Diversity and unity

Rabbi Brad Horwitz

By Rabbi Brad Horwitz

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are something that I have been looking forward to for some time. The competition and sporting feats are intriguing and exciting to follow, but what also draws me to be a big fan is the “Olympic Spirit.” Every four years, people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, socioeconomic status, and traditions leave those differences aside and join together in a spirit of friendship and harmony as they compete at the highest levels.  It is an environment where sport is the unifying element and where cultural education and tolerance are also paramount.  The Olympic spirit is one where both diversity and unity are embraced.

In this week’s Torah portion, Dvarim, the Israelite people stand at the banks of the Jordan river about to enter and conquer the promised land. As they prepared to fulfill their destiny, Moses recounts and retells the journey of the past 40 years in the wilderness. At one point, Moses reminds the two tribes of Gad and Reuben that even though they requested to remain east of the Jordan which was more desirable for their families and their large quantities of livestock, the men amongst them were still obligated to join all the other tribes until the land of Canaan was indeed conquered.  Only then, could these men return back to their women and children.

Here too the values of both diversity and unity are central. God recognizes that these two tribes are different than the others and have different needs and a different lifestyle with all of the livestock they possess. This diversity is respected and validated by God, but not at the expense of the unity of the Israelite community.  They are not released from their duty to help and conquer the land just because they choose not to settle there.  In the end, God finds a way to both honor diversity and celebrate unity.

Whether from this week’s Torah portion or through the Olympic games, we learn that our world will be a better place if we find ways to embrace these two important values. Let us find ways to work together to bring peace in our community and in our world, as we accept and celebrate our differences at the same time. Ken Yehi Ratzon.  So may it be God’s will.