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One of the more well known of Aesop’s fables is the following: An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son, “break it.” The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. “Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken. “You see my meaning,” said their father – unity gives strength.

They got the message.

Unity is something much lauded and respected, but hard to achieve. It is something usually made possible by strong, conscious group effort with individuals suppressing their own personal differences for the common good. As humans we could learn a lot from the animal kingdom and their often highly developed models of cooperation. When required to move a heavy object a colony of ants will very quickly assess the object and arrange themselves into the very best formation for moving it as efficiently as possible. So perfected is this system that researchers have been amazed to see how different sized ants will pair up for tasks based on exactly how much “muscle power” is needed. Honeybees similarly have a highly developed hierarchy where each individual bee plays a crucial role in the hive, a system which only works when they all work harmoniously together.

As we approach Rosh Chodesh Av let us turn our thoughts to the great personality who passed away on that day. Aged 123, Moses’ brother Aaron was taken from this world on Rosh Chodesh Av.  Known as an “oheiv shalom ve’rodef shalom” Aaron was continually involved in bringing harmony between warring couples and disgruntled friends. Unlike the judge in New York who recently ordered one such couple to build a dividing wall down the middle of their home, Aaron would expend time and energy healing fractured partnerships.

Aaron’s message is particularly significant as we enter the month of Av, a month stained with the tragic effects of disunity among the Jewish people. In this month, through the ages, our people have suffered tragedy after tragedy, a painful litany of expulsions, exiles, pogroms and murder. As we struggle to find meaning in the suffering, to understand the ways of the Al-mighty, we come across the words of our Sages who speak with the clarity of Divine Inspiration. The Talmud in Tractate Yoma tells us that the Second Temple, the Beit Hamikdash, was destroyed because of  “sinat chinam” – baseless hatred of one another. One prime example of that hatred was where a guest who was mistakenly invited to an enemy’s party was publicly humiliated and evicted (Kamtza & Bar Kamtza – Tractate Gittin). The gravity of the event was compounded by the fact that great rabbis at the event did not intervene, and this was one of the events which precipitated the eventual destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

What is the solution and cure for the exile? Simple:  Remove the cause of the exile and the effect disappears. If we, as a community and a people, can modify our behaviour so that we act with “baseless love” instead of hate; if we care for others simply because they share the planet with us, simply because G-d deemed them worthy of Creation – then we can begin to fix the sins of our ancestors. And when the world we inhabit is no longer full of malice and hatred, but glows instead with warmth and love, then we can be sure that the third Beit Hamikdash is on the way.

Forget the birds and the bees, now is the time to learn from the ants and the bees: Unity, cooperation and harmony – working towards a common goal, building a safe and secure home for G-d, filled with the sweetness of Ahavat Yisroel – for nothing is sweeter to G-d than when His children love each other unconditionally.

Let us pray that this 9th of Av the day of mourning and fasting is replaced by a day of rejoicing and celebration, as we dance together in the streets of Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


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