Peace, love and harmony.

Coexistence and community.

These rosy ideals are easy to dream and sing about, but so much harder to achieve in everyday life.

Ask any kibbutznik or idealistic commune-builder. Their glorious vision may bring people together to try to finally create that perfect, harmonious society. But once the manifesto is laid out, then comes the hard stuff. Once the different Where does this yearning for unity come from?personalities and styles and perspectives and egos get involved in the details, that unity can get sorely hammered and tested.

Where does this yearning for unity come from? The Torah, the living source that all true values arise from, describes how Abraham, the first Jew, started teaching the radical notion of G‑d’s oneness. And the concept of oneness extends beyond G‑d Himself. G‑d’s oneness is mirrored in the unity that is our core, our soul reality: “The Torah, G‑d and the Jewish people are all one.”1 We are enjoined to try to manifest this unity in our daily lives and dealings, as emphasized in many teachings. Just to name a few: “Don’t separate yourself from the community.”2 “Don’t do to others what is hateful to you.”3 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”4 And in Parshat Yitro we read how Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai “like one person with one heart,” with an extraordinary level of harmony.5

My preschool students roared with laughter when I acted this out, trying to help them (and me) visualize what one person with one heart really means. “Does your right hand slap your left out of the way, exclaiming, ‘I was here first, who told you to take that cup?’ ” I asked them, while one of my hands angrily pushed the other. “Your left foot doesn’t kick your right, shouting, ‘You always get to step first, it’s my turn!’ ” I said as my feet vigorously kicked each other.

“No!” the kids shouted. “Your body works together!”

“Yes,” I said hastily, as the children began to merrily kick and slap themselves with gusto. “You understand. We can stop now!” How would I explain to Mrs. Cohen that her kid was bruised up from kicking himself, just like the teacher showed him? When they finally settled down, we quickly moved to the next part of the lesson. But they got it, and they enjoyed the absurdity of the idea of one part of your own self beating up another.

It’s hard to imagine, but that’s how united the Jewish people were, when their true soul-knowledge dominated—they were as in sync as different parts of one body.

We don’t often see our beloved people acting in such harmony. Two Jews, three opinions, the saying goes. The “stiff-necked people” have a long and unique history of impassioned debate, of challenging our tradition and each other with hard questions, even (perhaps especially) in the midst of studying sacred texts. We survived exile, persecution and dispersion with G‑d’s kindness, but our sharpened minds and feisty wits didn’t hurt either. This tradition of raucous disagreement and questioning authority is acknowledged as a vital component of modern Israel’s cutting-edge innovation and military prowess, explain Dan Sendor and Saul Singer in Start-up Nation.6

And yet, underneath the passionate debate and continuous disagreements lies the beating heart of our nation, of our collective soul—a fierce, tribal, spiritual, steel-like unity and commitment, a fiery love and caring. Times of trouble bring its sometimes dormant power to the surface.

But we don’t want to wait for challenge and pain. We want to create pathways toward choosing and living with that unity, that knowledge that under the surface we are family, completely dedicated and able to find love and tolerance and acceptance for each other, for the other.

And more than a lofty poetic ideal, living in harmony is just plain old good for us: In the longest and most comprehensive study on record, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been following a group of 724 men of different educational attainments and socioeconomic statuses for 75 years, carefully monitoring their jobs, marriages, stated happiness and physical health. And what was the most important predictor of longevity and happiness? Fame? Fortune?

No. Good, loving, connected relationships.7 As noted earlier, our sages taught us: “Don’t separate yourself from the community.” I used to think this meant don’t hold yourself higher, don’t think of yourself as exclusive or better because it’s not nice. Based on the Harvard study, I’m now seeing a different emphasis: Don’t separate yourself, not only because it’s arrogant, but because it’s not good for you. This might not just be an ethical injunction, but part of the mitzvah of “guard your health”: Make connections. Be part of the community.Exercise, eat well, wear a warm hat in the winter, as Bubby always told us—and be nice. Make connections. Be part of the community.

The communal aspect of Jewish life is noticed and envied by others. Friends who don’t perhaps relate to all the ins and outs of my observant life have commented on the strength of the community, the palpable feeling of connection and support we enjoy. As a teen growing up in an isolated nuclear family in sterile suburbs, I longed for a sense of interconnectedness with my neighbors. In college I belonged to a community council, trying to build something more among the disparate individuals in our dorm. I just knew something wasn’t healthy; people were supposed to be more interdependent.

Perhaps there wasn’t much commonality to build on in the dorm. We were, after all, very different people living for at most a few years in the same building, thrown together by having chosen the same university.

In reality, when we look a little deeper, all people share a special connection. We are all children of G‑d, a special creation of vast potential—humanity. But we Jews have an even closer connection. The Torah says that we share a special soul core.8 True, it can be hidden under the superficial differences of our varied languages, backgrounds, personalities and perspectives. We are all too familiar with that which divides us.

But certain times give us a glimpse of that unity, and the strength to manifest it. This whole year, the year after Shemittah (the Sabbatical year), is called Hakhel, the “year of unifying.” In Temple times, all Jews gathered in the courtyard of the Temple to hear the king read from the Torah.9 If we had this mitzvah today, it would not be achieved by watching the king on a live broadcast. Everyone had to shlep to the Temple and get into the courtyard, connecting not only with the king but with each other.

There’s a unique power to a live event. Sometimes I’m a bit amazed—in our high-tech age, why do people buy tickets and get dressed and get a babysitter and drive down and park and stand in line and wait to hear a lecture? They could probably see and hear better watching it on TV in their comfortable living room. But there’s something powerful that just doesn’t come across remotely. We feel energized, not only by the presence of the speaker, but by being part of the community of the audience.

So G‑d says, “Come to Jerusalem, city of shalom (peace) and wholeness. Stand together with everyone, in one place, at one time. Men, women, children and babies. Meaning, all kinds of folks.” Hakhel doesn’t mean, “Unify with the people who are like me. My political party, my brand of Judaism. My style of kippah. My neighborhood.” It means, “Bring together those who are not together. Those who are different.”

And if a Jew would try to be complete in his He might be holy, but he ain’t there yetholiness without that Hakhel experience, guess what? He might be holy. And special. But he ain’t there yet. He’s gotta come to Yeru-shalayim, to Jerusalem, and stand there in that crowded courtyard. Stand with all the other Jews, even the ones that are so different and so “not my speed,” and find and celebrate the common soul core in them all. That’s the path to yirah shaleim, to the complete awe of G‑d that coming to Yeru-shalayim can lead us to. To that exalted level of being able to stand in unity with the other.

Sound daunting? Unrealistic? Unite—even with her?

Hakhel is more than an obligation. Like all mitzvahs, it is an enriched-with-vitamins, superfood opportunity.10 During this Hakhel year, G‑d is giving us extra strength and ability to achieve this wonderful, life-enhancing unity. Look around you; see that person you’ve never talked to. She’s not a stranger. Remember? You saw her at Mount Sinai. She was over there, just two rows in front of you. Remember that unity, how you’re really part of one body. Just do it. Connect.