His arms fly up in a poetic whirlwind of movement. As if he is painting a large canvas, white with possibilities infinite. One moment they are in fists, rigid and intense. Another moment, they are the breeze off an ocean shore, soft and gentle and sweet. Sometimes they seem to move in slow-motion, spontaneously slowing or speeding to capture the nuanced rhythm of a measure or to savor the tensioned dissonance of a chord. His back is toward me, but his expressions are so clear in my mind: an affectionate smile, a theatrical frown, a furrowed brow, a twinkling eye…

Each sound another timbre, another color, another worldAnd then there are the players. Many of them. First violins and second violins and violas and cellos and basses and harp and flutes and oboes and clarinets and piccolos and piccolo clarinets and bass clarinets and horns and trumpets and trombones and tubas and percussion and piano. Each sound another timbre, another color, another world.

But somehow, they are all one. The players and the instruments, the instruments and the orchestra, the orchestra and the conductor, the conductor and the music, the music and the energy pulsating through the room.

How can so many different instruments produce such a seamlessly unified sound? If you’ve ever heard a room full of players practicing simultaneously, you know that the sound is something short of nails on a chalkboard. However, give them some amazing sheet music and a masterful conductor (and some serious practice), and they can create something so beyond the sum of its parts, something that transcends sound and becomes music.

Recently, I went to see the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra perform in Carnegie Hall. Aside from being mesmerized by the beauty of the music that filled the room, it also made me reflect on the paradox of individual versus community. How do we reconcile these conflicting notions? Should we allow ourselves to be swept away into the bigger picture, without being so concerned with ourselves and our own ambitions? Or should we invest in developing and expressing our own personalities and talents and concern ourselves less with being part of the communal whole? And does it always have to be a trade-off? Is it possible to both play my own instrument and be part of the ensemble—to truly feel that I matter and that I don’t matter at the same time?

A true community is one in which every single person has the ability to express his or her individuality to the fullest extentIn truth, the soul desires both: to make its own unique mark on the world, and to be absorbed in something greater and higher than itself.

These are not mutually exclusive goals. They are inextricably bound, two sides of the same coin. A true community is one in which every single person has the ability to express his or her individuality to the fullest extent. At the same time, one can truly actualize his true potential only when one is part of the community.

One might think that we should refine and perfect ourselves as individuals, and then we can all join together to create the perfect nation. However, the Torah teaches us that our first and foremost priority as Jews should be to unite as a community. To love our fellow Jew, no matter how imperfect, to the extent that we feel one with him. To create a spirit of togetherness and oneness much more powerful than the sum of its parts. For this oneness is the source of our strength, allowing us to reach our full potential. It is this unity that propels us, as individuals, to reach unimaginable heights.

The player can sit on a stage by himself and play. But when he’s playing with the orchestra, there’s something transcendent taking place. And that’s when he knows he really counts.