In the first two Perakim of this week’s Parsha, Bnei Yisrael’s camping arrangement is described in great detail. This seems unusual because the Torah writes only what is applicable to future generations. Why would it use two full Perakim to describe a message applicable only to the generation of the Midbar?
The Gerrer Rebbe notes that a large amount of space is also used to describe the construction of the Mishkan, an impermanent structure. He explains that the Mishkan was built to allow Hashem’s presence to dwell amongst Bnei Yisrael. He further explains that only through following the minute details of Hashem’s instructions could we build the Mishkan and become closer to Him. This explains the necessity of the lengthy descriptions of the camping arrangement. The camping arrangement furthers the message of following Hashem’s commands in order to grow closer to Him.
Rav Amital, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion, offers an additional reason to explain the length at which the camping arrangement is written. Bnei Yisrael were comprised of twelve semi-nations, the twelve tribes. They all camped separately, yet were held together by the Mishkan and the Aron HaKodesh. This point is clearly demonstrated by Bnei Yisrael’s camping on all four sides of the Mishkan. Rav Amital explains that Bnei Yisrael needed to understand that they were one, collective nation before they entered Eretz Yisrael; and although Bnei Yisrael would be a diverse people in Eretz Yisrael, they must still be unified by their common adherence to the principles shown by the Aron HaKodesh. If Bnei Yisrael were united, then the Shechina would rest with them.
The time of the second Beit HaMikdash represented greater national unity than that of the first Beit HaMikdash. In the days of the first Beit HaMikdash, Bnei Yisrael did not work together in their service to Hashem (as seen by the Korbanot that individuals brought outside the Beit HaMikdash). During the second Beit Hamikdash, the ideal unity existed. Upon the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, the unity unraveled due to Sinat Chinam. Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash, the symbols of our singularity, were destroyed. Although we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash today, Yerushalayim still serves as the center of our Jewish identity. We always face Yerushalayim when we daven and we ask Hashem daily for it to be rebuilt. In 1967, when Israel regained Yerushalayim, every Jew felt somewhat connected to the recaptured city.
This Erev Shabbat we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim. We need to joyfully appreciate that we currently possess Yerushalayim, the center of modern Jewish unity. Yet, we also need to realize that until the third Beit HaMikdash is built, we must feel a sense of loss in lacking Yerushalayim in her former, total glory.