Cognitive dissonance describes a state of being in which there’s inconsistency and even conflict in our thoughts, beliefs, or actions; it’s the tension we feel when two or more things that we believe wholeheartedly are also paradoxical. And it is no small thing. While F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still… function,” it remains a fact that such a state is, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, deeply painful.
But such is life: cognitive dissonance is pervasive because humans are, well… human. We are often of two—if not more—minds because life is complex and rarely black and white. Our desire for change versus our desire for the familiar. Our sense of urgency versus the need for patience. Our instinct for self-defense versus the edict to do no harm to others. Our optimism based on recent diplomatic progress with some Arab nations versus the reality that others seek Israel’s destruction.
Even as we pray wholeheartedly for Israel’s safety, it is our very distance from the fighting that affords us space in which cognitive dissonance can grow. It is difficult to fathom the full degree of the trauma that the country and her citizens are currently enduring. We witness the war through headlines in newspapers that often carry articles with perspectives very different from our own.
And yet our tradition offers hope. This past Shavuot, we were reminded that Israel encamped in front of the Mount Sinai with one heart: vayichan-sham Yisrael neged ha’har. In that phrase, the Hebrew word for ‘encamp’ is written in the singular: Israel, which is one people, one heart, is encamped there.
In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, the altar used for Israel’s offering to God is dedicated. On that altar sit twelve silver bowls, twelve silver sacrificial basins, and twelve gold incense bowls, one of each for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In this way, each offering becomes a unifying expression of faith binding a people to each other and those people to a nation: harmony in world of dissonance.
Take strength knowing that we have stood—and that we can yet stand—together at the base of each great mountain, even in all of our fear, because of our oneness.
This Shabbat, may we remember that we are one, and may this be a peaceful Shabbat for us all.