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A few years ago, this author discussed the concept of diversity among the B’nei Yisrael within our common goals and the need for unity of national purpose in our times. We take another look at this concept of diversity within a goal of unity with emphasis on the past year and a half : the pandemic, sectorial divisiveness, political egos over the common good of KOL Klal Yisrael, etc.
Once getting past the numbers crunching of the census, our Parsha speaks of 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)
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin notes the following in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar (page 7):
Hashem commands the people to surround the Mishkan on all sides, in four groups of three tribes each: each group in a specified location, delineated by that group’s banner [degel]. The tribal clusters are to bear the name of the leading tribe in each section: Yehuda, Reuven, Ephraim and Dan. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2, posukim 1-34)
What follows is an excerpt from a Parshat HaShavua shuir of a few years ago on our Parsha given by Rebbetzin Shira Smiles:
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’nei 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’nei Yisrael sought to emulate the myriads of angels which accompanied Hashem on Har Sinai. And so Hashem granted B’nei 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, just as was each Shevets’ unique expression of individuality manifested in its dressing of each of the 12 repetitions of the same offering at the inauguration of the Mishkan, within the unity of B’nei Yisrael, as we learn in Parshat Naso.
When Hashem formed the system of formation of the B’nei 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 relationship between the two tribes 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).
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’nei Yisrael in Bamidbar.
Regarding these discussions of unity and diversification within unity, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” cites Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2, posuk 34 and comments, under the heading “Don’t become involved in a quarrel about seating arrangements”, citing Oznayim LeTorah:
“And the B’nei Yisrael did all that The Almighty Commanded Moshe, that is the way they encamped according to their flags, and that is the way they traveled, each person to his family together with the house of his father.”
What is the greatness of Am Yisrael listening to Moshe in this manner? Why would anyone have thought that they would not have listened? This comes to teach us that they did not quarrel about whose place would be at the head and who would be at the end, who would be at the east and who would be at the west. They accepted the will of The Almighty and did not complain or argue. Unfortunately, in many places arguments do arise when people are not satisfied with the seating arrangements. (Oznayim LeTorah)
Arguments and complaints about this matter are usually based on arrogance and honor-seeking. If a person has a practical reason for wanting a certain place, his request could be quite reasonable. But if the root of his dissatisfaction is based on honor, he is making a big mistake.
Rabbi Goldin provides us with some points to ponder which seem even more relevant in our current day-to-day life than even eight years ago when he authored this set of s’forim “Unlocking the Torah Text” (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar, pages 14-15):
The challenge arising out of our own national diversity confronts us today as never before. After thousands of years apart, we finally face each other… and the confrontation can be unsettling.
We have…, through the force of our exile history, become a widely disparate people, a nation reared in a multitude of worlds; our attitudes, outlooks, beliefs and personalities, refined in developmental settings [are] as different from each other as day is from night. …We struggle to understand each other on the most basic of levels.
Nowhere is the challenge more keenly felt than in the Land of Israel, where survival increasingly depends upon an ability to create a working, cohesive state out of the often volatile mix of native Israelis and immigrants [olim] from Russia, America, Ethiopia, Europe, India, Iran, Arab lands and other countries across the globe. For centuries we prayed for the ingathering of the exiles. Now that this miraculous process has… begun, we are faced with the very human challenge of making it work.
Add to the mix the growing fractures between the various religious and political communities in Israeli society, and the task of nation building becomes daunting, indeed.
The balance struck at the dawn of our national history between unity of purpose and diversity of idea comes under increasing strain during our days. Time will tell whether we, both in Israel and in the diaspora, will rise to the challenges before us. More than we may realize hangs in the balance.
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, where they live or what their minhaggim are. These attributes must not be wasted in bickering and contending — each against each other and against all of the others — sector vs sector. These attributes must not be squandered by individually wronging one’s fellow Jews in business, amongst their peers, in merchant/customer transactions or by finding ways to wrong one’s fellow both individually and amongst his peers by way of exploiting Halacha.
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 thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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!!!
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.