The word for community we use nowadays is the Kahal. It is used as general word in the Torah to gather people together. It can apply to individuals, families, elders, tribes and peoples. Sometimes it is for a specific event, like providing water miraculously. Sometimes it is to gather everyone to stand firm for a cause. Here in the context of the Tabernacle it is to emphasize that everyone was involved, not just priests or elders or men. It means not just getting together. But getting together for a purpose and a shared goal. Nations are made up a conglomeration of different values, goals, standards and ideals. But the ideal of Kahal has one shared agenda.
It’s like today. Jews span the complete spectrum from religious to secular, rich to poor, capitalist to socialist. We come from different backgrounds and cultures. We are Jews but we are also Persian, Moroccan, American or a mélange of several. We often have very little in common with each other.
Most of us Jews live in much smaller Jewish units. The kehilla, the congregation, is a mechanism for uniting smaller units of people. And what unites people more often than not, is shared experiences less how they think and more what they do.
After mentioning Kehilla the Torah talks about keeping Shabbat. The work on the Mishkan, the National shrine, stopped for Shabbat. Shabbat, the family, the community coming together, took priority. In fact our place in the Kehilla is defined by Shabbat. Why do we or don’t we keep Shabbat? Is it an accident of birth, imposed on us, or is it a choice, freely embraced? The one criterion the Talmud adds to qualifying a Jew to be witness on religious matters if he keeps Shabbat in public and the one criterion for disbarring him is if he breaks Shabbat in public.
Shabbat in our world is a voluntary experience. Shabbat might not define us as a nation. But it does tell us how much Judaism is an integral or a peripheral part of our lives.
Later on, the Bible talks about the nation coming together each Jubilee. Every fifty years, the nation was called together to study the Torah, to examine and re-commit to its values. In Babylon the tradition developed to gather during the summer period when the harvest had been gathered in and people had time to study and use their brains. It was called the ‘Yarche Kalla’ with a similar root word to ‘Kehilla.’
The greatness of Moses is that he managed to keep his unruly divided and disparate people together for most of the time. They argued and disagreed but he held the line precisely because he made sure they came together regularly. And that is the role of the synagogue on Shabbat and festivals, to make sure that despite our differences we still come together regularly. That’s how one forms communities.