Exodus 19:2)

ויחן שם ישראל כאיש אחד בלב אחד.

(רש"י על שמות יט:ב)

With patience and wisdom Reb Zalman instructed his young student, Mendel, in the reading of the Torah. Reb Zalman explained, “When you see the two yuds together in the Chumash, do not read the word as it appears. This is G-d’s holy name and that’s the way it should be pronounced.” With this new understanding, Mendel continued to read the verses. However, as he came to the end of each verse, Reb Zalman was puzzled to hear his student say G-d’s name. “Where do you see the name of G-d after each verse?” he asked. Mendel pointed to the two dots, i.e. the colon at the end of each verse. Reb Zalman explained, “A person is represented by the letter yud. When the two yuds stand side-by-side in unity, G-d dwells there. These two yuds are therefore pronounced as G-d’s name. However, if one person stands above the other, just like the two dots of the colon, G-d does not dwell among them, and this should not be pronounced as the name of G-d.”

At Mount Sinai we received two parts of the Torah, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah which was later elaborated upon by the Sages throughout the ages. Why was it necessary to have two different parts to the Torah? Could G-d not have given us everything in the Written Torah?

There is something that the Oral Torah teaches us which the Written Torah does not. The Written Torah, given directly by G-d, is exact and precise, and it must remain that way. Only a few holy individuals were able to comment on the Written Torah. In the Oral Torah, however, starting from the Mishnah and Talmud, every individual has the opportunity to contribute their personal views and ideas. While we may not follow the other’s opinion, we are taught to show respect and acknowledge their perspective. It is only when we stand side-by-side with the other that we can objectively analyse and debate the important issues of the world.

It is through the learning of the Oral Torah that we learn to live with unity through diversity.

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi