Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in an essay on the Jewish approach to suffering, writes that community may coalesce in two ways. The first is to come together for mutual protection against a common enemy, a phenomenon that is as true in the animal kingdom as among human beings. We might think of this structure as a machaneh, a camp or defensive formation. The second form of association, and eidah, is quite different. Human beings can also come together because they share a vision, an aspiration, and a set of ideals. The eidah is thus a creative community, creating an outcome more than the sum of its parts for the benefit of the common good.
We read in this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotecha, “Make two trumpets of silver. They shall serve to summon the congregation (eidah) and cause the camps (machanot) to disperse.” When the Israelites were in Egypt, they were a machaneh, an association for defense against the Egyptians. When they received Torah, the Israelites became an eidah, bound by a common purpose and shared destiny. The clarion call of the trumpets startled them from complacency and pushed them to transcend their base instincts: may we hear the same call in our day!