BAMIDBAR – HARAV DOV BEGON

Just as in the desert every one of the Israelites knew his tribe, his place and his task within the Jewish People, so, too, at the end of the remarkable process of the ingathering of the exiles in which we are living, every member of the Jewish People will find his place and his task within our people.

The Modern Day “King’s Legion”

by HaRav Dov Begun – head of Yeshivat Machon Meir

At the start of the Book of Numbers, G-d commands Moses to take a census of Israel: “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. Do it by families following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually” (Numbers 1:2). Rashi comments:

“Because the Israelites are precious before G-d, He counts them all the time. When they went out of Egypt He counted them [Exodus 12:37], and when they sinned with the Golden Calf He counted them to know how many remained. When He came to cause His Presence to rest upon them He counted them. On the first day of Nissan the Tabernacle was set up, and on the first day of Iyar He counted them.”

Indeed, G-d, who lovingly chooses His People Israel, counts Israel like a shepherd counting his flock, as we say daily in prayer: “Know that the L-rd is God. It is He who has made us, and we are His, His people, and the flock of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

Not just as a mark of love does G-d count us, but also to teach us the proper order by which the tribes should proceed as they trek through the desert, as well as the task of each tribe and the place of every single Israelite within his tribe and within the Jewish People. It thus says: “The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Communion Tent” (Numbers 2:2). Rashi comments, “Each banner had as its insignia a colored cloth hanging from it. Each one’s color was not like the other’s. Each color corresponded with the hue of its gem set in the breastplate. By such means, everyone could recognize his banner.”

The heart of all the tribes was the tribe of Levi. Levi had a special task and it was set apart from all the other tribes: “Do not take a tally or census of the Levites together with the [other] Israelites” (Numbers 1:49). Rashi comments, “It befits the king’s legion to be counted alone.” Levi’s task was to carry the tabernacle and to minister to it, “and to camp around the Tabernacle” (1:50).

In every generation, G-d shows His great love for His people Israel. Even when we were in the exile, He did not stop loving us, nor will He ever abandon us in the future: “The L-rd has chosen Jacob to be His, and Israel as His prized possession. He will not abandon His people, nor forsake His heritage” (from ‘Yehi Kavod” in the morning prayers). Like a shepherd counting his flocks, rejoicing over every kid that is born, so does G-d count us even in this generation, and He rejoices over every single infant born, with their benevolent souls that are being revealed in our generation.

And just as in the desert every one of the Israelites knew his tribe, his place and his task within the Jewish People, so, too, at the end of the remarkable process of the ingathering of the exiles in which we are living, every member of the Jewish People will find his place and his task within our people.

In the desert, the Levites were in the center, around the Tabernacle, and they had an influence on all of Israel, like the king’s legion who are close to him and do his bidding. In just the same way, in our generation those who learn Torah and support it are like the king’s legion, and their task is to bestow their spirit and their Torah upon Israel and to bring the entire Jewish People closer to our Father in Heaven, with love and faith. By such means shall be fulfilled through us G-d’s promise:

“A redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob – says the L-rd. And this is My covenant with them: My spirit that is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor the mouth of your seed, nor the mouth of your seed’s seed, henceforth and forever” (Isaiah 59:20).

 

To Defend and Rebuild Jerusalem, Heart of the Nation

In parshat BaMidbar we read: “The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia” (Numbers 2:2). The Israelites were arranged around the Tabernacle, each by his banner. Each banner had its own color, and the color of one was unlike the color of another. The color of each was like the one on the breastplate stones (Rashi).

Each person recognized his own banner and each person recognized his own place and his own task in the general setup of all the tribes of Israel together. At the heart of all the tribes was the king’s legion. This refers to the kohanim and levi’im who served in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our day.

To what can this be compared? To a person with limbs that are different from one another, but which complement one another. In the center of the body, the heart and mind are the most vital limbs, providing the whole body with life. Through them, the body’s purpose is revealed.

In the same way, each tribe of Israel stands at its banner and place. Each one has a role in the national tapestry. Together with this, we must remember constantly that the Jewish People as well possess a heart and mind, namely, Jerusalem and the Temple. There, the King’s legions serve, referring to the priests who see the King’s countenance and bestow of their spirit upon the whole nation and the whole world, through their holy service.

Today, we have finally come home. We are living at the height of a remarkable period of ingathering of the exiles, and the nation’s renewed progress in Eretz Yisrael. This comes after almost 2 thousand of years, during which we were like dry bones (Ezekiel 37). The headline story of our generation is our return to Jerusalem, the eternal city, heart and light of the world.

Yet the work is not done yet. We must strengthen ourselves and unite together as one man, to defend Jerusalem and to continue rebuilding it. Just as during the times of Ezra and Nechemiah the enemies of Israel were unable to resign themselves to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. We thus had to defend it simultaneously with building it: “So we labored at the work. Half of them held the spears from dawn till nightfall….  so that at night they could be a guard to us, and labor by day” (Nechemiah 4:15,16).

May G-d, who “comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem,” come to our aid.

 

 

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