A Biblical Lesson about Community, Crowds, and the Vices of Social Media https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/religion-holidays/2020/03/a-biblical-lesson-about-community-crowds-and-the-vices-of-social-media/

March 20, 2020 | Jonathan Sacks
About the author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author and politician. He served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

This week’s Torah reading of Vayakhel-P’kudey (Exodus 35–40), begins with Moses briefly reminding the Israelites to observe the Sabbath and then, reiterating God’s commands in Exodus 25–28, to construct the Tabernacle—the portable sanctuary where they would worship in the wilderness. In this seeming redundancy, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks finds the Torah’s “primer on how to build community.”

[The text] uses a single verb root, k-h-l, to describe two very different activities. The first appears in last week’s parashah at the beginning of the story of the Golden Calf. “When the people saw that Moses was long delayed in coming down the mountain, they gathered (vayikahel) around Aaron and said to him: get up, make us gods to go before us.” . . . The second is the opening verse of this week’s Torah reading: “Moses assembled (vayakhel) all the community of Israel and said to them: these are the things the Lord has commanded you to do.”

These words sound similar. Both verbs could be translated as “gathered” or “assembled.” But there is a fundamental difference between them. The first gathering was leaderless; the second had a leader, Moses. The first was a crowd, the second a community. In a crowd, individuals lose their individuality. A kind of collective mentality takes over, and people find themselves doing what they would never consider doing on their own. [The Scottish writer] Charles Mackay famously spoke of the madness of crowds.

The vayakhel of [Exodus 35] was quite different. Moses sought to create community by getting the people to make personal contributions to a collective project, the Tabernacle. In a community, individuals remain individuals. Their participation is essentially voluntary: “Let everyone whose heart moves him bring an offering.” . . . What united them was not the dynamic of the crowd in which we are caught up in a collective frenzy but rather a sense of common purpose, of helping to bring something into being that was greater than anyone could achieve alone.

In his new book A Time to Build, Yuval Levin argues that social media have undermined our social lives. “They plainly encourage the vices most dangerous to a free society. They drive us to speak without listening, to approach others confrontationally rather than graciously. . . . They eat away at our capacity for patient toleration, our decorum, our forbearance, our restraint.” These are crowd behaviors, not community ones.

Read more on Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: http://rabbisacks.org/vayakhel-pekudei-5780/

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