July 23, 2024
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One of the most transformative korbanot is a chatat, offered in response to negligent shogeg commission of sin. It offers an opportunity for soul-searching, teshuva and catharsis. If the majority of the nation commits a sin based on an inaccurate verdict of the central Sanhedrin, a unique chatat is delivered. This korban, known as Par He’elam Davar shel Tzibbur, acknowledges that a national collapse mandates a larger and more public experience. Sanhedrin—through its error—is complicit in this malfunction and a korban tzibbur is necessary to recover from this breakdown.

This unique korban is instructed if most of the population has erred based on the faulty ruling of the Sanhedrin. The Gemara in Horiyot (3a) issues an interesting parameter for calculating “most of the population.” Only Jews living in Israel are considered. If most of the Israeli population stumbles, a korban is sanctioned; if most Israeli Jews do not sin no korban tzibbur (public korban) is offered even if the majority of the general Jewish population has failed. As the Gemara explains, “Hanu ikri kahal hanu lo ikri kahal,” only Jews living in Israel experience the collectivism of “kahal.” Therefore, the behavior of this “kahal” community determines whether the majority of the Jewish people has fallen. (This halacha is based on the Torah employing the term “kahal” when explaining the korban.)

This astonishing calculation technique could have yielded significant consequences during the Second Temple era during which the majority of the population still resided outside of Israel. Conceivably, an overwhelmingly large segment of Jews could have sinned without this korban being offered. As long as the majority of Israeli citizens didn’t sin, our moral and national integrity remains intact and only individual sacrifices are necessary.

This “kahal” designation of life in Israel stems from multiple features. At a technical level, life in Israel is “Jewish immersive” in that the entire fabric of life is interwoven with Jews and Jewish experiences. Language, culture, folklore, food, custom and humor all broaden our collective “kahal” experience from common and sometimes narrow religious activity into a robust and multi-faceted patchwork of life. I once heard my rebbe, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, describe life in the Diaspora as an “archipelago of Judaism within a sea on non-Jews.” In Israel, the entire ocean is awash with Judaism and a sense of sweeping “kahal.”

In addition to this immersive quality of “kahal,” life in Israel stretches across broader spheres of human experience—both personally and collectively. Having returned to sovereignty, our field of interest and occupation has expanded beyond the classic preoccupations of Jewish ritual life and communal sustainability. Israelis must invest in the entire range of national, political, economic and social experiences. A few years ago, an old man in Jerusalem was lamenting the loss of over 50 prison guards who had been drafted for emergency firefighting and were instantly killed in a backdraft. He was tearing at the prospect of this tragedy, and as the tears welled he smiled and said, “At least this is our fire department!” Life in the Diaspora allows the subcontracting of many broader services and occupations to “others.” Transportation to a hospital in New Jersey on Shabbat is expedited with a quick call to a non-Jew and can be allowed in a broad range of situations. Shabbat transport in Israel will almost always involve Shabbat infraction by a Jew and must be justified by a more acute possibility of danger.

Beyond the “immersion” and the “widening” effect of “kahal,” there is a historical factor. Our life in our homeland has been empowered by thousands of generations maintaining a love for a bygone and distant land. By the same measure, the members of our generation are custodians for a land that will be settled by future generations. By definition, living in Israel spans past and future communities and creates a time-bridge among people who never actually met! This ultimate historical “kahal” must be sensed in our daily routine, just as it must influence our decisions and our policies for a land that the current residents are overseers of on behalf of a historical “kahal.”

This final feature of “kahal,” though associated with life in Israel, must also inform life outside of Israel. Though our communities in chutz la’aretz are temporary, many exhibit semi-permanence that spans decades and even centuries. Communal consciousness is vital to communal survival. How did our communities emerge? Which pioneers built these structures and communities, and what was their founding vision? Aside from gratitude, what debt of loyalty is owed for their forging? Moving forward, how can earlier experience at community-building serve as templates for innovating newer communities? These are all questions that should challenge people seeking to taste “kahal” even outside of Israel.

Ironically, living in relatively stable and durable communities such as northern New Jersey poses a greater challenge because communal consciousness is less vital for communal survival. Oftentimes, community members in these stable locations assume that our solid institutions “run independently” and, at most, each member is merely expected to “take a shift” in some capacity; in some cases, even leadership roles are seen as unnecessary, and communal consciousness shrinks into payment of dues or tuitions for communal services. Understandably, Jews who live in less-organized and less-resourced communities possess a sharper sense of “kahal” and community consciousness. Our return to “kahal” life in Israel must trigger greater communal consciousness across every Jewish enclave—in particular the more well-developed communities!

By Rabbi Moshe Taragin

Rabbi Moshe Taragin is a rebbe at Yeshivat Har Etzion located in Gush Etzion where he resides.

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