This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Bamidbar is being sponsored Dr. Pinchas and Penina Klahr of Ramat Beit Shemesh lilui nishmas Pinchas’ Father, Nosson Karpel ben Shmuel Zanvil Tzvi (Klahr) and Penina’s Father, Rav Matisyohu ben Rav Yaakov (Weisenberg). To the Klahr family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
Our Parshat opens with Hashem speaking to Moshe in the second year after Yetziyot Mitzrayim as the Jews camped in Bamidbar:
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai: ‘Take a census of the entire assembly of the B’nei Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ house, by number of the names, every male according to their head count; from twenty years and up…'” Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posukim 1-3)
Rabbi Mordechai Katz, in his sefer “L’lmode U’lamed” (page 129) frames the Jews’ sojourn in the desert (Midbar) with an explanation:
…When a leader wishes to make a momentous announcement to his people, he would usually speak to them from an impressive setting.
In our times, a president, a prime minister would speak to the people from that nation’s most stately surroundings and over radio, TV, internet.
Rabbi Katz continues, and then illustrates the Jews’ acceptance of Hashem and Torah while in the desert in a parable:
Yet Hashem revealed His Torah Laws in a barren, desolate desert.
A wealthy member of royalty… was not satisfied with merely being rich. He desired to be a leader of men. To achieve this goal, he went to members of a well-established town and offered to donate a large sum of money… to the benefit of the town if they would accept him as their leader. The members of the town met privately and returned their decision refusing the man’s offer. They refused the offer because a new leader would have his own way of ruling whereas the townspeople didn’t want to change their established ways.
The man… was not left hopeless. He next went to a settlement that had only recently been organized and made them the same offer. They, too, considered it and accepted the offer, for they had not yet become set in their way of life and were still flexible enough to accept the direction of a new leader.
Thus, when Hashem revealed the laws of His Torah, He chose to do so to a newly formed nation, the Jews. And He did so in the desert, a site devoid of established homes and luxuries, a place where the Jews would not want to stay…. The would be beginning their destiny as a people… and would be willing to accept Hashem’s guidance, His chosen way and His chosen home. They would be flexible enough to live according to the Torah without having to alter any fixed ways. This is why the desert was such a fitting setting
for the presentation of the Torah. It allowed the Jews to emerge as a truly unique nation under Hashem’s direction, free of fixed surroundings and influences of the other nations.
…The site of the desert impressed upon the Jews the importance of humility. Just as the desert contains nothing… but sand, so too the human body is composed of nothing but dust. But just as the desert was transformed into a holy spot by appearance of the Divine Presence, so, too, man becomes a source of greatness if he allows his spiritual spark to dominate his actions.
This author, however, takes some issue, in part, with the analogy proposed in the above parable regarding the B’nei Yisrael.. While true that it is easier to influence a nascent group toward a certain direction or leadership, don’t we learn that the Jews’ predisposition toward acceptance of Hashem and Torah have roots in unique middot such as humility, kindnesses toward others, treatment of guests, etc. which were hard-wired to their neshamot from the Avos? Was not this predisposition toward acceptance of Hashem and Torah further solidified and validated by Yetziyot Mitzrayim (liberation from Egyptian bondage) and Kriyat Yum Suf (the splitting of the Reed Sea as the Jews crossed on dry land)?
This flexibility and acceptance of Hashem’s Rule and Laws by B’nei Yisrael is exemplified in our Parsha’s reference to the Degalim: the flags of the Sh’vatim (Tribes) and their significance:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aaron saying; ‘The B’nei Yisrael shall encamp, each man by the banner according to the insignias of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp.'” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2, posukim 1-2)
The degalim represented a paradigm of Unity, yet expressed diversity within the various components of B’nei Yisrael, 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’nei 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 Parshat HaShevua on Bamidbar by Rebbetzin Smiles.)
Shem Mishmuel (Sefer Shem Mishmuel rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, pages 296-298) 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.
Shem Mishmuel explains further:
Angels are not subject to the vicissitudes of human life and are thus able to enjoy a continuous, high-level relationship with Hashem. Yisrael admired this greatly and asked Hashem if they could also maintain such a relationship. Even while they toiled in the normal physical activities of day-to-day life, they wanted to remain close to Hashem, without ever allowing the physical nature of their lives to impede or cloud that relationship.
…We may suggest that Klal Yisrael connected to Hashem without the necessity of an intermediary. They felt a longing for a relationship with Hashem that was so close that it could not be satisfied by indirect contact. The angels experienced a direct relationship, and it was this that Klal Yisrael yearned to emulate. In this context, we may interpret the verse:
” … and his degel upon me was love.” (Shir HaShirim 2:4)
This means that the degalim of Klal Yisrael in the wilderness were an expression of deep yearning for love, and closeness to Hashem. Thus the ability to encamp in degalim, emulating the angels, was an opportunity for a profound and unparalleled relationship between Hashem and the Jewish nation.
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 breastplate [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.
It would seem that the loshen “his degel” would indicate expressions of love within a context of unity.
The spiritual meaning of the degalim of Klal Yisrael in the wilderness seems to be expression of deep yearning for, love of, and closeness to Hashem. Further, the degel of each individual Shevet (tribe) 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. Oh, that we should experience such unique expressions of love and closeness to Hashem within the collective unity of B’nei Yisrael today, both within Medinat Yisrael and throughout world Jewry.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of two and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov!
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.