Phrases that repeat themselves in the Torah are a sign for us to take note.
During the previous Parasha, we read that the People gathered around Aharon – “Vayikahel haAm el Aharon” – to request a spiritual replacement for Moshe, whom they feared would not descend again from Har Sinai. The result was the donation of gold (by the men) to create the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first Tablets, and much bloodshed and plague in the camp.
This week’s Parasha begins with the tikkun of that gathering – “VaYakhel Moshe et ha aAm.” Moshe gathers all the people and instructs them how to live meaningfully as a community, with productive results.
Firstly, he says, set aside Shabbat as a time to develop relationships – with ourselves, family, friends, and God. Shabbat supercedes even the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle).
Secondly, Moshe commands them to work together towards a shared goal for the common good. The Mishkan was a “communal project” to which everyone, men and women, could donate not only their gold and silver, but their individual skills and creativity, including carpentry, dyeing, weaving, and metalwork.
Moshe and the Torah are addressing the intrinsic need to “gather” among human beings. Our Corona experience of forced isolation and limited human contact brought this need into bold perspective.
Few are the misanthropes who truly shun human interaction.
For most people, belonging to a community of people with common values or interests, where they can also contribute and grow, is key to their happiness and satisfaction in life.
While yishuvim and kibbutzim are based on communal life, the creation of more Kehillot in big cities in Israel is an encouraging phenomenon. But it is only the beginning. We all need to help build community.
When we take our interests or concerns for others, and create new clubs and projects that bring people together we improve the quality of life. Shabbat and holidays create frequent opportunities for inviting guests and increasing the joy of the day. Volunteering also creates community and positive change.
With the help of a wonderful app called Sun Do, created by Hashomer HaHadash that directs volunteers to Israeli farmers in need, my family recently spent an afternoon planting anise, spinach, and lettuce, in beautiful wide open fields outside the town of Tel Mond near Netanya. My daughter said it was the best thing that she did during Corona.
Ever since Moshe taught us how to live as community in the desert together for 40 years, the concepts of communal time and communal activity, are still the foundations of a nurturing society and a joyful and fulfilling life.