The opening pasuk in Parshas Vayakhel reads:
וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם’ – Moses gathered the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: “These are the things that the Lord commanded to do” (35:1)
The Nesivos Shalom points out how this is the sole instance where וַיַּקְהֵל is the first act in an episode, not a speech or instruction. What is the significance of gathering everyone?
Furthermore, this episode occurred directly after the Golden Calf, as Rashi notes that Vayakhel occurred the morning after Yom Kippur, when Moshe returned with the second luchos. It is likely that his first public appearance upon his return would include a notable message to the people regarding the bridge between G-d’s wrath and appeasement. What was said or done that addressed their sin?
The Noam Elimelech explains that the duty to perform a mitzvah stems from the way in which it was given – to the entire nation. A corollary is that when a person sins, it stems from a desire to break apart from the nation, albeit momentarily. But a person who has sinned can still perform a mitzvah, by rejoining the people. The reason that the tzibbur, the collective, is safe is from the Yetzer Hara is simply that an individual does not stand out in a crowd.
Moshe argued that the Golden Calf should be attributed to rogue individuals, rather than the entire nation. As explained by the Noam Elimelech, what motivates sin, is a desire to act as an individual – as such, how could the nation be held accountable, regardless of how many had indeed sinned?
So Moshe pleaded on their collective behalf, and Hashem relented to Moshe’s prayers. On his return, the very first action he takes is וַיַּקְהֵל – he gathers the individuals into the collective tzibbur he had interceded on behalf of. Hashem’s wrath had been assuaged, and through וַיַּקְהֵל. This is what makes וַיַּקְהֵל unique – it is the introduction of the concept of כח הצבור – a team greater than the sum of its parts.
This has many parallels to the underlying concepts of all actions requiring a minyan.
Moshe told them laws Hashem transmitted לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם – “to make/do them” – but the instructions are about Shabbos; not to light fire, and not to work. How is not doing something called לַעֲשֹׂת – to do?
The Nesivos Shalom reads this back into the pasuk, that לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם isn’t discussing Shabbos at all. G-d’s command to Moshe was לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם – to make them, the Jews, into a collective – וַיַּקְהֵל.
This is why the two mitzvos instructed post-Eigel were to keep Shabbos and build a Mishkan – both are incumbent on the nation as a collective, incontrast to lulav, tefila, tzitzis. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabba says “שאמרה הק”בה לשבת – כנסת ישראל בן זבוגך” – Hashem said to Shabbos: “The כנסת ישראל is your pre-ordained”. כנסת ישראל is the Jewish national consciousness, a supersoul, a multitude that becomes a single unit.
The collective mitzva is the tikkun – the rectification – for the rash actions of the thousands of individuals.
The Mishkan rectified the sin of the Golden Calf in a similar vein, in that every individual was required to make donation – were several wealthy individuals to fund the entire Mishkan project on their own, the Mishkan would not have served it’s purpose. The construction bound the people together, and is quite reasonable to suggest that their donation purchased a small share in the Mishkan.
The following are other examples of this concept:
- We can develop this idea further, and attribute the collective/individual argument to the incident with the spies, that resulted in the 40 year wandering in the desert, and the whole generation dying out. The Torah in Parshas Shelach elaborates that all the spies were leaders of their respective tribes; indeed, they were the representatives of the people, and this is why they were sent. This could not be repaired, as apart from being the people’s representatives, the people were the ones who sent them, as it says: שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים – send for yourself (13:2). The people could not be absolved of this.
- Furthermore, we can say the same of Korach. His Weltanschauung – his worldview – stemmed from the ideology that every individual had unlimited freedoms, and everyone could aspire to the same greatness – he said that “כולם קדושים” – that each individual alone could achieve this, and not that the nation itself was the source of the קדושה. His reasoning was that the nation was formed of individuals, and that nothing was to be gained from unity. Korach’s denial of the power of the tzibbur precluded Moshe’s prayers from helping him, and he was absorbed into the land.
- The same can be said of Purim, that Haman challenged the idea of Jews as a nation, and the solution in Esther 8:11 was לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַל-נַפְשָׁם – to gather and stand for their lives. This is a direct parallel to the Eigel, wherein here too the people faltered and attended Achashverosh’s feast, which set the whole story into motion. Only through the tzibbur could they find redemption.
- The theme keeps recurring, with Pesach too. The Korban Pesach can only be eaten as part of a חבורה – a group. This was the mitzva through which the people were saved – they were at the lowest rung of the 49 levels of impurity, and this could only be remedied by the כח הצבור – and this unity carried them through Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Yam Suf, and Har Sinai, as Rashi quotes a famous Mechilta that says they encamped כאיש אחד בלב אחד – as if they were one man, with one heart, the perfect metaphor for perfect unity.
- We refer to Hashem as our father, but He is not physically our father, rather, He is conceptually our father. If we choose to be part of His people, then He is indeed our father, but if, Heaven forbid, one does not perceive himself to be part of the people, how can he lay claim to Hashem being his father? We say in the Amida every day: ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד באור פניך – the Nesivos Shalom explains that when we are כולנו כאחד, only then will we see ברכנו אבינו.