In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Re’eh, we receive several different commandments to refrain from acting in certain ways. Among those, we are commanded not to worship idols, we are commanded not to worship in similar fashion to idolators, we are commanded not to listen to false prophets, and we are commanded to refrain from acting and worshiping in the way that Bnei Yisrael have been worshiping in the desert until now.
The first of these 3 commandments seem rather straightforward: separate yourselves and your actions from idolatry and those people who would lead you astray. But what can we make of the last commandment? Why would we want to stop worshiping and acting in the way in which we as a people had closest access to God?
Rabbi Baruch Ha-Levi Epstien, in his commentary the Torah Temimah, provides a compelling answer. Until the Tabernacal was built, and until Bnei Yisrael entered the land, they were able to bring sacrifices as individuals; each family could set up their own alter, and bring sacrifices in the way they saw fit. This means that upon entering the land of Israel, Bnei Yisrael were not only supposed to separate themselves from other nations but they were also supposed to come together to build a nation.
All these commandments are instructions not only to differentiate ourselves from other nations but are instructions on how to begin building an עם סגולה, a chosen nation.
This week was the first week of my 12th summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and while much has changed, the most important things have remained the same: the campers learn to take responsibility for themselves, and most importantly, they learn how to build and bond as a community. It is clear that the leadership that the campers take on, and the camaraderie that they develop are the first important steps they are taking to becoming leaders in our עם סגולה.
Rabbi Yosi Cirlin