web analytics
September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Two Types Of Community

A long drama had taken place. Moses had led the people from slavery to the beginning of the road to freedom. The people themselves had witnessed G-d at Mount Sinai, the only time in all history when an entire people became the recipients of revelation. Then came the disappearance of Moses for his long sojourn at the top of the mountain, an absence which led to the Israelites’ greatest collective sin, the making of the Golden Calf. Moses returned to the mountain to plead for forgiveness, which was granted.

Its symbol was the second set of tablets. Now life must begin again. A shattered people must be rebuilt. How does Moses proceed? The verse with which the sedra begins contains the clue:

Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them: “These are the things G-d has commanded you to do.” (35:1)

The verb vayakhel – which gives the sedra its name – is crucial to an understanding of the task in which Moses is engaged. At its simplest level it serves as a motif-word, recalling a previous verse. In this case the verse is obvious:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they assembled around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.” (32:1)

Moses’ act is what the kabbalists called a tikkun: a restoration, a making-good-again, the redemption of a past misdemeanor. Just as the sin was committed by the people acting as a kahal or kehillah, so atonement was to be achieved by their again acting as a kehillah, this time by making a home for the Divine presence as they earlier sought to make a substitute for it. Moses orchestrates the people for good, as they had once been assembled for bad. The difference lies not only in the purpose but in the form of the verb, from passive in the case of the calf to active in the case of Moses. Passivity allows bad things to happen – “Wherever it says ‘and it came to pass’ it is a sign of impending tragedy” (Megillah 10b). Proactivity is the defeat of tragedy: “Wherever is says, ‘And there will be’ is a sign of impending joy” (Bemidbar Rabbah 13).

At a deeper level, though, the opening verse of the sedra alerts us to the nature of community in Judaism.

In classical Hebrew there are three different words for community: edah, tsibbur and kehillah, and they signify different kinds of association.

Edah comes from the word ed, meaning “witness.” The verb ya’ad carries the meaning of “to appoint, fix, assign, destine, set apart, designate or determine.” The modern Hebrew noun te’udah means “certificate, document, attestation, aim, object, purpose or mission.” The people who constitute an edah have a strong sense of collective identity. They have witnessed the same things. They are bent on the same purpose. The Jewish people become an edah – a community of shared faith – only on receiving the first command:

“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household” (Shemot 12:3).

An edah can be a gathering for bad as well as good. The Israelites, on hearing the report of the spies, lose heart and say they want to return to Egypt. Throughout, they are referred to as the edah (as in “How long will this wicked community grumble against Me?” Bamidbar 14: 27). The people agitated by Korach in his rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority is likewise called an edah (“If one man sins, will You be angry with the whole community? Bamidbar 16: 22). Nowadays the word is generally used for an ethnic or religious subgroup. An edah is a community of the like-minded. The word emphasizes strong identity. It is a group whose members have much in common.

By contrast the word tzibbur – it belongs to Mishnaic rather than biblical Hebrew – comes from the root tz-b-r meaning “to heap” or “pile up” (Bereishith 41:49). To understand the concept of tzibbur, think of a group of people praying at the Kotel. They may not know each other. They may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be ten people in the same place at the same time, and thus constitute a quorum for prayer. A tzibbur is a community in the minimalist sense, a mere aggregate, formed by numbers rather than any sense of identity. A tzibbur is a group whose members may have nothing in common except that, at a certain point, they find themselves together and thus constitute a “public” for prayer or any other command that requires a minyan.

A kehillah is different from the other two kinds of community. Its members are different from one another. In that sense it is like a tzibbur. But they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking – one that involves in making a distinctive contribution. The danger of a kehillah is that it can become a mass, a rabble, a crowd.

That is the meaning of the phrase in which Moses, descending the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf:

Moses saw that the people were running wild, and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing-stock to their enemies (32: 25).

The beauty of a kehillah, however, is that when it is driven by constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, “I helped to make this.” That is why, assembling the people on this occasion, Moses emphasizes that each has something different to give: Take from what you have, an offering to G-d. Everyone who is willing to bring to G-d an offering of gold, silver and bronze…. All you who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded….

Moses was able to turn the kehillah with its diversity into an edah with its singleness of purpose, while preserving the diversity of the gifts they brought to G-d:

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to G-d for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing – men and women – came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments…. Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn…. Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze…. Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun…. The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems…. All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to G-d freewill offerings for all the work G-d, through Moses, had commanded them to do (35:20-29).

The greatness of the Tabernacle was that it was a collective achievement – one in which not everyone did the same thing. Each gave a different thing. Each contribution was valued – and therefore each participant felt valued. Vayakhel – Moses’ ability to forge out of the dissolution of the people a new and genuine kehillah – was one of his greatest achievements.

Many years later, Moses, according to the sages, returned to the theme. Knowing that his career as a leader was drawing to an end, he prayed to G-d to appoint a successor: “May G-d, Lord of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the community” (Bamidbar 27:16). Rashi, following the sages, explains the unusual phrase “Lord of the spirits of all flesh” as follows:

He said to Him: Lord of the universe, the character of each person is revealed and known to You – and You know that each is different. Therefore appoint for them a leader who is able to bear with each person as his or her temperament requires (Rashi on Bemidbar 27:16).

To preserve the diversity of a tzibbur with the unity of purpose of an edah – that is the challenge of kehillah-formation, community-building, itself the greatest task of a great leader.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Two Types Of Community”

  1. Aquhh Shii Fedelyn Bonane says:

    ,ai ganon?

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Logos of the Arab Bank
Arab Bank Found Liable for Hamas Terror Funding
Latest Judaism Stories
Teens-091214-Shofar

Hamas’ tunnels were destroyed as were plans for their unparalleled terror attacks on Rosh Hashana.

Hertzberg-092614

Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.

Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch-NEW

“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet

Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of theYeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Asher Lopatin will be replacing him as head of the school.

The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

One of the cornerstones of our Jewish life is chesed, kindness. Chesed can only be taught by example

Our understanding of what is and what is not possible creates imagined ceilings of opportunity for us.

This young, innocent child gave me a powerful, warm surge of energy and strength.

The Chafetz Chaim answered that there are two forms of teshuvah; teshuvah m’ahava and teshuvah m’yirah.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

A Role Reversal
‘Return, O Wayward Sons…’
(Chagigah 15a)

When the Kleins returned, however, they were dismayed to see that the renters did a poor job cleaning up after themselves.

In Parshas Re’eh the Torah tells us about the bechira to adhere to the commandments of Hashem and refrain from sin. In Parshas Nitzavim, the Torah tells us that we have the choice to repent after we have sinned.

As Moshe is about to die, why does God tell him about how the Israelites will ruin everything?

Jonah objected to God accepting repentance based on ulterior motives and likely for short duration.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

Rabbi Sacks

Torah isn’t a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of stories linked over time

We believe that God created each of us, regardless of color, class, culture or creed, in His image.

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us

Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.

When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/two-types-of-community/2013/03/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: