Banners as Unity and Preparation for the Torah
הרב זכריה טובי
The parsha of the "degalim" (the banners of the Israelite camp in the desert) is always read before the festival of Shavot. The Shulchan Aruch mentions an allusion to this: "mani ve'itzru" – read the count of Bnei Yisrael and afterwards celebrate Atzeret (Shavuot). We will try to explain how this parsha prepares us towards kabalat haTorah.
We read in the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar (2:2): "Each man by his banner according to the signs of their fathers' household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp." Rashi (s.v. b'otot) explains: "Each banner will have an sign – a colored cloth attached to it, this one's color unlike this one's; the color of each one [should be] like the shade of his stone affixed in the chosen, and through this each one will recognize his banner." We need to understand, what do the colors of the choshen have to do with the banners; would they not be able to recognize their banner without the color on it?
Rashi offers another explanation: "According to the signs of their fathers' household: According to the sign that Yaakov, their father, gave to them when they carried him from Egypt, as it says, 'His sons did for him exactly as he had instructed them.' Yehuda and Yissachar and Zevulun from the north, etc." This teaches that the encampment of Israel by the banners in the four directions of the world was established by Yaakov Avinu when they carried his coffin from Egypt. This seems enigmatic. What does the carrying of Yaakov's coffin have to do with the order of Israel's encampment in the desert?
The Midrash Rabbah on Parshat Bamidbar interprets the pasuk in Shir Hashirim (2:4), "He has brought me to the house of wine, and His banner upon me is love," as follows:
When G-d appeared on Mt. Sinai 22 myriads (10,000's) of angels descended with him ... They were all arranged in separate banners, as it says, "preeminent above ten thousand." When Israel saw them that they were arranged in separate banners, they began to desire banners. They said: If only we could also be made banners like them! ... G-d said to them: What you desired to be made banners – by your lives! I will fulfill your request ... Immediately Hashem informed them to Israel, and said to Moshe, "Go and make them banners like they desired."
This Midrash requires explanation; what do banners have to do with angels? And why does Am Yisrael want to be like them; what kind of desire is this?
A "banner," or flag – that is what uniquely identifies each and every nation to itself; each country and its flag. Similarly, each and every soldier in the country's army has his own flag. This means that the flag indicates the specific role of that soldier, and, similarly, the specific role of that country. So, too, an angel that is created in Heaven – he has a purpose for which he was created, and no angel performs two errands. Rather, each one has a different goal from his friend, and each and every one knows his mission. This is the meaning of the banners in regards to the angels, 22 myriads of angels with 22 myriads of banners, because each banner symbolizes the specific role of each and every angel.
When Am Yisrael sees this great camp they desire to be like them. Every Jewish person wants to know for what purpose he was created, what role he has to fulfill in the Creation. Am Yisrael does not suffice with the role incumbent on Klal Yisrael; they ask for "banners" – they want to know what the role of each and every individual is. When G-d hears this, he is filled with great love towards them. This is what it says, "His banner upon me is love," and he immediately tells Moshe to fulfill their request.
Each of the stones of the choshen that Aharon wore corresponds to a tribe of Am Yisrael – twelve stones corresponding to twelve tribes. Each and every stone was of a different color than the others. The colors of the stones symbolize the appraoch of each tribe in the service of Hashem. For example, Chazal say that the stone of the tribe of Yissachar was the sapphire, and his color was blue – because techelet (light blue) alludes to the sky and the sky to the Heavenly Throne. Zevulun's color was white and his stone a diamond – because white indicates chesed. The same was true for each and every tribe.
At first glance, the different colors here, which indicate the difference between one and the other, should cause separation and division between the tribes. However, this is not so; it actually has the opposite result! The various colors of the tribes, through blending together for the common goal of service of G-d, increase the reign of G-d. Unity is not being identical, as Rav Kook writes in Olat Hareiyah about the statement: "All of your children will be students of Hashem, and your children's peace will be abundant. Do not read 'your children' (banayich) but rather 'your builders' (bonayich; i.e, the talmidei chachamim)." The many opinions and the different approaches in the service of Hashem increase peace in the world. The more that the opinions for the sake of Heaven increase, the truth will come to light in a stronger manner, and G-d's rule in the world will grow even more. The banner of each tribe were colored with the color that was on the choshen stones, since the color of the choshen stones, as explained above, indicates the specific approach of that tribe in the service of Hashem. Since the banner is supposed to indicate the role – this role was given to each and every tribe based on its approach and specific character in the service of Hashem. This is Rashi's intention in the passage that we cited in the beginning, that each and every person would recognize his banner based on his color in the choshen. This means that each one will fulfill his role in the world based on his special character in the service of Hashem.
Am Yisrael's arrangement in the four directions of the world has special meaning. The Midrash describes the four directions as four forces in the world: "Hashem founded the world with wisdom." (Mishlei 3:19) – G-d created four directions in the world, and each direction serves another force in the creation. The tribe of Yehuda received the East, because light goes forth from there, and the rising of the sun symbolizes the kingdom – and Yehuda is the royal tribe. Each of the other directions also represents a different force, which belongs to each tribe based on his power and role in the world.
The hatred of brothers in Sefer Bereishit, and the struggle between Yosef and Yehuda the whole way, was about the role that each one of the tribes has in the world. Each one of them wanted the royalty, as Chazal explain there. Only after Yosef revealed disclosed himself to his brothers, and Yaakov descended to Egypt, did Yaakov called all of the brothers and bless them, "Each according to his blessing he blessed them." (Bereishit 49:28) Yaakov designated to each and every one his own strength, his own role, and thus he instructs them how they should carry him after his death – according to each one's strength. This is also the order of Israel's encampment in the desert based on the banners. This is Rashi's intention that he gave them a sign through the carrying of his coffin from Egypt.
What unifies all of these strengths? "Surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp." When all of the opinions, all the strengths, all the different approaches encamp around the Mishkan, around the Divine and the Torah, then, through the different approaches and forces – G-d's rule increases in the world. When we approach kabalat haTorah, the prerequisite is "Israel encamped there opposite the mountain – as one person with one heart." (Shemot 19:2 and Rashi there.) Not a unity that all will be of the same opinion, the same color, but rather all the approaches to the service of G-d – all of the various camps – need to unite together to accept the Torah, and through this may we reach accepting the Torah is a full manner!
קוד השיעור: 3776