“In reference to war, the Torah emphasizes the word machaneh, camp. The Torah commands, ‘When you go out to encamp against your enemies, you shall guard against anything evil… for Hashem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your camp to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you so that your camp shall be holy.”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”/, distinguishes between machaneh, camp, and eidah, congregation. Camp and congregation are two distinct sociological phenomena. A camp is formed in the face of a common enemy, who engenders fear and creates the need for self-defense. “When you go out to encamp against your enemies” – the camp is established when people feel helpless and must join together to battle the enemy. An Eidah, a congregation, on the other hand, shares a common ideology and is nourished by love rather than fear. A congregation expresses man’s powerful spirit. In a Jewish context, the eidah is grounded in the teachings of Sinai, a holy nation committed to a Divine destiny. In order for the nation of Israel to fulfill its Divine mission and destiny, “your camp shall become holy.” This machaneh, this camp, must develop into an eidah. It must become holy.
“It is this notion of encampment that unites the beginning of our parshah, “When you will go out to war against your enemies,” with its conclusion, “Remember what Amalek did to you. Wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens – do not forget.” Throughout our history we have united as a camp against our enemies, the Amalekites of the world. But too often we have failed to advance from there to become a holy congregation. No doubt our unity in the face of Amalek is part of our destiny. But, as the Rav defined it, it is a destiny of fate not a destiny of faith – not the destiny of an eidah.
“Even when eidah overtakes machaneh, it is possible for that congregation to maintain a negative ideology, such as the Spies and the followers of Korach. Though formed for ill purposes, the Torah nonetheless refers to each of these groups as an eidah. We must be vigilant to insure that our eidah is a holy eidah, with a divine ideology, not one filled with the evil that destroys us.
“The Jewish community is concerned with the crisis of Jewish continuity. The solution is to unite not only as a machaneh but as an eidah, a holy congregation committed to the destiny of faith – a faith rooted in Torah and mitzvos. Such a convenant stems not from fear but from love, the love of G-d and the Jewish people.”
~ Rabbi Bert Leff