4 Tamuz 5781 / Monday, June 14, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chukat
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Bamidbar: Precision Order    

Bamidbar: Precision Order

During the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel encamped according to a precise order around the mishkan, with the ark of Torah as their center…


Parshat Bamidbar

In this week's parashah we learn that the camp of Israel has a clearly defined inner structure where everyone knows his place, purpose and mission. “Every man of the children of Israel shall encamp by his own standard, with the signs of their father's house; at some distance around the appointed tent shall they encamp” (Bemidbar 2:2). The Jewish people are enumerated and assigned their proper places around the tabernacle containing the Holy Ark with the two Torah Tablets. Each tribe is unified under the particular flag which represents it. During the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel encamped according to a precise order around the mishkan. With the ark of Torah as their center, they lifted their eyes towards the point of meeting between the infinite spiritual and the physical boundary. They had a clear understanding that the spiritual must dominate daily physical life in order to sanctify it and allow it to fulfill its purpose.
Contrary to the Western hierarchal linear approach, where the goal is to become number one, the tribes of Israel in the wilderness encircled the mishkan. The consciousness and heart of both the nation and the individuals were focused on the center of the camp - the Tent of Testimony. The mishkan was like a mobile Mount Sinai, through which the word of G-d emanated to Moshe. The Chafetz Chayim compares the mishkan to the heart. Since the heart generates life, its place is in the middle of the body. This way it disseminates the sustenance contained in the life force of the blood equally to every organ. Israel understood that the Torah is a Tree of Life from which everything derives its nourishment. Just like the Tree of Life was planted in the midst of the Garden (Bereishit 2:9); we build the bima (pulpit) in the middle of the synagogue. Thus, we affirm our belief that rather than competing for importance and power, the energy we receive from the Divine source must be circulated equally among us. There is no question about who should be in the front or the back. We all become one when we surround G-d. This concept can be superimposed upon the relationship between men and women. When G-d is in our midst, gender disparities will not turn into competition and strife. We can overcome the power struggle that breaks the circuit and blocks Divine energy from flowing through all of us equally.
“You shall appoint the Levites overseers over the tabernacle of testimony… and they shall encamp round about the tabernacle” (Bemidbar 1:50). Sfat Emet explains that some people merit perfection by being near the sanctuary while others merit perfection by being far, as it states, “I will create a new expression of the lips: Shalom, shalom (peace or perfection) for far and near, says Hashem” (Yesha'yahu 57:19). He notices that those who are far are actually mentioned first. The common Israelite always had to keep a distance from the place where G-d would reveal Himself, while the Levites were able to come closer. Yet, the other tribes were not jealous of the Levites who in return devoted themsels to the needs of the people. G-d gives each of us the space which suits our particular nature. A wise person is someone who knows his place. Israel accepted that whether far or near, when they lived in peace with each other, G-d’s Divine Presence dwelled among them. 
The boundaries of the camp of Israel teach us that the Divine pattern guides our steps. Each tribe was proud of its individual position within the general community of Israel because this was its proper place for being true to its inner essence. No tribe questioned its particular role. Rather, it was clear that each tribe would complement the others through its particular individuality. Likewise, we have good reason to be proud of our role as women. It is our challenge to delight in womanhood, the way the tribes delighted in their individual roles. Each tribe became dignified by its banner, for it taught them who they really were. Similarly, when we illuminate the special contribution which we impart to the Jewish people as women, we will be able to fill the boundaries of our role with joy. 
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum is Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. This article is an excerpt from her book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, reviewed by The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, Voices Magazine, Good Reads, and Wordpress/JewishPress and more. To order this book, click here.

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