We live in an ever more connected world. All around us, we find signs of connection. We constantly write about ourselves and read about others on social media. Email has enabled instant long-form communication Texting and VOIP calling have reduced the tyranny of distance to milliseconds. Above all, we form instant communities of like-minded individuals online using social media. So why do we feel so alone? Psychological signs of increasing social isolation and alienation are on the rise, especially for teenagers. In an age of easy communication, how can this be?
In an earlier, simpler world, people lived in physical communities. Those communities were united by space and by time. For all that distance tyrannised them and prevented access to many of the amenities we expect today as a matter of course, it also created unity. Other communities were characterised by a set identity, or by shared language and national experience. All of these unifying factors could be powerful antidotes to the loneliness of the human condition.
This week we read about the formation of a new community, united by something even more powerful than the shared nation. We read about a community built around a unity of purpose. After receiving the instructions about how to build the Mishkan, Moshe begins to collect donations. Hashem tells him, you must collect a single half-shekel coin from every member of the nation in addition to the voluntary (unlimited) donations for the actual building of the MIshkan. These half shekels fund the sacrifices to be offered daily from that point on. Why the insistence on collecting an equal amount from every Jew? Is it not enough that there be sufficient money to purchase the necessary animals? Why not simply apply for a grant from one wealthy donor?
Rav Soloveitchik zt"l explained that by donating the same amount, each Jew became a partial owner of an equal portion of every sacrifice. It is not that his coin brought a single specific goat, sheep or bull. Rather, every sheep, every goat, every ram, bull, or grain of flour belongs to the collective of all Israel together. As a result, since every Jew had an equal portion in the sacrifices, his presence in those sacrifices could be perceived and he would benefit from them having been brought.
In our day, we no longer have the sacrifices and the Temple, however, this type of community is still open to us. We can choose to give money to our favourite communal organisation (especially if it is Brighton Hebrew Congregation) and choose to connect that way. As we read the Parsha of Ki Tisa this week, let us all remember the valiant unity of our ancestors in the desert, and afterwards, and learn from their modes of connection, both to increase the unity of the Jewish nation today and to find a stronger community. It is through unity of purpose and shared goals that we are also connected with each other and find new meaning in the world.