In the book of Numbers, we are told that silver trumpets will summon the congregation and set the camps to march [10:2]. In a beautiful comment, Rabbi Soloveitchik delineates the difference:
“An encampment is created out of a desire for self-defense and thrives on fear. A Congregation is fashioned out of longing for the realization of an exalted moral idea and thrives on love.”
People and nations often band together out of fear. But closeness that has roots in fear will dissolve when the threat passes. More than that, there is often a residual shame in caring for one another only because we were frightened.
A true edah (congregation) is bound by love in pursuit of something higher than themselves. The connection is more powerful and lasting than fear. The survival of the Jews is often foolishly attributed to being hated or fear. Many groups have been hated throughout history, and most are gone. The Jewish people survives because we are animated by the highest of ideals and bound together by love. From its earliest days, Israel has been far more than a camp: We are a congregation.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).