Is there room for diversity in Judaism? A multiplicity of voices? Pluralism?
The Torah describes the encampments of the Tribes of Israel in the Wilderness. The camp was divided into four formations, each containing three tribes. Every tribe had its own banner or flag, representing its unique quality: “The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of their father’s household” (Bamidbar 2:2). In fact, the Midrash describes in great detail the colors and symbols of each flag (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:6; Cf. Rashi, ad Loc.).
But banners and flags and symbols can be divisive.
According to Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, this is precisely why the flags are given after the inauguration of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a unifying force: A central location where Jews of every stripe and color can join together in the service of Hashem.
There is room in our tradition for different symbols and banners – for diversity – so long as we can join together under one larger tent.
Interestingly, the Torah commands that the Mishkan to be covered with the skin of the Tachash, a symbol of diversity. The Talmud (Shabbat 28a-28b) describes this elusive creature: It only existed during the days of Moshe, it was a kosher animal, had a coat of many colors and a single horn on its forehead. Rashi, in his comments to Shemot 25:5, writes: “It was a type of animal that existed only at that time. It had many colors, therefore Targum renders it Susgona for it rejoices (sus) and prides itself with its many colors (gevanim).”
The Mishkan, the focal point of Jewish worship, is covered with the skin of an animal that rejoices in its many colors. Like a majestic tapestry, the Jewish people join together in the service of Hashem in the Mishkan, and celebrate their diversity.
We are indeed a diverse community. It is our challenge, but it is also our strength. This is the unique quality of the Jewish People. It is part of our fiber; the very fabric of who we are.
This Sunday, we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim. We express our gratitude for the gift that Hashem gave us during those six miraculous days in June, 1967.
Just like the Mishkan, Jerusalem is a unifying force. It is the ‘City of Peace.’ It was there that all of Israel would ascend to the Holy Temple to serve Hashem together. Jerusalem was “not divided among the Tribes” (Yoma 12a). Each and every Tribe had a place. Each could call it home.
The Psalmist writes: “The built up Jerusalem is a city that fosters togetherness. For there the tribes ascended, the tribes of Hashem, as a testimony of Israel to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (Psalm 122).
But by its very nature, Jerusalem is also a diverse city. Even a brief visit to the Kotel Plaza attests to this. One, trying to pray, is barraged by the sounds of competing Minyanim: Sephardic chanting, Chassidic shouting, Carlebach singing. Each group expressing their devotion to Hashem through the voice of their unique liturgical tradition. But what appears to be a dissonant cacophony is in reality one glorious symphony.
Jerusalem, much like the banners and flags of Bamidbar, represents a colorful unity. It is a city of diversity and togetherness all at once.
And that’s the way it should be.