When detailing the functions of the biblical trumpets, our Parsha carefully distinguishes between a congregation or community and an encampment.
“Make for yourself two silver trumpets of hammered work; and they shall be to summon the congregation and for causing the encampments to set forth.” (Numbers 10:2)
What is the difference between an encampment and a community?
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggests that an encampment is a gathering designed to provide comfort, strength, or self-defence. When emperor penguins huddle together for warmth in the harsh Antarctic winter, or when buffalo gather together for protection against a potential predator, an encampment is formed. Similarly, when people gather together under a bus stop seeking shelter from rain, or when an ancient society lives together surrounded by high walls for protection, encampments have been forged. Indeed, in a different verse, the Torah uses the word “encampment” in the context of preparation for battle: “When an encampment goes out to face your enemies” (Deuteronomy 23:10).
A community, however, is a collection of individuals with a common future and shared aspirations. Unlike an encampment motivated by fear, a community is driven by ideas, a sense of mission, and a common goal shaped by a shared past.
Our nation, summoned and moved by the biblical trumpets, served both as an encampment and as a community. The nation was an encampment of former slaves wondering in the wilderness and staying together for survival. Additionally, the nation was an evolving community of free people journeying together to the promised land with new dreams.
As modern Jewish communities, we function in these same two capacities. Like an encampment, we come together for comfort, to belong, and to share our experiences. At the same time, we collectively embody a set of values designed to guide our lives, inspire our choices, and direct out nation.