The late Rabbi J B Soloveitchik (d.1993) once famously observed that there are two significant ways in which people can come together to form a group. This applies whether the group is small or large. A community, a society, or even a nation.

The first is when they face a common enemy. They band together for mutual protection. They know that is the only way they will survive. That is called a machaneh, or a camp.

Alternatively, people can come together because they share a set of ideals. This is what is meant by eda or congregation. Eda comes from the word eid meaning ‘witness.’ The congregation collectively bears witness to shared aspirations.

A camp is formed in response to outside pressure. A congregation is created to implement internal ideals. The camp is a response to what has happened to the group in the past. The congregation represents what the group hopes to achieve in the future.

This duality is given expression in this week’s parasha in the command to make silver trumpets:

“Make them of hammered metal. Use them for summoning the congregation (eda), and for having the camps (machanot) set out.” (Bamidbar 9:2).

As Jews, we represent both types of group: camp and congregation. Our ancestors became a machaneh in Egypt. The camp of the Israelites underwent brutal suffering and slavery. Ever since, Jews have known that we are thrown together by historical circumstances. We share a fate that has often been written in tears. Rabbi Soloveitchik calls this ‘the covenant of fate’ – brit goral. This is not a purely negative phenomenon. It gives rise to a powerful sense that we are part of a single story. When we are attacked from the outside, we know that what we have in common is much more powerful and much more important than what divides us.

But there is an additional element of Jewish history. Rabbi Soloveitchik calls this brit yiud or ‘covenant of destiny.’ We entered this covenant at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. Our challenge as a Jewish people is to bear witness to the presence of G-d through the way we live our lives, in becoming “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Two trumpet calls: Camp and congregation. Our collective fate; our national identity.

Since October 7th, we have been conscious of both calls of the trumpet. The attack on Israel has impacted on the lives of Jews across the world. We have all felt more vulnerable. At the same time, there has been a resurgence of Jewish identity as people have been proud to stand up and proclaim Am Yisrael Chai!