99 Achdus Explained
Chananya Weissman
May 16, 2021

I'm tired of hearing about the need for achdus (unity). I don't want to see any more insipid social media posts about it, I don't want to read any more puffy articles about it, and I don't want to hear any more boilerplate lectures about it.

I'm not against achdus, of course, just mindless calls for achdus that sound sweet but are devoid of substance. Jewish unity has been reduced to just another buzzword. Calling for achdus is an easy way to score points with an audience, but a real call for achdus requires making people uncomfortable. This is because real achdus requires people to critically examine themselves instead of others, and to make fundamental changes in their attitudes and behavior. Real achdus cannot be achieved without first understanding what achdus actually means, followed by practical changes to achieve it.

First, we need to understand what is not real achdus. The typical portrayal of achdus is a cheesy photograph or description of Jewish men with different kinds of head-coverings standing somewhere together. It might be an ad hoc minyan in an amusement park on chol hamoed, or the Daf Yomi siyum, or, lehavdil, working to save someone's life.

Look! Jews with hats, and shtreimels, and knitted yarmulkas, and even no yarmulkas can stand together without fighting! How beautiful! Moshiach simply has to come now!

It's like when the kid who gets picked last in sports makes an easy play, and everyone cheers wildly. The bar for achdus has been set so low that we think the slightest display of peaceful coexistence is an achievement worth celebrating. We hit a single and act like we've won the World Series. It's a sad joke, and no one seems to get it.

That's why Moshiach hasn't come. He isn't impressed.

So what's real achdus? I'm glad you asked.

Real achdus means that we genuinely want the best for our fellow Jew. This doesn't mean wanting them to be like us – certainly not as a prerequisite for thinking positively about them – but wanting them to succeed in their lives. We should be truly happy with the success of others, irrespective of our own situation. If our fellow Jew is blessed with prosperity, or a spouse, or children, or good health, or some achievement, we must be happy for them, even if we have not been blessed the same way. If our fellow Jew is hurting in some way, our own life cannot be completely happy. How could it be?

That's achdus.

Here are some examples of what real achdus – the type that would bring Moshiach – would look like in real life.

When the Erev Rav Israeli government took over the yeshiva in Yitzhar years ago and turned it into an army base, just to show the settlers who's boss, religious Jews who dress differently didn't bat an eyelash. The IDF might as well have taken over a convent, as far as they were concerned.

Imagine if all Jews who respect the Torah were outraged as if it were Mir or Ponovezh, and reacted accordingly. That would be real achdus. And it would have made a real difference.

When Erev Rav in police uniforms beat Jews in Kikar Shabbos or Bnei Brak, the Jews with big knitted yarmulkas don't take any notice. When Erev Rav in police uniforms beat Jews with big knitted yarmulkas and destroy their homes, the Jews in Kikar Shabbos and Bnei Brak don't take any notice.

Imagine if they noticed, and stood together. That would be real achdus.

When there is terrorism in the settlements, the Jews in Tel Aviv do not stand with them; they say “you shouldn't be there”. When there is terrorism in Tel Aviv, the settlers do not organize a protest on their behalf; they say “I told you so.”

Imagine if they protested together when any Jewish blood is treated cheaply anywhere. That would get Moshiach's attention for sure (not to mention the government's).

But real achdus is even more than this. Real achdus is not just a temporary alliance to achieve a common interest, but true unity. It means that Jews who wear different head-coverings, and even differ on certain philosophical grounds, do not view one another as rivals, but teammates. It means that when "the other side" achieves success with their yeshivos or their initiatives, they will not grate their teeth with jealousy and concern, but celebrate the achievement as if it were their own – for it is.

Real achdus is looking for the good and seeing the good in your fellow Jew. It doesn't mean failing to see his imperfections, but it means not focusing on them, not exaggerating them, not relishing them. It means standing up for him when others make fun of him as you would if someone made fun of your own brother – for he is.

Real achdus means that when a political party in Israel runs on a platform of Jewish identity politics – the very antithesis of achdus – they get booed into oblivion by everyone.

Real achdus means that there aren't separate shidduch groups for every Jew who looks a little different and thinks a little differently. It means that it shouldn't raise any eyebrows to date and marry someone who shares your core values but differs on some of the external details.

That's what Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai did. Everyone today views them as polar opposites, but they were family. Not by birth; by choice.

Hashem commanded Yechezkel to take two branches. On one he was to write “For Yehuda and for the sons of Israel, his friends” and on the other he was to write “For Yosef, branch of Ephraim, and for all the sons of Israel, his friends”. He was then to bring these two branches close, and they would join together as one. (Yechezkel 37:15-19)

This prophetic sign was a metaphor for the period of redemption, during which the Jews would be brought to true unity. Redemption cannot and will not happen without it; indeed redemption without achdus is a contradiction in terms.

Real achdus doesn't mean we agree on everything, any more than Beis Hillel and Beit Shammai agreed on everything. It means that we root for one another and we celebrate each other's achievements. It means that we have zero tolerance for those who pay lip service to achdus while they undermine it at every opportunity. It means that if someone says a nasty word about “the other side” to us, we react like someone on the street whose mother was insulted (almost).

This will surely take some getting used to, but it will get easier, especially when “the other side” does the same. It will get even easier when Moshiach simply has to come and finish what we started. The two branches which used to strike each other will join together as one.

When that happens, watch out world.