I heard once from a famous Rabbi (who was a guest speaker at one of our Melaveh Malka Dinners) the following question: Why is it that there has to be so much diversity in klal Yisrael? The Ashkenazim have one way of serving Hashem, so too the Sefardim, Teimanim, and Chasidim. Why can’t we just get together, find a unified way to serve Hashem that would be homogeneous for all? He answered this question by saying that if you look carefully there is almost no difference between any of these groups. It is the same “meat and potatoes” – just the spicing may be a little different.
This is a very nice answer, but I would like to share the Chofetz Chaim’s answer to that same question. First, I would like to preface it with a question of my own. The halacha states that if you have two batei dinim in one city, there is no prohibition against having two different sets of laws. Whereas if there is only one beis din, then there is a prohibition of “lo sisgodido”. It seems to me that the halacha should be the exact opposite. If you have two batei dinim that conflict, that is like a strong encampment of one against the other. Whereas if you have some individuals doing their own thing, there is no need for the majority to recognize them at all. Therefore there should be no prohibition.
The Chofetz Chaim explained that if one would look at the armed forces of a nation, one would find the air force, navy, marines and the army. In each one of those headings there are specialty units – each one trying to protect the country from a different kind of onslaught—and there are even those who are trained to go on the offensive if necessary. A good pilot may not have the stamina that is necessary for guerrilla warfare. Yet, this pilot can knock down another plane from dozens of miles away.
All of these forces come together to make the nation a “super power”. So too, says the Chofetz Chaim, Klal Yisrael has different tribes, and each tribe has a particular way to serve Hashem which is just right for them and wrong for another tribe. (In fact, the Arizal says that there are actually 12 different versions of prayer, because each tribe had its own way of speaking to Hashem.)
I think that all of this is true only if there is one central commander-in-chief who must be followed. Small unsanctioned factions which do what they want without being subjugated to the commander-in-chief are treasonous. Therefore, it seems to me that different groups under a banner of different bona-fide batei dinim have no prohibition of “lo tisgodedu”, whereas grass-roots movements which are not a part of a bona-fide branch of klal Yisrael, in fact destroy the beauty and symmetry of klal Yisrael.
I heard once from Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz an interesting question. The gemora learns two different halachos out of the verse “lo tisgodedu”. One: Not to have dissension in our service of Hashem (the aforementioned). Two: One is not permitted to mutilate one’s body to show mourning for a deceased. It must be that both ideas have a common thread. He suggested that the shared idea is the destruction of a body. There is the destruction of the larger “tzelem Elokim” – our nation and the mutilation of a person’s own “tzelem Elokim”.
May we merit at this time, that our work on our sinas chinam during the previous three weeks should bear fruit, and we go forward with our repentance towards Rosh Hashanah, not only to tolerate differences but to appreciate and welcome them.