June 25, 2024
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June 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The new Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Campus, in the heart of Yerushalayim, was hopping the other day. While 150 Ukrainian refugees were being processed in our visitor center, we had recent American olim receiving employment counseling, 30 Chareidi principals meeting to strategize how to better integrate olim into their schools, as well as a seminary from a traditional background who were learning about Zionist history. All happening at the same time (exhale).

It was a frenzy of activity and diversity but the ultimate manifestation of unity. Hinei ma tov u’mah na’im shevet achim gam yachad, “behold how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity.”

This week’s parsha describes the carefully structured encampment of the Jewish people around the Mishkan: “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own banner, according to the insignia of his father’s household.” (Bamidbar 2:2)

Each family had its own prescribed location within the national camp, which was maintained while the people marched and rested.

The orchestration of this tribal structure was impressive enough to inspire the blessing, and poetic description, of the prophet Bilaam that we read daily in our prayers: “How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” (Bamidbar 24:5).

This appears to be the paradigm for an ideal community structure.

What is peculiar, though, is that the tribal-based encampment was established only in the second year of the nation’s desert travels. Shouldn’t it have been established from the beginning upon leaving Egypt or at Har Sinai?

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky suggests that the division of the nation into tribes could only happen after the Mishkan was fully constructed, which occurred in the second year of their wanderings. By default, the Mishkan acted as a fulcrum that connected the people. The commonality of servicing Hashem tore down the dividers between the various tribes.

The threat of friction had already reared its head in the days even preceding the redemption. We can see from the text (see Exodus 2:23–25) that in Egypt, Hashem responded to us as a single, national unit. But on the shores of the Red Sea, the scene was different. The response of the people in their moment of supreme fear led to arguments; some hunkered down for battle, some prepared for prayer, some wanted to return to Egypt and others prepared to plunge into the sea. According to the Meshech Chochmah, at the moment the sea split, Hashem viewed Bnei Yisrael as individuals and not a whole. We read: “And the waters were a wall [chomah] to them, on their right hand, and on their left hand.” (Shemot 14:29)

The word chomah is missing the letter vav and can be interpreted to mean cheimah, or anger, hinting that God’s response to the friction was utmost displeasure.

It is our mission today (as before) to strengthen the common spiritual identity and purpose represented in our parsha by the Mishkan. We must focus more on the spiritual common denominators that bring us together as a people, which are brought to the fore when we concentrate on developing our national and religious identity.

Jerusalem has always been that center, a symbol and an anchor for our faith—with our hopeful chant of leShana haba’a b’Yerushalayim, “next year in Jerusalem,” at the end of our Pesach Seder and conclusion of our Ne’ila prayers on Yom Kippur. These words are not just aspirational; we are perpetually connected and working to unify our communities in a way that reflects our eternal values and sacred and ancient format. Our increased connectivity, in a designed way, creates a force to strengthen our work together in building and developing our own country. Mutual areas of spiritual focus give us the strength of identity with which to successfully combat internal division and promote harmony within our special nation.


Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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