Parsha Bamidbar 5770: Unity, Diversity Toward Common Jewish Goals

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha Bamidbar speaks of the spiritual beauty and innovation which results from diversity within a unity, within uniformity.

Once getting past the numbers crunching of the census, our Parsha speaks of Degalim: the flags of the Sh’vatim (Tribes), as a paradigm of Unity, yet which expresses diversity within the various components, all of which play essential roles within a collective unity. Within a unity, there is room for integration and cooperation of diverse individual and group attributes, skills, strong points and actions when channeled toward the common goals of Unity, i.e. the common goals of B’nai Yisrael:

“When Hashem revealed himself at Har Sinai, twenty-two myriads of angels came down with him … and all of them were arranged in degalim. Once Israel saw them (the angels) in their degalim, they began to desire to be encamped in degalim. They said, ‘If only we could be made into degalim like them.’ Hashem said to them, ‘Regarding that which you desire — to be degalim — by your lives, I shall fulfill your request.'” Hashem then made the degalim known to B’nai Yisrael and instructed Moshe, “Make degalim for them, as they desired.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3, excerpted from a Parsha haShevua of Rebbetzin Smiles on Bamidbar.)

Shem Mishmuel explains that the B’nai Yisrael sought to emulate the myriads of angels which accompanied Hashem on Har Sinai. And so Hashem granted B’nai Yisrael’s request by providing Degalim and establishing their alignment.

Each degel, as Shem Mishmuel quotes a Rashi to explain:

” … will have a colored flag hanging from it. The color of one will not be the color of the other, the color of each was determined by the color of it’s stone in the Urim Tumim [worn by the Kohen Godol]. Through this, each will recognize his degel.” (Rashi, Bamidbar, Perek 2, posuk 2)

Shem Mishmuel explains that the degel served on a physical level as a rallying point for the members of a particular group whether during battle to prevent troops from getting lost if scattered, or so that each person knows his Shevet’s communal position. On a spiritual level, the degel’s parallel role is best expressed by the quote:

” … and his degel upon me was love.” (Shir HaShirim 2:4)

The spiritual meaning of the degalim of Klal Yisrael in the wilderness was an expression of deep yearning for, love of, and closeness to G’d. Thus, the ability to encamp in degalim, emulating the angels, was an opportunity for a profound, constant and unparalleled loving relationship between Hashem and B’nai Yisrael. (Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Bamidbar, page 298.) Further, the degel of each individual Shevet seems a representation of that Shevet’s unique expression of love and closeness to Hashem within the collective unity and cooperation of Kol B’nai Yisrael.

When Hashem formed the system of formation of the B’nai Yisrael during travel and encampments, the east side of the formation was occupied by Sh’vatim Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun. The Yissachar, Zevulun relationship is a paradigm of this cooperation and collective unity. We learn that, unlike the formation of all of the other tribes where Hashem used the conjunction “and”, Yissachar, Zevulun were not preceded by or split by “and.” We see in this the sharing between the wealth of Zevulun’s merchants which provided the basis for the scholarship of Shevet Yissachar. For this reason, Shevet Zevulun is not preceded by the conjunction “and” so as to not accord it secondary status. Torah stresses that the contributions of Zevulun are considered every bit as important as those of Yissachar. (Sefer L’lmode Ul’lamed on Parsha Bamidbar, pages 131-132).

In another example of the integration and cooperation of diverse individual and group attributes, skills and actions channeled toward the common goals of a Unity, we learn in Parsha Naso how each of the Sh’vatim brought the same offerings in the exact same quantity for the inauguration of the Mishkan. The offering of one prince of one Shevet was brought daily. Therefore, 12 repetitions of the same offering were brought. However, we learn that each Shevet’s dressing of it’s offering represented that Shevet’s unique expression of it’s individuality within the unity of B’nai Yisrael.

Sh’vatim Yissachar, Zevulun each expressed their individuality, their individual talents toward the fulfillment of a unity of purpose, as did all of the Sh’vatim, both in the dressing of their individual offerings for the Mishkan and via their own individual Shevet’s degel, as part of a unity of mission amongst the B’nai Yisrael in Bamidbar.

So too, in our time, the individual talents, strong points and the potential of ALL segments, ALL sectors of believing Jews, have to be — must be meshed into cooperation, joint responsibility and unity toward achievement of common goals, no matter what their garb or minhaggim. These attributes must not be wasted in bickering and contending — each against each other and all of the others. These goals MUST include, but are not limited to blunting, halting and eliminating, by all possible means, any future expulsions, no matter what term Bibi, or Olmert, Livni, or Sharon, before him coins to mask or package future expulsions of Jews and future land hand-overs to our enemies on any given day, however or whatever tactics these self-hating leaders take to try in order to delude the people as to rationale and what will come out of it. We must succeed in bringing a Medinat Torah to The Land of Israel.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the possibility of Chas V’Callila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.