This Dvar Torah was written in memory of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal HY’D.
May their neshamas have an eternal Aliya.
One of the basic tenets of Western civilization is the idea that we should all strive to live with the ideal of “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation.” I would like to explore this ideal from a Torah perspective.
The Parsha starts with Hashem instructing Moshe to take a census of Bnei Yisrael. So on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Moshe and the Nesi’im of each Shevet counted every male over the age of 20 according to their shevet. After the census was taken, Hashem further instructed Moshe regarding the formation of the encampment of the Jews around the Ohel Moed. The twelve Shevatim were divided into groups of three on each side of the Ohel Moed. Each Shevet encamped by their respective flag.
This census was not a new concept as this already happened in Sefer Shemos. In our parsha, the Shevatim are counted in the same order except that Gad is counted before Reuven and Shimon. It seems that the reason for this change in order it meant to be an introduction to Hashem’s instructions to Moshe regarding Klal Yisrael’s encampment formation and their flags and they are therefore counted in Parshas Bamidbar in the order of their encampment.
It seems a little odd that this formation of the encampments only happened after the second counting of Klal Yisrael and a full year after we left Egypt. Why were we not set up in proper formations as soon as we left Mitzrayim together with everything else that happened at that time?
Harav Yaacov Kamenetzky Zt’l explains that in order for us to glean an understanding of the order of events, we first must fully understand what is it that we are talking about. What was the idea behind the formations and flags of the Shevatim?
Merriam Webster defines a flag as “a usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol [as of a nation), as a signaling device, or as a decoration.” The flag is a symbol of independence and uniqueness. The symbols and colors on a flag represent the unique qualities of its bearer. Each of the flags of the Shevatim had it unique colors corresponding to the stones of the Choshen as well as its unique symbol, for example, Yehuda had an illustration of a lion on his flag; Reuven had an illustration of a person, Ephraim had an illustration of an ox. These colors and symbols of the flag signified the unique direction and way that they led their lives.
In general, it seems that this behavior would tend to cause a people to become more distanced and divided from each other. However, each one of the Shevatim brought forward his unique strength to bring about k’vod Shamayim. This is similar to the ear which has a different function than the eye, there is no friction between them as they are both doing their unique jobs. Likewise, with the Shevatim each Shevet was doing their unique job, with a focus on the center point — the Mishkan, there is no reason at all to have friction.
The seforim explain that each of the Shevatim had their unique way of serving Hashem and even if it appeared they were doing the same thing at times, their intent was different. We find that the Midrash relates that there were 12 paths for each of the Shevatim going through the Yam Suf. Similarly, there were 12 different korbanos form each Shevet, each one had a different approach towards Torah and to remember yetis Mitzrayim.
This idea also has implications in regard to Halacha. The Magen Avraham (OC 68) quotes from the Ari z’l that one should not change his nusach of Tefila as there are 12 gateways in shamayim corresponding with the 12 Shevatim, and each shevet has their unique Nusach and approach to Avodas Hashem.
The building of the Mishkan created this central point which allowed us all to become diverse and use our unique strengths in the best way possible. Before the Mishkan was built there was no central nerve center which we were all focused on, therefore we had to put aside our uniquenesses and come together as one nation and one flag. The moment the Mishkan was built we were able to divide up our talents and focus on our strengths.
I would like to build on this Yesod a little based on the thought of Rav Kook Zt’l (Orot Pages 45-46, 70-72.) Many times people talk about Achdus and exclaim that we all have to be doing the same thing and if we are not like each other, then we are not together. This is incorrect. We can each have our unique views, but as long as we are all focused, not on the other, but on our spiritual nerve center, the Mishkan, which is the “heart” of Klal Yisrael, we will still have Achdus. The moment we lose focus on what we are doing and we focus only on what the others are doing, we lose the Achdus and become a melting pot.
It is not about a mere tolerance for how others are acting or practicing their Judaism, it is about a deeper understanding of how things are meant to be working.
There is a time to be unique, K’Ish Echad, but at the same time you need to be part of the tzibbur, B’Lev Echad.
We should strive to see our unique strengths and focus them to glorify the Torah each in our own way and merit the ultimate bracha of Hashra’as HaShechina!