With Rabbi Ariel Abel

The topic of this week’s reading is the encampment of the tribes of Israel in the desert. Our Jewish roots are Bedouin. The Almighty’s will is for us to be able to survive in a desert – physical and spiritual.

Sedra of the weekThis requires us to identify with the flag of our tribe, and be together in one camp, united. The tribe of Levi was situated at the centre of the camp, around the holy sanctuary.

This signifies the importance of placing the spiritual at the centre. Even if the majority of Jews are not intensively involved in a religious way of life, it does not really matter to the whole of the community, which must continue united and avoid fragmentation.

The Torah goes into meticulous detail on the travels of our ancestors. We are not expected to retreat into separate corners a dispersed nation with a mobile Torah to tell us how to survive spiritually. Quite the contrary. We are asked to unite. Our ancestors were placed in the desert to give them no choice other than to stay together.

When they reached the Promised Land, the tribes created a confederacy which relied on inter-tribal support. Nowadays, we are split into Charedi, modern Orthodox, non-Orthodox, and other such religious adjectives.

Unless we unite and live respectfully under allied banners, then separate cultures will act to undo everything that the Torah sets out to achieve. The function of the camp is to order Israel into a militarily capable force.

This raises a further issue – the training of our young men and women as physically and psychologically capable to defend themselves and each other. There is a view in the religious sector that yeshiva students will in an emergency pick up a gun and defend the state of Israel if needed at the last minute, or that the words of the Talmud will somehow act as a defence against bullets.

The very notion of such an idea is contradicted by this week’s reading, which insists upon readiness to rally around the Torah both in peacetime and for war, depending on which trumpet blast sounds.

We are asked not to rely on miracles. Torah learning is a great merit, but without fulfilment of its commandments – including the responsibility to defend life in a material, physical sense and be fully prepared and trained to do so – we cannot fulfil the duty we owe to the God.

Shabbat Shalom!