E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one,” the Seal of the United States proclaims, but as any politician can tell you, that’s easier said than done. Unity between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds is hard to achieve. As idealistic as we may be, we all have unique needs and desires which can be difficult to forgo for the sake of the common good.

So, how do we reach true unity?

This week’s Torah portion sheds some light on this issue. In Parshat Balak, Bilaam, a gentile prophet, conveys a vision of the future Redemption: “A star How do we reach true unity?will go forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel, which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth.”1

That sounds kind of extreme. Why would Moshiach, the leader of a peaceful and utopian era, start uprooting and destroying nations? A world that is peaceful only for the chosen few hardly seems like an ideal worth striving for.

And how are we to understand this prophecy in the context of other prophecies of redemption that describe the nations of the world serving G‑d together? In the book of Zephaniah, for example, it is written, “For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language, that all of them will call in the name of the L‑rd, to worship Him of one accord.”2

Furthermore, Bilaam’s prophecy states that Moshiach will “uproot all the sons of Seth.” Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve. Their first son, Abel, was murdered, and all of Cain’s descendants were wiped out in the Great Flood. Thus, all of mankind descends from Seth. This verse cannot possibly be interpreted literally, because if Moshiach would eliminate all the sons of Seth, nobody would be left.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers this interpretation: When Moshiach comes, there will be an unprecedented revelation of G‑dliness, leaving no room for evil or impurity. All people in the world will readily accept G‑d’s rule upon themselves, because His presence will be so obvious. And this is the “uprooting” that the verse refers to—the uprooting of our selfish tendencies, our egotistical desires and motivations.

Yet there are two ways in which this uprooting can take place. It is possible to imagine the rise of a leader so powerful, with a vision so compelling, that the entire world becomes subservient to him. In such a world, everyone behaves in an exemplary fashion—there is no killing, no theft, no discrimination, no selfishness. But these tendencies have not really been uprooted; they’ve merely been suppressed. As long as these beliefs and values do not become integrated into our own psyche, our own worldview, the redemption is incomplete.

The leadership of Moshiach will be different. It will not be an imposition from outside, but the culmination of a process of refinement that has been going on since the beginning of exile. Over the centuries of exile, the Jewish people have not just been wandering from place to place. We have also been painstakingly laying the seeds for the future Redemption—by infusing holiness wherever we went, through our observance of Torah and mitzvahs.

When the world and all that is in it will perceive G‑d of its own accord, when everyone will call out to G‑d in their own voice, then there will be true Redemption. This is the key to true unity—when our individual experiences and talents all contribute to a common goal.

On a personal level, I sometimes encounter people whose views are so offensive, whose behavior is so frustrating, that I wish they would just disappear. But individuals who are truly beyond redemption are extremely rare. I could focus on our areas of The leadership of Moshiach will be differentdisagreement and try to convince them to move toward my viewpoint, or worse, condemn them for their wrongness. But all this does is add to the general discord. A more effective approach would be to focus on our common ground and cultivate the good that is within others.

In 1991, in the aftermath of the Crown Heights riots, New York City mayor David Dinkins visited the Rebbe and requested a blessing for the people of “all our communities.” The Rebbe responded, “. . . Forget that it is ‘both sides.’ It is one side, one people . . .”3

Unity among nations is within our reach. It may take effort, but by looking beyond superficial differences, we can see the many ways that we are one. Redemption is not a far-off dream, but a fast-approaching reality.

(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 23, p. 172.)