This week marks the beginning of the seventh year of Derech Tzofeh. To celebrate, we are honored to have a guest d’var Torah from Rabbi Josh Feigelson, the dean of students at The University of Chicago Divinity School. Rabbi Feigelson is an Eagle Scout and a former national chief of the Order of the Arrow.
One of the most important lessons I learned in Scouting was how to be myself while also being part of a group. The Scout Oath and Law are things we say about ourselves as individuals: Each of us strives to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and so on. We don’t talk about “we” as Scouts—it’s up to us alone to be responsible for our actions.
But at the same time, Scouting is really also all about living and working together as a community: in our dens and patrols, in our packs and troops, and beyond that in the broader brotherhood of Scouting. When we work together with other Scouts in our units, it isn’t just about us as individuals. We’re responsible for one another too.
As the Israelites prepare to receive the Torah in Parshat Yitro, they are unusually united. As they come to Mount Sinai this week, the Torah relates vayichan sham Yisrael neged ha-Har: And Israel encamped there before the mountain. Rashi notes that Israel is referred to in the singular, and interprets: “Israel encamped—like a single person with a single heart.”
The Israelites at this point were totally unified. While just last week we read—for the first time, but certainly not the last—about their complaining and bickering with Moses, this week we find that they have put aside their differences. They are ready to receive the Torah.
But when they do receive the Torah, no one hears the same thing: Everyone hears the voice of God in their own way. A midrash relates this idea: “Rabbi Levi said: The Holy One appeared to them as though He were a statue with faces on every side, so that though a thousand men might be looking at the statue, they would be led to believe that it was looking at each one of them.”
So while on the one hand the Israelites were totally unified, on the other each of them was also having a completely unique experience.
The truth is that we re-live that moment at Sinai just about every day: any time we’re trying to both be our unique self, hearing our own version of the voice of God, and at the same time we’re trying to be part of a relationship, a team, a patrol, and a community. Life is almost never about being either an individual or part of a larger unit; just about all the time, it’s about both.
Rabbi Josh Feigelson