ה אֶת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לַֽעֲשׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם:
"Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: "These are the things that the Lord commanded to make." (Shemos 35:1)
Every word in the Torah is precise. When Yosef HaTzaddik was gathering food from the Egyptians to store away for the years of famine the Torah tells us:
וַיִּצְבֹּ֨ר יוֹסֵ֥ף בָּ֛ר כְּח֥וֹל הַיָּ֖ם הַרְבֵּ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד עַ֛ד כִּֽי־חָדַ֥ל לִסְפֹּ֖ר כִּי־אֵ֥ין מִסְפָּֽר
And Joseph gathered grain like the sand of the sea, in great abundance, until [one] stopped counting, because there was no number. (Bereishis 41:49) Why does the Torah use the word וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל (literally to assemble) as opposed to ויקבץ or ויאסוף or וַיִּצְבֹּ֨ר (which also imply a gathering)?
Clearly the Torah had alternative synonyms that it could have used used. Is there a special significance to וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל?
Vayakel/Pekudei - Community vs Individuality
Many years Vayakel and Pekudei are read as one double parsha. The connection between these two parshiyos is obvious as both deal with the Mishkan but when we look at the names of these two parshiyos we see that there is an interesting contrast.
Vayakhel means "and he assmebled" while Pekudei means "accounting." One cannot help but notice that Vayakhel connotes a focus on the gathering together of individuals to form a community whereas Pekudei connotes the individual being counted as a unique and disparate entity.
There is clearly an emphasis on two separate movements; the community and the individual. In ordering these Parshios we would have thought that Pekudei ought to have come first! After all, a community is simply a group of individuals. It would make more sense for the Torah to first focus on the development of the individual and then afterwards to focus on how those individuals operate within the context of a larger community.
What is even more strange is that these parshiyos seem to have switched names. Vayakhel begins with Moshe gathering together the people to give them the Mitzvah of Shabbos and the Mitzvah of the building of the Mishkan. These are the two centers of community in Jewish life, one is a community in time and the other a community in space. On Shabbos we set aside our creativity and come together as a community in our Shuls (modeled after the Mishkan) where the community has its home. But Parshas Vayakhel mostly deals with the individual details of the building of the Mishkan. We know the exact dimensions, materials and design for each one of the components of the Mishkan. Vaykhel seems very much focused on the individual.
Pekudei too seems to be erroneously named. While Pekudei does give a detailed account of the Mishkan it is mostly comprised of the actual building of the Mishkan. It describes how each component of the Mishkan fit in with the other in order to build the greater structure. Parshas Pekudei would have been more appropriately named Vayakhel and vice versa?!?
The Paradox of the Korban Pesach
Korbanos are generally divided into two categories: Korban Yachid and Korban Tzibbur.
A Korban Yachid (such as a Korban Todah or a Korban Chatas) is personal in nature. A Korban Tzibbur (such as the Korban Tamid)is communal in nature, paid for by the communal fund.
The Gemara in Pesachim (66a) relates that one year when the 14th of Nissan fell out on Shabbos, the leaders of the Sanhedrin were unable to resolve the question as to whether the Korban Pesach should be brought. The question revolved around the nature of the Korban Pesach. If the Korban Pesach is a Korban Yachid (an individuals sacrifice) then it would be impermissible to bring such a Korban on Shabbos. On the other hand, if the Korban Pesach is a Korban Tzibbur then one would be obligated to bring it on Pesach.
The Korban Pesach is unique in that it has properties of both a Korban Yachid and a Korban Tzibbur. On the one hand, the Korban Pesach is purchased with private funds and eaten by those who brought it. This would clearly indicate that it is a Korban Yachid. On the other hand, with regard to the Korban Pesach the Torah says:
וְהָיָ֤ה לָכֶם֙ לְמִשְׁמֶ֔רֶת עַ֣ד אַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר י֖וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֑ה וְשָֽׁחֲט֣וּ אֹת֗וֹ כֹּ֛ל קְהַ֥ל עֲדַת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בֵּ֥ין הָֽעַרְבָּֽיִם
"And you shall keep it for inspection until the fourteenth day of this month, and the entire congregation of the community of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon." (Shemos 12:6)
Since the Korban Pesach is brought by the "the entire congregation of the community of Israel" it would clearly indicate that it is a Korban Tzibbur.
The Gemara relates that Hillel had recently emigrated from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael. Hillel was able to prove that the Korban Pesach was in fact communal in nature and therefore it ought to be sacrificed on Shabbos. Impressed with Hillel’s keen analytical insight, the leaders of the Sanhedrin appointed Hillel as their new leader.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l asks, if indeed the Korban Pesach is a Korban Tzibbur as Hillel clearly proved, why does it have the properties of a Korban Yachid?
Furthermore, while it is certainly impressive that Hillel was able to clarify that the Korban Pesach was a Korban Tzibbur, why does this make him worthy of being the leader of Klal Yisrael?
God Does Not Make Doubles
Judaism places great emphasis on individuality.
The Torah (Bereishis 14:13) refers to our forefather Avraham as Avraham HaIvri. The Medrash (42:8) explains that Avraham was referred to as such because the whole world was on one side and Avraham was on the other side. The rest of the world believed in the power of false idols whereas Avraham believed in the one true God. It must have taken exceptional courage and conviction to hold on to his beliefs when the rest of the world stood opposed to him.
The passuk in Tehillim (31:6) says
בְּיָדְךָ, אַפְקִיד רוּחִי: פָּדִיתָ אוֹתִי ה׳ קֵל אֱמֶת
Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, Thou God of truth.
The Medrash (Tehilim Mizmor 25) explains the significance of the phrase “In Your hand I commit my spirit.” Ordinarily when someone leaves a deposit for the lender, upon returning the collateral, the lender is not careful that they return the precise item deposited. As long as the item appears similar the borrower does not notice the difference between the item they deposited and the item they received upon returning the money. This is not the case when it comes to Hashem. Every night we return our soul to God and each morning Hashem returns the very same soul to the body it belongs to.
While we may appear to be similar in nature, in truth each one of us is completely unique. Hashem does not return a similar soul, he returns our unique soul. Our job is to be true to the individual nature of our soul. As the Kotzker Rebbe said, “If I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I then I am not I and you are not you. However, if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you then I am I and you are you.” In other words, to thine own self be true. Despite the fact that we are social creatures, impacted by the communities we live in (see Rambam Hilchos Deos 6:1), it is our responsibility to remain attuned to our own unique personalities so that we may serve God with the talents that he gave to us.
The Ramchal In Messilas Yesharim (chapter 26) expresses this idea clearly as it relates to our own spiritual growth.
וזה פשוט, כי כל אדם לפי האומנות אשר בידו והעסק אשר הוא עוסק, כך צריך לו היישרה והדרכה. כי דרך החסידות הראוי למי שתורתו אומנותו, אינו דרך החסידות הראוי למי שצריך להשכיר עצמו למלאכת חברו, ולא זה וזה דרך החסידות הראוי למי שעוסק בסחורתו, וכן כל שאר הפרטים אשר בעסקי האדם בעולם, כל אחד ואחד לפי מה שהוא, ראויים לו דרכי החסידות.
We can easily understand that every person needs direction and guidance in accordance with his skills and his occupation, since the path of piety for one who studies Torah all day is unsuitable for one who is in the employ of another; and neither of these ways is suitable for one who is engaged in his own business. And this is the case regarding all the other particulars of human affairs in the world: there is a path to piety that is suitable to each and every individual whatever his profession.
The Netiv explains the sin of the Dor Haflagah as a failure to create space for individual creativity.
וַיְהִ֥י כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ שָׂפָ֣ה אֶחָ֑ת וּדְבָרִ֖ים אֲחָדִֽים: וַיְהִ֖י בְּנָסְעָ֣ם מִקֶּ֑דֶם וַיִּמְצְא֥וּ בִקְעָ֛ה בְּאֶ֥רֶץ שִׁנְעָ֖ר וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם: וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֗הוּ הָ֚בָה נִלְבְּנָ֣ה לְבֵנִ֔ים וְנִשְׂרְפָ֖ה לִשְׂרֵפָ֑ה וַתְּהִ֨י לָהֶ֤ם הַלְּבֵנָה֙ לְאָ֔בֶן וְהַ֣חֵמָ֔ר הָיָ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לַחֹֽמֶר: וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ הָ֣בָה | נִבְנֶה־לָּ֣נוּ עִ֗יר וּמִגְדָּל֙ וְרֹאשׁ֣וֹ בַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנַֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֖נוּ שֵׁ֑ם פֶּן־נָפ֖וּץ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָאָֽרֶץ: וַיֵּ֣רֶד יְהֹוָ֔ה לִרְאֹ֥ת אֶת־הָעִ֖יר וְאֶת־הַמִּגְדָּ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּנ֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י הָֽאָדָֽם: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה הֵ֣ן עַ֤ם אֶחָד֙ וְשָׂפָ֤ה אַחַת֙ לְכֻלָּ֔ם וְזֶ֖ה הַֽחִלָּ֣ם לַֽעֲשׂ֑וֹת וְעַתָּה֙ לֹֽא־יִבָּצֵ֣ר מֵהֶ֔ם כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽזְמ֖וּ לַֽעֲשֽׂוֹת: הָ֚בָה נֵֽרְדָ֔ה וְנָֽבְלָ֥ה שָׁ֖ם שְׂפָתָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁמְע֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ שְׂפַ֥ת רֵעֵֽהוּ: וַיָּ֨פֶץ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם מִשָּׁ֖ם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיַּחְדְּל֖וּ לִבְנֹ֥ת הָעִֽיר: עַל־כֵּ֞ן קָרָ֤א שְׁמָהּ֙ בָּבֶ֔ל כִּי־שָׁ֛ם בָּלַ֥ל יְהֹוָ֖ה שְׂפַ֣ת כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וּמִשָּׁם֙ הֱפִיצָ֣ם יְהֹוָ֔ה עַל־פְּנֵ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ:
"Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words. And it came to pass when they traveled from the east, that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth." And the Lord descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. And the Lord said, "Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion." And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore, He named it Babel, for there the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them upon the face of the entire earth." (Bereishis 11:1-9)
It is not clear from the Torah as to the exact nature of the sin that the people committed. What was their mistake? The Netziv explains that the sin was that “they were one.” Why is unity a sin? Was the Beis HaMikdash not destroyed because of a lack of achdus? In truth the Dor Halfalagah did not have unity, they simply enforced conformity. Guards were appointed to ensure that everyone thought in the same way. Divergent ideas were punishable by death. This explains why the people were concerned that they be scattered throughout the lands. Different societies have different values and were someone to be exposed to new ideologies they may be influenced to think in new ways. To develop ideas of their own. Totalitarian regimes cannot survive when people express their natural individuality. They must suppress diversity in order to survive. It was therefore necessary for them to post guards around their community to ensure that no one left. To this God responds by confusing their language. It is a calling for the people to express themselves in different ways. To learn that there is dignity in difference. To appreciate the unique nature of the individual. Communities built on conformity cannot survive. The Godly soul will not allow itself to be suppressed.
Community - Reality or Abstraction?
With such a heavy emphasis on individuality, one wonders how Jews have cultivated such a strong sense of community throughout history.
Indeed, we find that there is a heavy emphasis on the notion of community in the Torah.
The Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur atones for “himself and his family and for all the congregation of Israel.”
The Gemara in Taanis (11a) teaches that when the Jewish people are in a crisis, and one of them separates himself from them, the two angelic guardians who accompany a person come and place their hands on his head and say: This man who has separated himself from the community will not see the consolation of the community
The Mishna in Avos (2:4) quotes Hillel HaZaken who says: Do not separate yourself from the community.
We daven together as a community. Even our personal bakashos in davening are made in first person plural to demonstrate that every Jew is connected to each other. (The Arizal instructs a person to accept upon themselves the Mitzvah of loving every Jew before davening which further emphasizes the communal nature of Teffilah.)
The Navi (Shmuel II, 7:23) calls us “one nation on earth.”
Clearly community plays an important role in Judaism and therefore it is worthy of a deeper analysis. Is the notion of a community merely an abstraction; or is it its own reality? In other words, is the individual the reality and when a group of individuals come together, we have a community or is a community an independent reality, existing beyond the individuals that comprise the group?
The Rogachover Gaon sees this question as the underlying principle in a machlokes between Rav Akiva and Rav Yosi HaGlili.
כֵּיצַד מְזַמְּנִין, בִּשְׁלשָׁה אוֹמֵר נְבָרֵךְ. בִּשְׁלשָׁה וְהוּא, אוֹמֵר בָּרְכוּ. בַּעֲשָׂרָה, אוֹמֵר נְבָרֵךְ לֵאלֹהֵינוּ. בַּעֲשָׂרָה וָהוּא, אוֹמֵר בָּרְכוּ. אֶחָד עֲשָׂרָה וְאֶחָד עֲשָׂרָה רִבּוֹא. בְּמֵאָה אוֹמֵר, נְבָרֵךְ לַייָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ. בְּמֵאָה וְהוּא, אוֹמֵר בָּרְכוּ. בְּאֶלֶף, אוֹמֵר נְבָרֵךְ לַייָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. בְּאֶלֶף וְהוּא, אוֹמֵר בָּרְכוּ. בְּרִבּוֹא, אוֹמֵר, נְבָרֵךְ לַייָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת יוֹשֵׁב הַכְּרוּבִים עַל הַמָּזוֹן שֶׁאָכָלְנוּ. בְּרִבּוֹא וְהוּא, אוֹמֵר בָּרְכוּ. כְּעִנְיָן שֶׁהוּא מְבָרֵךְ, כָּךְ עוֹנִין אַחֲרָיו, בָּרוּךְ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת יוֹשֵׁב הַכְּרוּבִים עַל הַמָּזוֹן שֶׁאָכָלְנוּ. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַגְּלִילִי אוֹמֵר, לְפִי רֹב הַקָּהָל הֵן מְבָרְכִין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בְּמַקְהֵלוֹת בָּרְכוּ אֱלֹהִים, יְיָ מִמְּקוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל (תהלים סח). אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, מַה מָּצִינוּ בְּבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת, אֶחָד מְרֻבִּין וְאֶחָד מֻעָטִין אוֹמֵר, בָּרְכוּ אֶת יְיָ. רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר, בָּרְכוּ אֶת יְיָ הַמְבֹרָךְ:
How do they invite [one another to recite the Birkat Hamazon]? If there are three, he [the one saying Birkat Hamazon] says, “Let us bless [Him of whose food we have eaten].” If there are three and him he says, “Bless [Him of whose food we have eaten]” If there are ten, he says, “Let us bless our God [of whose food we have eaten].” If there are ten and he says, “Bless.” It is the same whether there are ten or ten myriads (ten ten thousands). If there are a hundred he says, “Let us bless the Lord our God [of whose food we have eaten]. If there are a hundred and him he says, “Bless.” If there are a thousand he says “Let us bless the Lord our God, the God of Israel [of whose food we have eaten].” If there are a thousand and him he says “Bless.” If there are ten thousand he says, “Let us bless the Lord our God, the God of Israel, the God of hosts, who dwells among the cherubim, for the food which we have eaten.” If there are ten thousand and him he says, “Bless.” Corresponding to his blessing the others answer after him, “Blessed be the Lord our God the God of Israel, the God of hosts, who dwells among the cherubim, for the food which we have eaten.” Rabbi Yose the Galilean says: According to the number of the congregation, they bless, as it says, “In assemblies bless God, the Lord, O you who are from the fountain of Israel.” Rabbi Akiba said: What do we find in the synagogue? Whether there are many or few the he says, “Bless the Lord your God.” Rabbi Ishmael says: “Bless the Lord your God who is blessed.”
Rav Yosi HaGlili maintains we change the text of the zimmun depending on the size of the group. The text is different when we have a group of ten, one hundred, one thousand or ten thousand. Rav Akiva argues that it is the same text regardless of the size of the group. The Rogachover explains that Rav Yosi HaGlili holds that a community is merely an abstraction. The reality is the individuals that comprise the community. Therefore, when the size of the group changes, the text of the Zimmun changes to reflect the new reality. Rav Akiva holds that the community is its own reality. Once we have established a community, the individual becomes subsumed within the new reality of the community. It therefore follows that it makes no difference whether we have ten or ten thousand participating in the benching. Either way the text of the Zimmun will be the same.
This idea of the community being a reality (and not just an abstraction) is also seen in the laws of the Sotah. In addition to drinking the special water that determines her innocence, the woman must also bring a Korban Mincha (flour from barley). Ordinarily a Korban Mincha is partially burnt with the remainder being eaten by the Kohanim. If the person bringing the Korban Mincha is a Kohen then the entire Mincha is burnt. The Gemara in Sotah (23a) discusses a case where the accused woman bringing the Korban Mincha is married to a Kohen. Since the possessions of the woman are jointly owned by her and her husband this would be a situation where the Mincha is partially owned by the Kohen. The Gemara explains that in such a case the Korban Mincha is burned like a regular Korban Mincha but because the husband is a Kohen the Korban is not able to be eaten (the rest of the Korban is burnt in the Beis Hadeshen).
Tosafos is bothered by the Gemara’s solution. The Gemara in Zevachim (5b) makes it clear that because regarding the Korban Mincha the Torah uses the word “Nefesh” it can only be brought by an individual and not by a partnership where two people bring it together. It seems from our Gemara that the husband of the Isha Sotah has a portion of the Korban. Why then is it not considered a partnership and as such a failure in the requirement that it be brought by one “Nefesh”? Tosafos answers that since the main kapparah comes on account of the wife it is justifiable to call it “Nefesh.”
Still we are bothered. The husband clearly has a portion in this Korban. If he had no portion in the Korban then even if the husband is a Kohen it would be permitted to eat. Why is this not considered a partnership?
The Rogachover answers that a marriage is not a partnership between two inidividuals. Just as above (with regard to Zimmun) Rav Akiva held that a community is a reality where the individuals are subsumed within the community, so too in a marriage the individual people are subsumed within the reality of the marriage. Indeed the Gemara in Sotah (17a) states:
דריש רבי עקיבא: איש ואשה זכו שכינה ביניהן לא זכו אש אוכלתן.
Rav Akiva expounded: When husband and wife are worthy, the Shechinah abides with them; when they are not worthy fire consumes them.
Rav Akiva is not merely testifying to the beauty of a worthy marriage and the destructive power of a failing marriage. Rather Rav Akiva is giving us a fundamental insight into the structure of marriage. Like a community, a marriage is a reality. It is not just a unit of two individuals. The man and the woman beomce identified as a husband and wife. Their individual identities are subsumed within the new reality of the marriage. With this in mind we can understand why the Korban Mincha of an Isha Sotah is not a partnership. A marriage is a reality above and beyond the individual participants. As such, the husband’s impact on the Korban is not a function of his independence but rather is a function of the marriage itself. Seen from this perspective it is certainly understandable why the Isha Sotah can bring a Korban Mincha and have it be considered “Nefesh.”
One final example of this can be seen from a Machlokes regarding the nature of the giving of the Torah.
דתניא ר' ישמעאל אומר כללות נאמרו בסיני. ופרטות באהל מועד ור' עקיבא אומר כללות ופרטות נאמרו בסיני ונשנו באהל מועד ונשתלשו בערבות מואב.
Rav Yishmael said: The general directions were given at Sinai, and the details in the Tent of Meeting. But Rav Akiva said: The general directions and the details were given at Sinai and repeated in the Tent of Meeting and enjoined a third time in the Plains of Moab.
Again, we see the same duality. Is the group its own independent reality or is the group merely an abstraction? According to Rav Akiva the details cannot be separated from the general laws. It is one integrated reality. There can be no distinction between the general laws and their details because the individual details are subsumed within the reality of the general laws. According to Rav Yishmael there can indeed be a separation.
The Harmony of Opposites
We have thus far seen that in Yahadus we have not one but two realities. The reality of the individual as well the reality of the Klal. Each individual has their own unique role to play and at the same time the individual is subsumed within the reality of the community. The merging of these two realities is seen in the first two paragraphs of Shema.
The first two paragraphs of Kerias Shema at first glance appear to be nearly identical. Only when one examines them carefully do we notice small but important distinctions. The first paragraph is written in the singular. Teach Torah to your son. Put Teffilin on your hand. The second paragraph is written in the plural. Teach Torah your children. Put Teffilin on your hands.
The message is clear. The first paragraph addresses the individual. The second addresses the community. We begin the Shema by acknowledging the value of the individual but an individual by themselves is limited. To truly make a difference the individual needs to be subsumed with something larger than themselves. We are called upon to be individuals, but we must not fall into the trap of individualism. To be an individual means to recognize the unique Godly talent that we are all endowed with. Individualism is selfish. We don’t recognize the needs of a larger reality; the reality of the community. In Judaism, the individual enhances and is enhanced by the community. The two are inextricably linked.
This duality explains the Gemara in Brachos (58a) which instructs us to make a bracha upon seeing 600,000 Jews. The bracha recognizes God as one who “knows secrets” for as the Gemara explains, just as the faces of every individual is different so too are their minds and their characters.
Why do we call God the one who knows secrets? When we see a massive crowd of Jews our instinct is to recognize the reality of the community. But the reality of the community includes the reality of the individuals that are a part of that community. We are called upon to recognize both. In Judaism, we see God’s oneness as paradoxical. On the one hand, our unity is a function of His unity. We all share a common root soul; each one of us is a spark of the Divine. On the other hand, God’s oneness gives birth to the individual. An infinite God would not have one expression in this world, He would have an infinite amount. The unity of God is found in the diversity of creation. As the Mitteler Rebbe explains in Toras Chaim, only an Absolute Unity can produce an unlimited amount of creations. The fact that each one of us is so very different is a testament to God’s unity. We are, as the Gemara in Yoma (86a) describes us, one body. Each limb plays a distinct role but we are joined together in one life. So too each Jew plays a unique role in the history of Am Yisrael but we all come together under the banner of a common mission. Upon seeing 600,000 Jews we recognize the unity of the community. In declaring God to be the one who knows secrets we are recognizing that God knows the truth of every individual within the community. God alone knows the uniqueness of each soul. When we recognize the reality of the community, we must not forget to respect the individuals that are a part of that community.
More Than A Group - A Kehillah
With this in mind we can understand why the Torah uses the word Yayakel and not any of the other synonyms that imply a gathering. A Kehillah is more than a group of individuals. A community is a reality unto itself. Following the Shemmitah year, the Jews would gather together to hear the King read from the select portions of Sefer Devarim. This is the Mitzvah known as Hakhel (Kehillah). What makes Hakhel meaningful is that the Talmid Chacham and the child stand next to each other each participating in the same Mitzvah. The individuals, regardless of their stature, are a part of the same Kehillah. They are united in a common mission. The passuk in Yirmiyah (31:8) tells us that in the times of Mashiach “a Kahal Gadol” will return to Eretz Yisrael. Only when we recognize that we more than just a group of individuals will we merit redemption.
The Mishkan was the place where God’s oneness was revealed in this world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the construction of the Mishkan reflected this oneness. The Rambam (Hichos Beis HaBechirah 1:6) teaches that the building of the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash (Aron, Mizbeach, Menorah) are not separate Mitzvos but are part of one overall commandment to build the Mishkan.
The Rambam (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 4:3) teaches that there is an obligation to build a guardrail on the roof of the Beis HaMikdash. The source for this halacha is the Sifri which explains the passuk (Devarim 22:8) “When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof.” The Gemara in Chullin (136a) explains the phrase “your roof” to mean that one is only obligated to build a guardrail on the roofs of their own homes but not on the roofs of the Shuls and Batei Medrash which are not privately owned. The difficulty now becomes, why are we obligated to build a guardrail on the roof of the Beis HaMikdash? Surely the Beis HaMikdash is not privately owned and therefore would not fall under the rubric of “your home.”
Perhaps we can explain that there is a difference between a Shul and the Beis HaMikdash. The Rambam in Hilchos Teffilah (11:16) teaches that one is permitted to sell a Shul in a village but not in a metropolis. The difference is that a Shul in a village was constructed for the sake of the villagers alone and therefore if all the villager’s desire to sell the Shul they may do so (The Ramban paskens that the consent of the majority of the villager is sufficient and this is in fact the accepted halacha – see Mishna Berurah 153:24). In a metropolis the Shul was built for the entire Jewish world. Anyone who comes to the city now has a place to daven. In this sense it is the property of every Jew and can never be sold. There is however an exception to this rule. A Shul in a metropolis may be sold if a majority of the inhabitants of the city accept upon themselves the authority of a single individual and that individual chooses to sell the Shul (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 153:7). This is based on the Gemara in Megillah (26a) which relates that Rav Ashi said that although people from all over the world come to daven in the Shul in Mata Machsia, since he was recognized as the authority of the Shul he would be permitted to sell it (according to some he may do so even without getting the consent of the community). It is clear from these halachos that with regards to a Shul the focus is on the individuals that comprise the group. The community is an abstraction. There is no one unifying body upon whom it can be said, this is "your home." If the individual villagers decide to sell their Shul they may do so. If the recognized authority of the city decides to sell the Shul he may do so. When seen in this light, it makes sense that a Shul is not categorized as “your home” and is therefore exempt from having a guardrail. There is no reality to the community and therefore the obligation cannot fall on anyone.
In contrast, the Rambam (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:12) tells us that everyone (men, women and children) is obligated to build the Beis HaMikdash. When it comes to building the Beis HaMikdash, it must reflect the oneness that it reveals. Here the community is not an abstraction but a reality! Hence the Beis HaMikdash can indeed be called “your home.” It is the home not of every individual but of the one community.
We can now understand why Moshe Rabbeinu assembles the people to collect donations for the construction of the Mishkan. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the funds for the building of the Mishkan could not come from any individual person. The Mishkan, a place where God’s oneness was revealed in this world, must be built in a fashion that reflected this oneness. As such, Moshe Rabbeinu made the people into a Kehilla, a unit where the individual is subsumed into the reality of the community. In this fashion, the monies used for the construction of the Mishkan were donated by the Kehilla and not by each individual member of Klal Yisrael.
The Community Enhances Individuality, Individuals Enhance The Community
As mentioned above, Vaykel and Pekudei seem to be misnamed. The name Vayakel focuses on the community but the actual content of the parsha focuses on the individual details of the building of the Mishkan. In contrast, Pekudei means accounting which connotes a focus on the individual but the actual content of the parsha focuses on how the individual components of the Mishkan come together to build the greater structure.
We also asked why Vayakel comes before Pekudei. Shouldn’t the development of the individual come first?
We are now ready to answer these questions.
There are two paradoxical movements at play here. The reality of the community enhancing the individuals that are subsumed within and the reality of the individuals that enhance the abstract community.
The theme of Vayakel is the reality of the community enhancing the subsumed individuals. It is therefore clear why the name Vayakel focuses on the on the community while the content focuses on the individual. Vayakel comes first because our first movement must be to understand that we are not merely a group of individuals. The community is real. But far from suppressing our individuality, the reality of the community enhances it. In Bavel they traded unity for conformity. In Yiddishkeit, the oneness of the community reflects the oneness of God. God’s unity obligates us to come in conscious contact with our own unique soul. Without the community we cannot achieve individuality.
The theme of Pekudei is the reality of the individuals that comprise the community. It is therefore clear why the name of the Parsha focuses on the individual, but the actual content focuses on the general. Now that Vayakel has established the development of the individual, we must seek to understand how all of these various pieces come together. We are enhanced by the reality of the community, but how do we use the unique talents we are gifted with to enhance the community. Individuality must not be confused with selfish individualism.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this duality explains why the Korban Pesach is a Korban Tzibbur and yet has the properties of a Korban Yachid. Yetzias Mitzrayim is the birth of the Jewish Nation. The Korban Pesach reflects the reality of the community and thus falls under the rubric of a Korban Tzibbur. On the other hand, our community enhances and is enhanced by the individual and therefore the properties of the Korban include those of a Korban Yachid.
Appropriately, it was Hillel who was able to settle debate. After all, it was Hillel who said, "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?" (Avos 1:14) There is no greater dictum of Chazal that captures the paradox of community and individuality. It now understandable why the leaders of the Sanhedrin stepped aside for Hillel to become their leader. It was not only his incisive intellect but his capacity to harmonize community and individuality that made him fit for the mantle of leadership. A true leader appreciates the needs of the community and the needs of the individual. While one is often at the mercy of the other, a Gadol B’Torah knows how to strike the appropriate balance.