There are days on which I feel like I have far more in common with my Christian or Muslim neighbor than I do with an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Kiryas Joel or Jerusalem. And when I look at the sea of Israeli protestors for democracy, I see my brothers and sisters, and yet, I wonder – what ties us all together as Jews?
This midrash from Vayikra Rabbah speaks to this question: The Torah, in discussing sin and sacrifice, says: v’nefesh ki techeta – here’s what you do when an individual soul, a nefesh, sins. So, the midrash asks: Why doesn’t the Torah say, “when SOULS sin,” in the plural, if we’re talking about the collective? Because our entire people is called nefesh achat, a single soul – and if one of them does something they aren’t supposed to, the entire people is affected – kulam arevim zeh bazeh. We are all inextricably linked.
The midrash goes on to say: OK, what is this like? This is like a group of people who were all traveling on a boat, and one of them took a drill and began to drill underneath his own seat. The others turn to him and say: “You fool! You are drilling underneath your seat, but the water is entering the boat and we will ALL be lost!”
Perhaps there is nothing that all Jews have in common, other than the fact that our fates ARE inextricably linked with one another. As members of a tiny global minority, whatever one Jew does reflect upon us all. Whether we live in Israel or Uganda or Japan or the U.S., we are part of nefesh achat, a single soul, and we are responsible for one another whether we like it or not.”
Rabbi Lauren Henderson is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Hadash.