The Basis of (True) Jewish Unity
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Terumah, describes the great project of constructing the national Sanctuary, the Mishkan. It begins by listing the various materials for which donations would be welcome. It was preferred that people voluntarily donate than that they be compelled by taxation.
In fact, this approach seems to concur with modern fundraising techniques. The idea is to arouse the potential donor to become personally connected to the great work the “charity” is doing so that he will adopt it as a personal cause and remain committed to it.
The essential function of the Temple was the bringing of Korbanot (Sacrifices). The primary objective of the offerings was to obtain atonement for sins, of the individual and the community. The special service of Yom Kippur which could only be performed by the Kohen Gadol (Chief Priest) effectuated forgiveness for the entire Congregation of Israel.
Thus, we see that Judaism does not expect man to be perfect and never transgress. To the contrary, it is aware of the “sinful” nature of man and takes steps to accommodate it. Our religion is unique in its firm belief that man can acknowledge his sins and overcome them. Judaism believes in the perfectibility of man and the human race. We do believe in and look forward to the Messianic era in which, “Nation will not lift up sword to nation, neither will they learn war anymore because the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 2:4, 11:9).
In addition to providing a means for atonement, the Temple provides another vital benefit. Nachmanides (Ramban) explains that the Temple constitutes a reminder of the great Revelation which took place on Mt. Sinai: “The secret of the Tabernacle is that the Glory which abode upon Mt. Sinai, openly, should abide upon it in a concealed manner. For just as it is said there, ‘And the Glory of the Eternal abode upon Mt. Sinai’, and it is further written, ‘Behold, the Eternal our G-d hath shown us His glory and greatness’, so it is written of the Tabernacle, ‘And the glory of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle’.” Thus, Israel always had with them in the Tabernacle the Glory which appeared to them on Mt. Sinai” (Ramban, Introduction to Parshat Teruma).
We can now understand why the construction of the Mishkan was an immediate necessity and couldn’t be delayed until the Jews had conquered and settled the land of Canaan. It has to do with the very definition of Jewishness. What makes us Jewish is our belief in Hashem and in Maamad Har Sinai (Revelation on Mt. Sinai). This is not a superficial or perfunctory acknowledgment. This belief must permeate our very beings and become part of our basic self-awareness and consciousness. We must constantly remember that we stood upon Mt. Sinai and heard the Voice of G-d speaking to us, His chosen People.
There is another, more practical dimension to the Mishkan. The absence of national unity and the proliferation of extreme divisiveness has played a harsh, destructive, role in Jewish history. In fact, the Rabbis say that the second exile was caused by the fact that the Jews did not treat each other respectfully.
This problem remains with us even in the modern state of Israel. The Jews are very argumentative and extremely prone to have strong opinions on all matters. This, in itself, can be a good thing, but disagreement unfortunately often turns into disdain and disparagement.
This is a very real problem, which has been exacerbated by the recent victory of the most right-wing conservative government in Israeli history. Specifically, matters have come to a head over the proposal to revamp and reform the judiciary and the Supreme Court. This has brought forth very powerful emotions and large scale demonstrations have taken place with the accusation that the reformers are destroying Israel’s democracy.
The rhetoric of those who are opposed to the reform has reached radical and dangerous extremes. Commenting on the demonstrations, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “What is needed is to move to the next stage, the stage of war, and war is not waged with speeches. War is waged in a face-to-face battle, head to head and hand to hand, and that is what will happen here. While it’s great to see one hundred thousand people turn out to protest, that’s not what will clinch the real fight. The real fight will break through these fences and spill over into a real war.”
And Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai offered, “Democratic countries such as ours can become dictatorships. But dictatorships can only return to being democracies through bloodshed. This is what history has taught us.”
It’s amazing that the Mayor and former P.M. while ostensibly acting to save Israel’s democracy are openly calling for insurrection and bloodshed. Can someone tell me why these two “leaders” are not behind bars?
The Rabbis tell us that when the Jews stood at Mt. Sinai, they were as “one People with one heart”. It is our mutual belief in Hashem and dedication to the ideals of Torah that is the genuine source of Jewish unity. The Temple in Jerusalem was a living reminder of the day we heard the voice of Hashem as one unified People committed to our holy mission.
May we renew that sense of dedication. May our love of Hashem and His Torah inspire us to overcome hatred and resolve all political and philosophical disputes in a manner befitting a (truly) holy Nation.
My newest book, Eternally Yours: G-d’s Greatest Gift To Mankind on VaYikra was recently published, and is now available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SHRXS3Q
I hope that my essays will enhance your reading and study of the Book of VaYikra and would greatly appreciate a brief review on Amazon.com.
Additionally, for those in Eretz Yisrael, my books are available at David Linden’s bookstore located at Emek Refaim Street 21, Jerusalem and at Pomeranz Book store, Be’eri 5 Jerusalem. They are very nice stores to visit and browse.
—Rabbi Reuven Mann