Photo Credit: courtesy

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinmberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Two generations touched. I introduced a close friend who is about to go on Aliyah to my neighbor who lived through the War of Independence. “Where will you live?” “Alon Shvut, in the Gush.” My neighbor was touched: “A group of my friends was ambushed and killed in ’48 as they tried to save people trapped in the Gush.” One was moving to a new life in an area that the other’s friends died in their unsuccessful attempt to protect. Two generations. Two perspectives. Connecting.

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It was inevitable that the conversation would move to politics. My neighbor spoke of the areas recaptured in 1967 from a different perspective than my friend, “Israel did not expect the Jordanian Legion to abandon so much land so quickly, and was unprepared to deal with the people living in the captured territory. It changed us.” He wasn’t addressing the political or military issues of the area. He was simply remarking on a change he observed in the character of young people who grew up authoritatively stopping a car driven by an older person. “Imagine what it’s like for an older African American to be called ‘boy’ by a teenager. It’s destructive for both the older man and the younger.”

If I agreed with the current approach I could immediately identify my neighbor as part of the “left,” for feeling compassion for the Palestinians, and my friend as part of the “right,” for moving to the West Bank. All the “Camps” make it easy to categorize other people. “He’s in the JStreet camp!” “He’s in the Settler’s camp!” While we’re at it, let’s identify their religious camps: “He’s in the Chiloni (Secular) camp, and the other’s in the “Da’ati (Religious)!” Why stop there? There are so many camps in the Chiloni and Da’ati camps that we can enter all the data in a computer and determine exactly which camp is perfect for each one.

I lost my taste for such camping. My Da’ati, Settler, Right Wing friend treats everyone he meets with respect and dignity. He’s a first class mensch. He will speak to an older Palestinian with more respect than the person receives at home. My supposed Left Wing, Chiloni neighbor is exactly the type of human being I wish to be; calm, kind, sensitive, thoughtful, and religious. I’m not going to “camp” either one; I’d miss their beauty and goodness. I’m frustrated by all the camping: Chassidic, Yeshivish, Mizrachi, Modern Orthodox, Centrist, Left Wing… I’m not sure to which camp I belong. I have so many influences in my blood that I don’t know in which camp to pitch my tent.

We’ve been campers for an awfully long time: “The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner, according to the insignias of their father’s household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp (Numbers 2:2).” Yes, there were camps, but only after each individual met with Moses and Aaron to discuss his unique role in life. They saw themselves and were appreciated by others as individuals before they were placed in a specific camp. “Each man by his banner,” each person must first have a clear sense of being an individual.

The Torah warns us that the definition of being identified with a camp is, “At a distance,” from the House of God, and will survive only if, “surrounding the Tent of Meeting,” they shared a focal point, the Tent of Meeting, or the Tent where all the camps come together. I distance myself from God’s House when I join a camp, or when I define others, not as individuals, but by their camp.

The magic of Sinai began when the people camped “with unified hearts and minds” facing Sinai. A single camp of shared purpose. I suspect that this is the message behind the Sages’ teaching that Shabbat is the key to redemption: We do not share a common purpose other than a belief that the world can become a place of peace, a Shabbat world, of which we are instructed, “let every person remain his place (Exodus 16:29),” his place in the single camp unified in its commitment to perfecting the world. Shabbat is our opportunity to rejoin that unified camp facing Sinai.

Shabbat Shalom and Shavuout Tov!

*Sponsored with prayers for the safety of The Land of Israel 

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