| Parshah |

Group Mentality

All our actions are for the war against the yetzer hara


“You are children of Hashem, your G-d; you shouldn’t cut yourselves or make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” (Devarim 14:1)


Yalkut Shimoni says the words “lo sisgodedu — you shouldn’t cut yourselves, share a root with agudah, group.” Using this understanding, the pasuk is telling us, “Don’t divide yourselves into groups.” When people divide into groups to work toward different purposes, that’s fine — but not when the groups lead to machlokes.

“Why do we have so many different versions and minhagim in tefillah?” Someone once asked the Chofetz Chaim. “Chassidim daven one way and misnagdim daven a different way. Even within each group, there are different minhagim. Some daven with fervor, some with song and dance…wouldn’t it be better if we’d all daven the same way?” (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah)

Michal and I had been BFFs since the start of time — or at least since we both started camp after third grade. Every summer we’d spend long hours near the lake in deep DMCs, her naturally dark hair in contrast with my fair. We never really discussed our backgrounds or families. Over the years we simply meshed, giving way to deep thoughts on how to save the world, pondering existence, and wondering how perfection could be achieved in This World if the canteen wouldn’t stock Slurpees.

Though we barely saw each other during the year, two months out of twelve is enough time to build a deep lasting bond.

The Chofetz Chaim answered, “This question really should be addressed to the Russian Czar. Why does he have different officers and soldiers in his army? There are foot soldiers and cavalry, soldiers with cannons and on boats. Wouldn’t it be better to make one large army all with the same weapons and appoint one officer over all of them?”

Yet everyone knows that each type of soldier has a specific purpose. The goal of the army is to defeat the enemy. Each division performs its unique specialty, all working the same goal.

The last summer we spent together was right after graduation. I was heading to Eretz Yisrael while Michal was staying in-town and taking graphics courses after morning seminary. We promised time and distance wouldn’t make a difference as we parted toward our separate lives.

It was over a year later when Michal called me, her voice a rush of emotion. “My chattan’s name is Yair! You have to come to my chatunah. Come a few days early so you can make it to the henna ceremony!” Michal’s excitement was contagious. “I bet you’ve never been to one of those before.”

So too, all our actions are for the war against the yetzer hara. We seek different strategies to strengthen ourselves and defeat him. That’s why we have so many different types of soldiers, each with a unique purpose and custom-designed weapons. And each soldier does something his friend cannot.

One group succeeds because of their Torah and one succeeds thorough tefillah, and a third through niggun. The main point is that each group know its unique purpose is defeating the yetzer hara. The main thing is that each should direct its hearts and minds Heavenward.

Michal was right about that. As I walked into her aunt’s home, I was struck by sights, scents, and sounds, transporting me into a different world.

The colors. The movement. The melody. I was swept up on a wave of women ululating in high spirits, gently propelling me to the star of attention.

I almost didn’t recognize Michal. The last time we’d met we were both wearing ponytails and sneakers. Now she was dressed in the traditional Moroccan bride’s dress, complete with a gorgeous beaded headdress. She looked foreign and exotic. She looked stunning, but a stranger. I was suddenly self-conscious off my bright blond hair and my inability to understand the Arabic being chattered all around me.

Then she spotted me and jumped up to throw her arms around me. Suddenly, the outside trappings fell away; we were back at the lake, our bond sealed, strong as ever.

“This is my best friend.” She drew back to introduce me to the many members of her family. Within minutes I had a plate heaped high with Sephardic delicacies and was seated near Michal in a place of honor. All sense of discomfort vanished. We were once again just two soul sisters sharing the same purpose. Mabrouk!

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 705)

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