On Equal Footing by Dan Atwood


In Parashat BeMidbar, the Torah talks about the encampments of the twelve tribes around the Mishkan. Every tribe is called a “Degel,” “Flag”, since every tribe had a distinct flag. Each of the four sides (north, south, east and west) had three tribes. Chazal teach that the arrangement of the tribes was the same as that of the sons of Yaakov when they carried his casket to Me’arat HaMachpeilah.

The Kli Yakar offers additional reasons for the specific placement of the Shevatim. First (in the south) were Yehudah, Yissachar and Zevulun, who represented the light of the Torah which guided Bnei Yisrael. On the east were Reuven, Shimon and Gad, who represented having good Middot. On the west were Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin, who represented strength, a trait that weakens with age just as the sun’s light weakens as it sets in the west. In the back (north) were Dan, Asheir, and Naftali, who represented material success. Each tribe faced the Mishkan.

The Midrash states that at Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael saw the Malachim (angels) in this type of a formation around Hashem and desired to camp in a similar fashion. Why did they desire this formation? What was so great about it?

The Gemara in Taanit (31a) states that in the future, all the Tzadikim will sit in a circle around Hashem. The Maharal explains that this refers to a dancing circle. In such a circle, everyone is equidistant from each other and everyone moves into each other’s spots. Every Jew has a role in Klal Yisrael. Those who fulfill their role with their limited abilities and without being jealous of others’ abilities are contributing to the whole of Klal Yisrael. This is why in the circle everyone moves into each other’s spots. They are completing the whole.

This is why Bnei Yisrel desired the formation of the angels on Har Sinai. Each angel had its position in the circle around Hashem and there was no jealousy. Each did its job with its own abilities. Bnei Yisrael also wanted to be like this. They all wanted to have equality in the formation around the Mishkan, realizing each tribe’s unique abilities and realizing that everything is from Hashem.

This is our challenge also. Sometimes it seems as if someone is given greater knowledge or a better lot in life, while another person is given many hardships. It seems unfair. We must realize that everything is from Hashem and if He made us one way it is for a reason. We must take the cards we’ve been dealt and make the best of them, whether it is a royal flush or a pair of twos. The comfort is that in the end, in Olam HaBa, we will have all contributed equally to Klal Yisael and be equally close to Hashem.

Flags of Dispute by Marc Poleyeff

From the Midst of Israel by Dr. Joel M. Berman