By Rabbi Yisroel Binstock
At the beginning of this week’s second sedra the Torah describes the wonderful blessings that await the Jewish people if we follow the path of God.
Besides the promises of prosperity, peace and protection, there is an interesting addition to the blessings. The verse (Leviticus 26:8) tells us that should we be threatened by our enemies: “Five of you will be able to pursue 100 of them, and 100 of you will be able to pursue 10,000 of them.” Not only is this an interesting addition to the blessing, but it is a surprising mathematical calculation. If five people can chase away 100, that is a ratio of 1:20. It should, therefore, follow that 100 would be able to chase 2,000, yet the Torah tells us that 100 people will be able to chase 10,000, which is a ratio of 1:100. So why is there an inconsistent calculation?
This question is asked by the medieval commentator Rashi (1040-1105) who answers with a powerful message. He reminds us that these blessings are rewards for a people who are living together in harmony and unity. With unity, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When five people are united in doing the right thing, they have a certain energy that will allow them to go further than what one might have expected. They work together, look out for each other, and each one cares for the best interests of the other four.
However, to get 100 people united in the same way is much more difficult. Aligning oneself with 99 others requires a greater amount of effort than caring for four. It is of no surprise, then, that the energy they can generate will be proportionally greater.
I had an opportunity of seeing this first-hand a few months ago at the inaugural Shabbat UK. At my local community of Hendon United Synagogue, we had our five regular Shabbat morning services coming together to create a very special atmosphere.
On an even bigger scale, we felt united with the rest of the country in celebrating Shabbat UK together.
The fact that we joined up with 640 cities in 64 countries across the world with the international Shabbat Project made it a truly unforgettable experience, and we are eagerly anticipating the next one.
To put this idea back into mathematical terms, this blessing of strength, which accompanies unity, is a geometric progression rather than an arithmetic progression. May we always merit to be united, and may our blessings as a community always grow exponentially.
Rabbi Yisroel Binstock is the Tribe Central rabbi and assistant rabbi at Hendon United Synagogue