Vayechi - Unity vs. Tribe: The need to be a united Jewish people has been vital of late and I am proud to say NSJC has demonstrated our commitment to Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, in these last few days and weeks.
But that doesn’t mean we should feel the need to be like every other Conservative synagogue, or even any other Conservative synagogue. In fact I think that our strength comes from being uniquely who we are. And I think the parshah encourages such a view as follows:
Rabbit Acha ben Yaakov says – “not all the tribes together, but even one tribe makes a kahal, a community, what we call a synagogue today.” We learn this from the portion,
“And Jacob said unto Joseph: 'God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
and said unto me: Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I
will make of you a congregation (kahal) of many peoples ְand will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.’”
The idea of this passage is that in fulfillment of this verse, Benjamin was born to Jacob, hence one tribe (Benjamin) must be the referred to as a kahal.
Rabbi Acha was questioned by Rabbi Kahana about this, “maybe it means only when there were twelve tribes finally then would he be a kahal?”
R Acha answered, ”Do you mean to say that 11 tribes weren’t a kahal but one could be – surely one tribe is a kahal.”
We must be our own congregation, our own kahal. We must adhere to our standards for traditional liturgy, for observing kashrut, for emphasizing education and cultural experiences for young and old, for commitment to Israel, and being a synagogue that is blessed with a spirit of togetherness and a lack of internal strife that should not go unappreciated.
That the tribes together are all the People of Israel is obviously true. But that needn’t mean each Kahal within the People need be like every other, that is not necessary at all and in fact is probably better for the People when it is not the case.